WSJ on SEO contests

Lee Gomes pens an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about the SEO contest du jour. He manages to cover the high-order bits without saying anything that should offend either side. And without linking to anyone’s site. So I think he gets it. 🙂

Depending on whom you talk to, SEOs are either the Saint Bernards of the Web, helping to rescue lost sites, or glorified spammers.

Reminds me of what GoogleGuy used to say: “SEO is a little like juggling flaming torches; when a professional does it well, the results can be fun to watch. But if you’re just starting out, you might not want to tackle torches first thing.”

100 Responses to WSJ on SEO contests (Leave a comment)

  1. Great article there, Its fun to read buying links are considered grey hat methods when its actually part of black hat SEO, How can link spam through link buying be a legitimate method, good to see these people give lame reasons for their spam tactics,

  2. “But if you’re just starting out, you might not want to tackle torches first thing”
    – yup, that’s true but you sure learn a lot when your fingers get burnt !!

  3. Speaking of… when is the next PR update? I’m linking to the charity guy (I’ll be good and not link or say who here), so if he wins and my PageRank is six or above, then I’m entered in a contest for the iPod. Right now my PageRank is only listed as 5, but I’ve made a lot of changes to my website since the last update and posted a fairly popular blog entry (relatively high number of in-links, so I’m sure it has a PR of 6 now).

    Pretty please? 🙂

    PS: I finally have chat in Gmail and I must say, I’m impressed. It is amazingly interactive.

  4. Hi there,

    just another contest, but even WSJ already heard about GoogleBowling:

    “But he says that being a front-runner makes you a target for the black hatters. They might, for instance, “promote” your site via the sort of spam that Google is known to frown upon. The end result of that, says Mr. Westergren, is that your site could be demoted.”

    Should I take this for a confirmation, that (in spite of the known statements on Google’s website) we have come to the point where an “innocent” site may be kicked out by black hats throwing dirt at it? I really don’t want to set up a link farm … :o(

  5. Hi Matt

    GoogleGuy is wise man!! And here on WMW where he said his famous quote on Feb 17, 2002 :

    “SEO is a little like juggling flaming torches; when a professional does it well, the results can be fun to watch. But if you’re just starting out, you might not want to tackle torches first thing.”

    Next time you meet GG, Matt. You give him my best regards and wishes and tell him: Loooooong time no post. He for sure will know what I mean 🙂

  6. Madhan, I didn’t take it as the article’s author saying that buying links was gray hat, but that he was quoting from someone who claimed it was gray hat. I agree that any paid links should have the nofollow attribute.

  7. The flamming torches bit is quite a good comparison.

    My saying to that is and has been to simply do what is standard in your code, once that is done AND you have interesting content, start submitting away to the searchengines.

    Everything else happens almost on it’s own.

    “Doorway Pages” or “Hidden Frames” or whatever have never been usefull in my eyes.

  8. “Great article there, Its fun to read buying links are considered grey hat methods when its actually part of black hat SEO, How can link spam through link buying be a legitimate method, good to see these people give lame reasons for their spam tactics, ”

    What kind of a logic is that? Buying links is by definition black hat? So every person that buys advertising online is by definition doing black hat seo? Nonsense. As if links only should be given a way. What kind of a hippy thinking is that?

    It is, and it always will be the search engine that is responsible for choosing what links have what value. Advertising links do have value and they are not by definition black hat. (yes,. mass link buying just to increase rankings is not white hat).

    Just look at companies like philips, AT&T,. etc. etc. etc. They buy advertising in newspapers, magazines, etc. etc. etc. You can not argue that those ads do not help to make those brands more popular. Search engines should (and I think most do) give value to those types of advertising links.

    In the end it is not about whether or not a link was paid for, but about who places the link. Authority sites are unlikely to place ads to lousy websites, therefore their ads are a good indicator.

    well,.. enough of my opinions,. 🙂



  9. I agree with peter, if it help then it should be allowed though people should not go overboard with limits – everything in balance!

  10. Matt burning that midnight oil arent we 🙂 I hate to beg but when is the feedback going to be addressed we all gave and mostly the one I submitted 😉

    I have yet to see any action taken, if what I submitted is not a violation with Google or it isnt one they are concerned with could you please share that cause its got to help with rankings using hidden links and text.

  11. Matt Said,
    February 15, 2006 @ 2:33 am

    Madhan, I didn’t take it as the article’s author saying that buying links was gray hat, but that he was quoting from someone who claimed it was gray hat. I agree that any paid links should have the nofollow attribute.

    I can state that buying links is a no no. One of my first Seo’s did that and told me I would get top 5 for my primary keywords within 5 or 6 weeks, sure enough he was right I did but about 2 months later the site got ban, I emailed Google and got the response that purchasing links was against Googles guidelines..the site went bye bye. Its a shame to cause I had worked very hard on that site writing content.

  12. I think paid backinks are a lot like those viral marketing ploys where people are paid to be in a bar and hype up a particular brand of vodka. If I ask around about something, and 80 out of 100 people are paid, you bet I’d be ticked off and start to grow cynical.

    Google has been very useful to me under the tenet that links traditionally have been given/earned. I’m not naive enough to think that we can ever have 100% earned backlinks (or ever did), but in a spectrum between 100% earned and 100% paid/traded, I much prefer Google doing what it can to push things toward 100% earned.

    You can separate paid linking into direct linking, and linking combined with tracking. Let’s be real, anyone who cares about tracking clicks is going to redirect that click, and those clicks (like AdSense) can be thrown out by search engines for the purposes of calculating link popularity. So please stop lumping all link buying together to rationalize the newer, direct-link-without-any-tracking-and-obviously-buying-for-link-popularity kinds of links. “Authority sites are not likely to link to lousy sites.” Tell that to circa 6 months ago.

    As a user, I’d prefer that PageRank be based on earned links rather than paid. If that makes me a “hippy thinker” then so be it.

  13. Ok, so what about “paid review” links in directories? Yahoo is full of them and so are almost all of the Tier 2 and Tier 3 directories. Are paid links in directories ok?

  14. As I mentioned before. If all your backlinks are paid for (mass link buying) I agree, that´s fake popularity. But if you buy an ad in a related authority site, then it should be the search engine to decide if that link helps to increase rankings. But just a couple of paid ads should not and can not be a reason to ban a site.

    The example that Wayne gave sounds like an example of buying high PR backlinks that are influencing the search results negatively, giving an unfair advantage to that specific site.

    Buying a couple of ads that complement existing backlinks are a good thing. Rel=”nofollow” is irrelevant in these cases, in my opinion.

    In the end it is all about search results and if they are what the google users want them to be.

  15. >Rel=”nofollow” is irrelevant in these cases

    Then it will not matter whether nofollow is included.

  16. >”if you buy an ad in a related authority site, then it should be the search engine to decide if that link helps to increase rankings”

    That would be great in theory Peter but I don’t imagine that the algorithm could ever make those judgements. Likewise – if it’s left to a human reviewer then it becomes a matter of personal opinion and the whole system becomes rather farcical.

  17. Peter (Brane) – [i]”What kind of a hippy thinking is that?”[/i] – lol (Thanks for the early morning giggle).

    Wayne – That is interesting…
    It was my understanding that [b]paid text links[/b] would be “devalued”, but you’re saying (and you have written confirmation) that recipients of paid links are actually [b]penalised[/b]?

    Matt – is that true?

    …if so – it makes me wonder:

    1. How can Google be certain that the links were paid for? …(what I’m getting at here is – what’s to stop a “known” link seller from adding links to his site which weren’t actually paid for in order to have the recipient site penalised)?

    2. How come the seller isn’t the one which gets the penalty/ban (thus rendering the paid links value-less), after all – it’s the seller’s responsibility to add the “nofollow tag”?

    Also – I may have missed a post or two on here, but it was my understanding that you were previously talking about text links, whereas now you’re saying “any paid links”… so why is it that customers of the milliondollarhomepage not penalised in the same way that Wayne was? (sorry to single them out – just a well-known example)!

  18. Good Matt, you will learn how to make some good SEO by observing contest

    But actually the WSJ did not get really what the taggle team said, its a little bit deforming, like journalists use to do

  19. Matt, how did you get PR7?! nyuck nyuck nyuck…

    😀 😀 😀 😀

  20. The milliondollarhomepage links-via-pixel buyers were “penalized” only in the sense that they likely threw away their money. From Aaron Wall’s interview of Matt:

    “I have to give props to though. The laptop I’m typing this on has 1.47M pixels, but it never occurred to me to sell the pixels for $1 apiece in blocks of 100. Of course, I hope that the people buying pixels don’t assume that those pixels will flow PageRank. :)”

  21. What that article (and pretty much every other article on the contest) missed is that the contest was is just for fun. Fun-ness. Whenever folks try to make it into a scientific experiment, it just doesn’t fit because it isn’t scientific.

    I think Matt Cutts gets this, judging from his earlier comments on it.

    Overall, Mr Gomes did a great job of covering it without getting into the unsighlty events that may or may not have occurred.


  22. wayne, you’re making crap up right?

    I can’t see Google banning anybody for simply paid links. There had to be more to the story.

    If that were the case, I’d gladly pay to get all my competitors some extra links.

    I can’t see google penalizing you for something that they can’t be 100% sure about (although it is pretty easy to spot paid links.. but not 100%)

    I also can’t see google penalizing for something that the webmaster doesn’t have control over. (in theory, I don’t have any control over who links to me)

    Let’s not confuse de-value with penalize. De-value means to not count those links.. That’s fine.

    Penalize means to not only not count them, but to push your site further down.

    If that’s happening, it can’t be good for Google.

    BTW, I pay for links all the time.. but not your normal type. I pay for visitors. Example, use the search box at a certain site, and if no results are found, you’ll see “try your search on…mysite”. This link probably has very little search engine help, but it does send me hundreds of highly targeted visitors each day.

    are you / google telling me I shouldn’t have paid for that link? The webmaster can nofollow it for all I care.. (but again, that’s out of my control)

    I have another rant about what type of links to try to work for.. I’ll save that for a new comment.

  23. If I understand right from previous posts by Matt, the only penalty to the site buying links would be the lack of value of the link (paying for a link that is not providing any PR).

    I find it unlikely that a site would be dropped because of paid links. There are many valid reasons for paid marketing and I am sure that Google recognizes this. Even though I go on the assumption when I buy ad space on a site that it will have a no-follow, I’m not going to twist the webmaster’s arm over it. If all paid advertising was about page rank no one would be using adwords. There is alot to say for just site exposure.

  24. Matt,

    I am sure you made a comment saying you used to apply penalties for linkbuying but that you discontiued this practice after abuse.

    Can you confirm if this is still the case ?



  25. Exactly… people get so caught up in getting pagerank that they lose focus of their goals.

    Why do we want pagerank? — To get top listings in google.
    Why do we want top listings in google? – to get targeted visitors.

    why? cuz they increase sales. our goal is to increase sales by driving targeted visitors to our website… so why do seos spend 90% of their time trying to get pagerank?

    There are other ways to get targeted visitors. Put some good partnerships in place.

    Have an article? List some “references” at the bottom. Get other sites to do so too.. this is more valuable than a links page.

    Have a site that does credit checks? What about putting a link to a payday loan company on your thank you page… have them do the same. This will get you way more targeted visitors than a search engine would.

    Write for a newsletter that’s related to your topic.

    Add the “looking for more information? try this site” to your FAQ page. Get another site to do the same.

    the “didn’t find it, try this site” suggestion on a search page works GREAT! for related sites too.

    Why would you want to waste your time being on a links page that nobody reads anyway? I’d take a link that google never sees, but sends me 10 targeted visitors / day over a link on a PR9 website’s link page anyday.

    Don’t lose site of your goals people… It’s all about targeted visitors, not pagerank. Pagerank is useless. It’s 1 factor in very many that affect a site’s ranking in google.

    Instead of increasing pagerank, work on building good partnerships and (gasp) making your site relevant to it’s topic. Become “Useful” or “Vital” to the visitor, and don’t target keywords that aren’t really relevant to your website, and it won’t matter how many links you have coming in.. you’ll still do good.

    It’ll be a great day on the web when people realize that it isn’t about pagerank, it’s about attracting targeted visitors to your website.

  26. >>>>>Madhan, I didn’t take it as the article’s author saying that buying links was gray hat, but that he was quoting from someone who claimed it was gray hat. I agree that any paid links should have the nofollow attribute.

    Thanks for confirming matt, Your link baiting article was great
    This article is a great inspiration for me to do new things. Nowadays we think everyday to find new ways to attract natural links,

    I heard some companies are paying to bring link baiting ideas, You made that term to be heard loud all over the internet,

    Milliondollarhomepage was a huge lesson for everyone who does online business, Great unique ideas whether its simple or complex will attract the attention of the web, Milliondollarhomepage is a great example,

    I always thought buying links for search engine rankings destroys the whole link structure of the web, Even very good quality sites get tempted to sell text links since offers from link brokers are pretty attractive, There should be an algorithmic solution to stop this i feel you have that secret recipe in future google algo,

  27. Sorry for the name to be matt cutts in my previous post, actually I always think of the great matt cutts and I just typed your name accidentally 🙂 Please edit it out sorry matt


  28. Harith

    With ref to GG not posting. You should have a word with Reseller – he has not posted for a while either.


    Quick Q re BD if you are able to answer here – it is my understanding that BD has new infastructure that when in place will lead to improvements in certain areas – does this new infastructure have to spread to all dcs before we see improvements – just wondering if it would have made more sense for a dc to have the new infastructure which led to the improvements and then this spread to each DC – or does it not work like that :/

  29. >There had to be more to the story.

    There was.

  30. I second ClickyB’s request for more information about this – the people need to know! Happy day-after-singles-awareness-day, folks 😀

  31. Hi Matt,

    I’m new to SEM and would like to attend a conference. Between ‘Search Engine Strategies 2006 in NY and Webmaster World in Boston which one would you suggest.


  32. Can someone please explain to me how Google can tell if the link was paid for??? I pay for at least 20 links to a site that has a PR7, and I have around 100 links that are not paid for. How can Google tell which one is paid for???? It’s impossible. And why is this ‘Black Hat’? I’m spending money to market and promote the site, is it any different than paying money in yellow pages so someone calls your business?

  33. I use Adwords. Adwords is a paid link. Does this mean that Google is Gray/Black hat?
    In my opinon, links are really all about traffic, hopefully, converting traffic. Doesn’t matter if it’s a paid link or not. Also, the preoccupation about PR just gets in the way, I think, of establishing a true value of a link.

  34. I liked Bruce’s “Seo is like herding cats” a lot better 😉

  35. I consider SEOs and webmasters have all right to pay for advertisements in form of text links. And Google has all right to detect and devalue them – that’s part of the game. Now I hope Mr. Cutts will not run a tool and devalue all links to my contest site, but that is a risk I am taking. Also only a few links are paid, there are many natural as well. The statement “hundreds of dollars” are incorrect as well, I told him “about 100 bucks”.

    But where is the limit? Should you also devalue reciprocal links, footer links, non-related links, links on strange places? Soon there is no valid links anymore.

    But the form of link acquisition I recommend to my SEO clients are the natural ones and link baiting techniques (see my last blogg post for example).

    And yes, the contest is just a fun play.

    I think Google has more important things to care about such as real spammers in the real SERPs, than some glibberish words in a contest.

    It has been fun so far, I think it will be even funnier in the end 🙂

  36. I wonder if this article ends up on page 1 for [v7ndotcom elursrebmem].

  37. Nothing about this contest makes any sense unless as John said its for fun. No serious SEO who is busy marketing their own and clients sites has time to sit around and take part. What will it prove and why do Greg Boser and Mike Grehan care. If John wants to have some fun who cares.

    Since Jagger it has become much more difficult to get ranked in Google without good quality one way links. If you had aged links before the update they are still of value. Now to rank in Google you have to do some WORK. Sit on the chair and market your site like a professional write content,find sites who value your content and publish it. Write press releases with news in them not rubbish because PR Web will give you a link for $30. Now the press release has to be picked up by a quality site to create a link. Not many quality sites pick up press releases about your cat dying. You can still get to the top in Google even in very competitve industries you just have to invest time and money to do. Its harder than the old days but its a great move for the industry once the loopholes have been closed maybe the industry will get the recognition it deserves and the fees for SEO’s will actually reflect the value of the work they do (or are now forced to do)…

  38. The sad thing is that a lot of seos feel threatened by something like this, which is their problem and doesn’t reflect the contest.

    Btw, I think the article was poorly written. It reads like done by someone who doesn’t really have any interest in the subject matter at all. It was shallow and non(mis)-informative IMO.

  39. I miss GoogleGuy. Do you know where he might be Matt??


  40. I thought it was a wonderful article!

    And John is right… this is supposed to be fun. And at the same time a learning experience… We are not using any black / grey hat techniques and decided to step it up in the marketing realm by using the platform that SEO is Sexy 😉
    No one else is doing it 😛 and it’s FUN!

    Great article!


  41. Btw, I think the article was poorly written. It reads like done by someone who doesn’t really have any interest in the subject matter at all. It was shallow and non(mis)-informative IMO.

    He didn’t. He spoke to me on the phone prior to writing the article, asking basic questions about seo and defining certain terms etc.. From what I gathered, he knew nothing about SEO prior to approaching this project.

    Still, I AM glad to see the subject getting into more mainstream newspapers.

  42. Good to see the WSJ finally jumping on the pirate ship…..



  43. btw Matt, is Google Guy jealous of you taking him out of the limelight? 😉

  44. Fionn – so you’re saying it’s okay to buy an article, containing a link, in the hope that it will result in ‘unpaid’ links?

    How can the resultant links be classified as unpaid? You paid for the article + link that caused them.

  45. I’ll play!

    SEO is like playing checkers with the Lock Ness monster.

  46. SEO is like a box of chocolates. 🙂

  47. Hi All,

    Can anyone tell me what they think is going on at Google. I understand that they’re implementing Big Daddy. On Dec. 27 2005 my traffic started to decline. Each week the SERPs push be furthur and furthur down the list for my keywords. It appears to me that I am being penalized for something I just don’t dont know what. I have a massive amount of original content and all those scraper sites feed off of me am I being hurt by those bottom feeders linking to me? How can I let Google know I am the original source for my content. Am I being Google bowled? What is happening to Please take a look at All Across Texas and tell me what I’m doing wrong? I was number 2 for all keywords Alexa was between 100,000 and 200,000 now it’s 600,000 to 700,000. Please help?

  48. SEO is like side 2 of The Beatles’ Abbey Road.

    You get the client some rankings as you slip in the side door of your targeted phrase: “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.” Punters won’t click? “You Never Give Me Your Money”. Algorithm changes, loads down your client’s site, it has to “Carry That Weight.” Then it’s “The End” when Matt “Mean Mr. Mustard” Cutts catches up with you. 🙂

    You then decide to give up and Let It Be 🙂

  49. “SEO contests offer an immediate analysis of the Ranking factors”

    Only those ranking factors that the SEOs actually use. Since most SEOs bludgeon their ways to the top of results through links, most factors are never tested in SEO contests.

  50. seo jumped the shark.

  51. GoogleBetaBlog
    >>I pay for at least 20 links to a site that has a PR7 >>

    Duhh … not any more on my Toolbar
    Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to tell Google that you’ve paid for your links !!

  52. Lets look at the serp for V7ndotcom Elursrebmem

    1) Out of the 10 sites,.. 8 are brand new domains.
    2) 1 result is the originater of the phrase.
    3) The other “not new result” has a whole bunch of outgoing links with the keyword phrase in it.

    How difficult is it to see the “algo’s at work” here?

  53. Jack Palance: “Do you know what the secret of SEO (life) is? One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean shit.”
    Billy Crystal: “Yeah, but what’s that one thing?”
    Jack Palance: “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”
    ~From the movie City Slickers

  54. Ben,
    You dont buy articles you write your own and if they are good enough somebody may link to them or publish them and give you a link. In that case your deserve the link you worked for it and wrote something worthwhile which adds value to the web. We get more traffic off our articles than MSN. (maybe everybody does even if you never wrote one!!!) Not too sure what you mean by buying an article with a link in it.

  55. There are a number of things that concern me on the issue of links:

    1] If a major company buys a banner ad with a link back to their site/product, is this considered a paid for link?

    2] A number of link companies have added my site to their list of linking partners, without my authority, and I get emails from sites wanting to link to me, which I ignore. Can this cause a penalty, being listed on a link exchange site?

    3] In the very first month of the launch of my site, I bought a link [monthly fee] in my naevity, thinking I would get visitors from it, and not even knowing about SEO at the time. As it happens, I cancelled the direct debit one month later, but the other site continues to list my site, free of charge. Does Google look on this as a paid link, as all links on the other site are supposedly paid for links?

    4] Is it OK to redirect subdomains to a principal domain? The reason I ask is that I want to sell some subdomains, and to help do this, I have linked them back to my site, for further details to be found.

    5] Off topic: Is there a reason for BD is showing vastly more results for any given search, in comparison to the ‘classic’ SERP’s?

  56. Ryan Said,
    February 15, 2006 @ 6:10 am

    wayne, you’re making crap up right?

    I can’t see Google banning anybody for simply paid links. There had to be more to the story.


    No Ryan I am not making this up. I will try to find the email I got from Google telling me this and if Matt does not have a problem with it I will post the email from Google here. The only problem is I cant remember if it was on this computer or another.

    My Seo at that time told me he purchased about 100k link I was paying $2500 per month for this service and whether it is believed or not I was not aware that this was a violation of Googles guidelines. I dont even think at that time anyone was aware whether it was or not but the response I got from Google after emailing them to find out why my site was ban confirm that buying links was a no no.

    I am also sure that Matt might confirm this but the ball is in his court.

    The only problem I see that I have mentioned before is that not all site owners / webmasters are held to the same standards. I personally know of a few others that purchase links but nothing has happen to them, I also know a few more that have purchased links and they got hammered by Google. Until we all are treated the same its a crap shoot I am afraid.

  57. I wonder if ShoeMoney will win this contest… seems he wins all the contests

  58. The notion that buying links with nofollow is white hat but without nofollow is black hat is challenging at best and borders on crazy. I’d wager many beers (or links to beer sites) that at least 500,000 sites have bought links on other sites and only a small number of the people involved have any notion whatsoever of the nofollow debate, let alone the attribute itself.

    I suppose Google has the right to slap a “black hat” on somebody who is familiar with SEO stuff and buys links, but to penalize a mom and pop for buying a few links from their Chamber of Commerce site would …. just suck.

    More importantly this type of penalty distorts the SERPS very unnaturally as I think may be happening now by “over penalizing” for many tactics that have become commonplace at small time biz sites from the work of small time SEO people who are stupid, stubborn or just don’t read Matts blog.

  59. Oh how silly some humans can be at times! Didn’t John Scott pull a simliar stunt with BlueFind? That is, he purchased umpteen links, got PR7+ showing on his home page then sold it. A short-time later, Google knew he had purchased his PR and demoted the site to never, never land? Castles in the sand!

    Personally, I would not trust JS as far as I would like to throw him.

  60. I still have a question on this matter. I am quite curious whether, after being penalized by google for buying links or performing any other kind og spam techniques, u can be included in Google again. It seems like the was included right away after some changes to their websites, but, as someone else said before, his site went bye-bye. We also have at lease a website here in Romania that was penalized by google, and I am very interested whether, if that website makes the “google guidelines” necessary changes, is it re-included or not in Google.

  61. I’m not finished yet.

    I looked on the internet for more info about this contest. I was literally shocked: this actually means that…if someone wants this, he can spam the search engine & maneuvre it according to his own preference! And google seems to do nothin’ about it, in the sense of filtering the spam websites. I mean: I can do whatever I want, use all these SEO techniques, the link / blog / forum / meta-tags and other optimization stuff to the uttermost, and … I get the 1st rankings! This is kindda’ ok for those that do it within some boundaries, but, c’mon, what if some smarttie decides that he wants it all: eventually, by using all these techniques, he can get for himself good & huge chunks of organic search results just for the fun! Eventually some wise guy will do this, if this matter is not sorted out.

    Well…anyway…it’s the search engines’ job to figure it out what is really going on with all these websites. I mean, look at this link, that u already know: It’s being listed in the top 20 in google, yet the content is rubbish. What is this?

  62. RE: “And google seems to do nothin’ about it…”

    Oh I think they will be watching this type of contest and likely laughing hard at all attempts.

    It’s no wonder the SEO community is seen in such a bad light. I mean, contests like this and then spammers are given a platform at SEO conferences.

    It’s always the poor Mom & Pop sites that suffer for platform that spammers are given.

    Oh how I long for the day ALL/ANY SEO business that spams (using a clients web site) is permanently removed from Google.

  63. ” seo jumped the shark…. ” funny.

    That article is another funny thing.. and Matt’s right about how Gomes ‘gets it’:
    “..And Mr. Westergren? He said, “If you link to me in your article, that would be very nice..” Got to ask I suppose.

    My only question is: What is the point to this seo contest nonesense? I mean – not for the players, as all they want is the cash.. But why launch one in the first place? Fair enough, we all want to see who is the best in the world, and therefore you would have to measure yourself against a single phrase. But come on, it is a little bit like kids in the playground… most of whom could do as good a job in the first place.
    I guess I just don’t ‘get it.’
    The number of hours spent, and therefore the money spent must be huge. Why not all agree that the search terms should be “donate time charity” then offer your time free to a bona fide charitable website. At the end of the competition, the website at the top of the list wins, and the seo behind it gets the praise and admiration of his peers – of which, of course, he’ll have none, cos (s)he won.

    /soapbox – sorry

  64. For me buying links is exactly the same problem than exchanging reciprocal links. It can be explained by the weight of the links in the algo : you have to find relevant links for your business to get good serps. To sum up there’s a difference between the links you deserve and the others (paid, exchanged…).
    It’s not as simple as a hat color problem.

  65. there was no seo related point to the seo contest.

    The point was to generate buzz and links for their own site. That’s it.

    It worked very well.

  66. I find it hard to believe that a company would pay for advertising in any form and not track it.
    If a link is paid for and contains tracking then this is a legitimate form of advertising and shouldn’t be included when factoring back links, pr, etc,
    If the link doesn’t contain tracking then the link was probably purchased for the purpose of increasing backlinks, pr etc…..

  67. I think the idea of an SEO contest is great. It is an awesome experiment. I wish that there were contests that only worked with on-page factors (no linking) so that the results could be more objectively analyzed to assess what is working on page, but several SEOs run such experiments in controlled environments and publish the results.

    Obviously the great weight that links play in Google optimization makes the competition focus on linking structures, the quality of links, and the number of links. When working with a nonsense word this is hard to assess. What is a related page to a nonsense word (another page focusing on other non-sense words?). In the experiments it tends to be other sites that mention the nonsense words as well.

    I think people that bash the SEO contests are weird. Why do people compete in athletic events? Partially for the money, but mostly because they have skills, and while these contests do not always rope in the worlds best SEO professionals, they are pretty objective. Effectively – whoever is in the top 5 knows something that they have put to work on the site in question.

    No science experiment proves anything 100%, but it can generate some theories that can be further tested and put to use. I find the science of trying to reverse engineer search engine algorithms fascinating, and I think anyone with a similar passion would take a least a passing interest in the contest results.

  68. Sean,

    There are several contest entries that will donate any winnings to charity – see one in my signature. John Scott, the contest organizor, does say one reason he did this was for fun, so yea, maybe it’s like kids in a playground and/or sandbox – pun intended on the later word.

    Lee did a great job condensing the contest (and SEO in general) into a single column and I agree with Matt that he pretty much nailed it.

  69. HI,
    I have seen that PR of webpages selling backlinks drop soon. Is this Google’s way of penalising the webpage or something else. Is the site purchasing link is let off free.

  70. >and whether it is believed or not I was not aware that this was a violation of Googles guidelines.

    I know at least one person who told both you and the SEO that you shouldn’t do it. Both of you thumbed your noses at those warnings and both of you eventually got hit.

    That SEO has since gone 100% white hat, developed a niche for which he builds damn good sites and does good, clean SEO, while all you do is whine and try to take out those you dont like, which is just about everybody you have ever done business with. Quit trying to shame Matt/Google into being your personal Internet hitman.

  71. Though I don’t buy links, I do sell contextual advertising. For instance, if I manage a mortgage site dealing in loans only in Central Florida, why would I not sell a link to another mortgage company who does business only in South Florida or another state? This sends untargeted, or dead traffic, to a potential resource for profit.

    I believe there is a distinct difference between this type of marketing and the G Webmaster guidelines, and I am sure Matt would agree.

    Paying for highly relevant targeted traffic is a value added benefit to any commercial websites bottom line both to the site selling the space and the site receiving the targeted traffic. The key factor is, IMHO, insuring your contextual advertising is for the right reasons.

  72. Actually for SEO contests, Doorway pages should work well. Google claims to penalize these but I know for a fact that they don’t and here’s my proof.

    If you do a search for Los Angeles Escorts you will find as the 3rd result. At the bottom of the page are links to sites such as but when you click on this site it goes to

    Other sites lead to phony websites that then direct to their real sites. They have maximized keywords and rankings for cities for which they don’t have a website. This works well and Google won’t penalize this.

    As another example, if you click on and they both end up at What this means is that Google finds acceptable setting up a whole bunch of domains that point to 1 site even if the domains are misleading such as Baltimore going to DC.

    I think it is easy to do, maximizes keywords, and can not be easily detected by Google.

  73. Wayne said:

    “Its a shame to cause I had worked very hard on that site writing content. ”

    Ha ha ha!!! I never post but I had to bust in on this one! 🙂

    It’s a well known fact that the site you whine about being banned on, you originally copied VERBATIM from another agent! And when the agent finally had to report you to your host because you refused to take down her content, your own host took you down for copy right infringement!

    Grow up, take your well deserved medicine like a man, stop whining, stop harassing your previous SEO and your competition, and design an ORIGINAL site that can stand on its own.

  74. I completely understand why Matt, Google and all search engines would prefer that bought links were ‘no follow.’ But should Google be telling people how to design websites? I suppose there is no turning back — we all now make some design decisions based on SE’s. But how far will should it go? This seems to be crossing a line.

    Yes, tell us that we should not intentionally spam and guide us to help the Search Engines index our sites. But should Google tell us how to code so we don’t unintentionally skew the SERPs.

    It really illustrates reminds me how search engines have taken over. It used to be the job of the search engines to figure out what is important. Now they are completely dictating how the websites are designed. I guess we just have to accept the new reality — Google is writing the next generation of internet standards.

  75. I think its more about where are you getting your traffic from….

    Means if those links are driving you natural traffic…..then its a valuable point…and will add your site one point….

    KAI 2006

  76. First starting out is the best part, you think its all going to be so easy and the worlds your oyster. Its a few months in when people start mentioning link popularity, PR, SEO, Meta Tags, Key Word Density and Google Toolbar to check PR that you start to get grey hairs !!

  77. Dave said:
    It’s no wonder the SEO community is seen in such a bad light. I mean, contests like this and then spammers are given a platform at SEO conferences.

    I have such an issue with this. Spammers or ‘black hats’ whatever you want to call them apply business practices which can get a clients site banned and they break rules set out by the very companies they are spamming i.e. the search engines. Why does SES still allow this. Would you get a bogus doctor being allowed a segement at a Medical conference. Would you get a CPA who fiddles peoples taxes and lands the taxpayer in jail speaking at at conference on taxation and accountancy. When will SES realize that the industry has moved on and these segments serve no useful purpose except to assist in keeping the industry in the gutter. Has the president of Traffic Power ever spoken at SES if not why not how is he any different to the rest of them.

  78. Huh, spammers speak at SES?

    And then SEW lets blatant spam tools like this crap get airtime without a negative comment in sight….

    —- Page Generator does not retrive anything from other websites. All it does for now it mixes your content and creates up to 9999 pages with your mixed content. You choose keywords you want to target and it will optimize pages for those keywords. You have to be little bit creative it is not perfect software, but I think it is good piece of software for zero dollars. Software itself is in beta version and we will improve it drastically and maybe still keep it free.

    Matt I really hope you can detect that stuff and whack it all into oblivion, otherwise where will it all end?

  79. Unfortunately SEW is frequented by spammers and even some black hat Mods along with many many ‘friends of spammers’.

    Things like this “Page Generator” do nothing but fill the web with crap!

    RE: Huh, spammers speak at SES?

    Yes, no doubt about it. Worse is that are being given a platform and hence are given credibility.

  80. I was number 1 in the contest for about a week suddenly I droped to forth then my site and the sites above me all droped at once about a week later I found that the top 4 or 5 sites were submited to 100s of blog sites “blog spamed”. Could this have penilized the top sites?

  81. Matt I think many wouldbe interested in your take on whether simply participating in the N7dotcom contest or Scoble’s Brrreeeport experiments offends any part of the Google Guidelines … I hope NOT!?

    Also note Scoble in his blog invited you over to MSN HQ in Mountain View for pix and lunch. I thought it was a fine gesture.

  82. Here is the follow up story

  83. Thanks for the pointer, Mike.

    Joe Hunkins, there’s nothing inherently against Google’s guidelines in participating in an SEO contest. I agree that it was awfully nice of Scoble to offer. When Scoble came to the Googleplex, I found out and finagled a seat at his table. He seemed like a super-nice, genuine guy.

  84. I have just read about the contest started on the key “v7ndotcom elursrebmem”.

    On the 11 January has started a similar other contest in Italy for the key “fattori arcani”.
    Before the beginning of the test the serp showed just some tens of pages and now it arrives at approximately 150.000.

    The Italian contest will finish at noon of the first of june, and has been organized by the Forum Giorgiotave for the search engine

    The winner will receive a fantastic ribbon during a big dinner between the participants to the contest, all there invites.

    On this test we count of having the possibility and the big opportunity to study in real time the beginning of “BigDaddy”.


  85. Cosmo Said,
    February 16, 2006 @ 11:09 am

    Wayne said:

    “Its a shame to cause I had worked very hard on that site writing content. ”

    Ha ha ha!!! I never post but I had to bust in on this one!

    It’s a well known fact that the site you whine about being banned on, you originally copied VERBATIM from another agent! And when the agent finally had to report you to your host because you refused to take down her content, your own host took you down for copy right infringement!


    First you need to get your facts streight. Yes the site was reported for copyright violations, but I was not the one who copied the material, I am however responsible for the actions of my webmaster according to Matt and Google, so by all accounts its my fault. Second the host did not take the site down, is a matter of fact it is still with that same host.

    The person you are defending will be exposed soon enough..LOL when it happens maybe then you will understand who the spammer and unethical individual is.

  86. How many hypens in your url Wayne?

    Quit playing a teenage drama queen and post the damn url, cite what and why you think it is spam and we’ll all vote on whether or not you have a clue, er, I mean if its spam or not, and Matt can tell us who is right and why. It becomes a teachable moment where everyone benefits and you can then move on and whine to the MSN and Yahoo guys about cleaning up their results.

  87. There is a wide line between “freedom of speech” and “incitement”.
    You do not yell fire in a movie theatre – that is not freedom of speech.
    Those from Iran and other notable Muslim terrorists can find many excuses to become violent when Danish cartoons make fun of Muhammed, but yet the same people remain quiet during and after 9/11. They can spit daily on Christ and Judism in their cartoons and call us “infidels” – yet we do not riot. We only ask for peace, respect and tolerance. The FM of Denmark has proved that by taking out a Google adwords campaign.
    And the Israel News Agency was the first to respond with an SEO contest. The first ever serving a political cause.

    I applaud Joel Leyden, publisher of the Israel News Agency, for collecting all of the inciteful Holocaust cartoons now coming out of Iran and noting on each and every one of them the facts of the Holocaust. Leyden says yes to freedom of speech by uploading these cartoons with factual notes. Leyden is truly the winner of this cartoon contest or should I say democracy is. Is there democracy in Iran or Syria?
    No – just blind hate for Western democratic values.

    And why do some many Muslims protest over cartoons?
    Because their leaders pay them to get out into the street and keep them in power. How much are we now paying cartoonists in Iran, Syria and around the world for designing inciteful cartoons on the Holocaust which took the lives of Jews, Christians and Muslims?
    12,000 dollars!

    Shame on the Muslims who use the words “freedom of speech” to incite others to violence and murder.

    I am now going to follow Leyden’s words of SEO advice by typing the keywords for which we all should: “seo, incitement, hate, iran, islam, terror, beheading, daniel pearl, 9/11, barcelona bombings, turkey car bombs, george w. bush, ariel sharon, lebanon, syria, hamas, oil backed terrorism, saudi arabia, suicide bus bombers, blowing up children in restaurants, freedom of speech, israel defense forces, Flemming Rose and denmark.”

  88. Hi Matt,

    I’m a little disappointed that you didn’t answer my previous post.

    I don’t wanna whine on your blog but there are a whole lot of people waiting for the answer… who would sure appreciate it if you could see fit to give us the facts.

  89. Hello Matt!
    I have to say I am a bit confused right now.
    All this talk about you can be penalized for purchasing links, really what is the problem with that? Another word for it is advertising.
    In fact you can buy links even from Google, then it is called Adwords.
    Ok, Adwords links dont show up in your backlinks but still you pay money for it.
    Is Google painting themselves into a corner with this policy?
    As I understand it´s ok to buy some links but not a whole bunch of high PR links, now who set the limit then for how many is ok?

    Back to the real subject about the SEO contest. I still see some very Black hat pages around, wouldn´t it be great if G can set an example here?

    In fact people are making these pages just to try out how long they can have them before they get banned as a fun experiment.
    2 bad they have been around 2 long. But I believe in G still and I guess some major updates is around the corner 🙂

    Anyway I think a swede will win this contest that´s for sure 🙂

  90. Just won my 1st seo contest- online casino btdino – must say that although I’ve learned alot from the contest – it does not worth the time you need to put in to it and one of the most annoying things is to see how many people downloaded my site and tried to copy it, people trying to spam my site in order to get it banner and many other techniques! I just hope it will not hurt the site ranking in the future.

  91. Hi,
    When google Adwords was launched didn’t backlinks shows your ads appear in search results for your site as backlinks?

  92. Marcus Westberg Said “Anyway I think a swede will win this contest that´s for sure”.

    No way. A norwegian will win it 😉

    Actually I think we all will win it if it helps Google in any way to pinpoint glitches in the algo. I sure hope it provides you with valuable information.

  93. It’s a good article and relevant to the currnet climate, You can be penalised for buying links, but how does Google determine if a link is purchased of aquired naturally?

  94. Great article, its very interesting to see how differant people view differant methods, although I have to admit watching an amature juggle torches is very funny to watch ecspecially when they come asking why they got burnt.

  95. Hello Matt,

    This is Benj Arriola and unless someone else already told you, recently put up this SEO Contest mainly for people of the Philippines. It started June 1 (June 1 at 12:00pm Manila Time, that is +8GMT) and the keywords are: “Isulong SEOPh” without quotes of course. And I guess so many queries were done on Google, that when I did a backlink check on several websites, I get this:

    Google Error

    We’re sorry…

    … but your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application. To protect our users, we can’t process your request right now.

    We’ll restore your access as quickly as possible, so try again soon. In the meantime, if you suspect that your computer or network has been infected, you might want to run a virus checker or spyware remover to make sure that your systems are free of viruses and other spurious software.

    We apologize for the inconvenience, and hope we’ll see you again on Google.

    I was first thiking it can be a suspicion based on the site in query, so I tried doing a backlink check on other sites not related to the contest. Still the same error.

    Now I am thinking it is based on the person doing the query. And maybe it can be my IP. And I also thought it can be caused by the general location of the query. And Google should be receiving a lof of these queries related to the contest for the next few months. Contest ends on Sept. 29, 2006. +8GMT. Right now, I am just relying on Yahoo and MSN’s backlink check but they follow nofollow sometimes and getting a peak at Google’s backlink check is a better checker of the status of things.

    Just giving you guys a heads up on what to expect on queries with the words isulong and seoph and coming from locations mainly from the Philippines and locations around the world with large concentrations of Filipinos.

    More power to you Matt and to Google. That Interview with Danny on the ‘DNS Hijacked Radio Show’ was very good as so fast. Up to now I am still listing to it just to catch up with everything.

    I have read your policies on comments and I did not know where to place this because it may be off topic, so I did a search for “SEO Contest” so at least my comment is about a contest on a post on a contest.

  96. These contests are fun to watch… 🙂

  97. The error above I posted….

    My bad, I knew what caused the problem.

    I had changed my User-Agent and set it to googlebot, because I was just spying on the sites of the other competitors if they were doing anything fishy.

  98. Matt, after participating in 2 SEO contests, I’m about to loose all my belief in SEO. After learning all kinds of different on-page, off-page SEO techniques, you come to see that its only a matter of who is fast enough to get listed on all the directories and toplists around (paid or unpaid).

    Plus, personally I’m really protesting Googles’ giving so much importance to backlinks in rating a site, because my links don’t show internet users approval of my site. Those who like any of my posts, or content mostly copy/paste them to their own sites, instead of linking back. This duplicate content thing is hurting me very much. It doesn’t look like the duplicate content filters are working in my language.

    I guess I’m really full about SEO these days. Thanks…

  99. “Depending on whom you talk to, SEOs are either the Saint Bernards of the Web, helping to rescue lost sites, or glorified spammers.”

    Considering the SEO industry is now worth billions of dollars and you have SEO’s competing against SEOs; and the damage webmasters can cause to their site if an outgoing link domain suddenly turns black hat in terms of their trust rank it seems unrealistic to me that enough web authors will say
    ‘hey, I’m going to add a link to this resource’ without first taking a long pause to think if it is going to hurt their rankings.

    The general consensus with paid links is that only sites with high relevance to your site with a high PR that don’t have a million and one outbound links distributing their maximum PR are worth buying anyway. In one sense, this seems to be saying to the author selling the link ‘I am confident that if I get a higher PR from having your site link to me, I will get my money back by having a high quality site’. The flip side of this from the buyers point of view is that the PR they gain from this paid link will decrease proportionally with the number of other links other web designers/SEOs buy, and more so if the buyers have low quality sites. In terms of PR, it is only worth getting a link if you are confident the seller won’t post a million other links.

  100. Great information. I’m just starting an SEO contest myself. This page is a few years old, but still helpfull.