Hey, watch where you’re pointing that thing!

by Tom Davis

Search Engine Optimization is tool that should be handled carefully.

Just before Christmas my Google News page showed me this news story:
SEO expert hired to enhance Dallas firm’s reputation pleads guilty to extortion

And everything about it enraged me.

The most enraging aspect of this article is this sentence:
“Stanley was in the search engine optimization business, meaning he was paid by companies to make their websites more popular by any means necessary. And some of his business was legit...”

SEO Professional?

The criminal described in this article may have been willing to use “any means necessary” but that is not a general definition of the practice of search engine optimization. This sentence implies that “any means necessary” is just part of the SEO business. And while there are those people out there, it is not what SEO is about.

When you see the phrase “by any mean necessary” you should assume bad things are happening.

In the case of this crime, if the company that hired the “expert” actually expected him to use any means necessary - then they should have paid him whatever they agreed on or be ready for him to turn the weapon toward them.

Anyone who watches TV knows that the reason you always pay a hitman the money is that you do not want him coming for you next.

By the way the FBI news release was much better at explaining the situation:
“A legitimate SEO business engages in standard practices such as optimizing the underlying HTML code on a website for certain keywords that a search engine indexer, (e.g., a web crawler for Google, Bing, etc.) would associate with a given search query. An illegitimate SEO business engages in deceptive tactics to affect search engine rankings and the volume of results. Such deceptive tactics include creating fraudulent reviews (good or bad), creating fictitious websites, or hiding text on websites.”

Thank you FBI.

The other aspect of this article that is not stated is one I know from experience. Too many companies want to buy their way out of their problems related to online reputation or SEO. And they don’t want to know what happened, they just want results.

I feel that a lot of executives think of SEO or “reputation management” like US presidents think of the CIA. “We have problem, fix it. I don’t want to know any more… just fix it.” My guess is that the executive wanting this “online reputation improvement” is a jerk that probably needs his real life reputation repaired. I guess they could also be ignorant of the “wild west” world of the Internet and found their actions looked a lot different when someone disagreed publicly in a high profile blog.

I understand that to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs, but you cannot ignore the fact that you broke some eggs. And with the Internet, it is going to be out there. Live with it. Maybe even actively engage your attackers. Either way, facts are facts.

The funny thing about this story is that it sounds like crime show where SEO services replace the drugs or arms smuggling.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not a dirty word unless you make it one.

Are there sleazy SEO practitioners? Of course there are. It is the perfect arena for charlatans because it is so vague and misunderstood. It is also a great arena for the “less ethical” practitioners because there are dirty ways to get fast results. Of course, those “dirty ways” will usually come back to penalize you in short order.

Great so now you have bad SEO practices and bad SEO practitioners. No wonder SEO has such a bad reputation.