Where My Hatred of SEO Comes From

Lately I have been misquoted and had my words taken out of context with pictures of me with slides that say “Screw Google” as I am speaking to people at various conferences.

Obviously without any context, those 2 words – “Screw Google” can be wide open for interpretation and most of the time its not the interpretation that I would like.

It’s actually not so much a Screw Google approach as it’s a screw SEO first approach.


Lets jump right into the case studies

Three years ago at Webmaster World Pubcon there was a site clinic where top search engine blogger – Danny Sullivan and Google Search Engineer – Matt Cutts were giving advice to people who wanted tips manipulating the Google search results to rank their website higher then it currently (naturally/organically) was.

Dr David Klein stood up and gave out his website. He said he wanted to rank for “San Diego Chiropractic”. After bringing up Dr Klein’s website Danny Sullivan cracked a joke that he might want to have “San Diego Chiropractic” in the title of the website if you want to be ranked. Which also inspired the crowd to have a good laugh at Dr Klein’s ignorance of SEO.

I remember feeling really bad for Dr Klein and evidently so did many others because pretty much every SEO on the planet came out of the woodwork to help him. Now keep in mind before this conference he was not found anywhere for “San Diego Chiropractic”. But soon after… with the help of all the top SEO’s in the world including a post by Matt Cutts containing 8 links to Dr Klein’s San Diego Chiropractic website, he was ranking #1 for San Diego Chiropractic in no time.

3 years later he still holds that #1 listing.

Ok sounds great right? Google ‘s top gun (Matt Cutts) and all the best SEO’s in the world have advised him how to manipulate Google ‘s results to make his website show up #1.

But there is only one problem. When DK (Dr David Klein) came to me for help converting web visitors into customers he told me he was not getting any customers from his website. And honestly a quick look at the website shows you why. Its not very user friendly and there is no real call to action or incentive to book an appointment.

I told DK we would have to do some serious design changes to get some conversion. But he had no interest in that. He said he did not want to lose his #1 ranking for San Diego Chiropractic by making changes to the website….. even if it delivered him zero actual sales or customers.

DK has since become one of the foremost experts on Facebook Advertising but instead of altering his website to convert his natural, free traffic he builds internal pages that are highly optimized for conversion where he pays for the traffic from Facebook.

This is a typical example where my hatred of SEO comes from. The whole point of SEO is to manipulate Google so your site ranks better then where it naturally would without optimizing it so you can get free traffic for your keywords. But when you get your pages there if they do not convert to your goals then what is the benefit? Other than bragging rights….

The newest example comes from a blog post yesterday by Michael Gray (Graywolf). The post is titled Why Everyone Should Turn Off Blog Comments.

Now first let me say there are a handful of people in this industry that I really trust, honor and respect and Michael Gray is on that very short list. As far as his ability as a professional SEO is concerned he is as good as it gets. In the post Michael makes some good points as to why you would want to turn off comments or alter them so you can manipulate your rankings in Google better.

With that said I think its very dangerous to advise everyone to straight up turn off comments on their blog. One of the biggest reasons my blog (ShoeMoney.com) has become an authority in the industry is because of the community around the brand. And that comes from interacting with my readers and letting them interact with other readers. Comments on the blog is a big part of that.

Now there are good reasons to turn off comments on your blog.

  • If you are anti-social and just don’t want to interact with people.
  • If you can’t handle criticism.
  • If you don’t have time to moderate comments.

But if your number one decision in making changes on your website is because of what Google thinks then that is a HUGE mistake.

Last week in the ShoeMoney System webinar we had on Ben Huh CEO of icanhascheezburger.com, failblog.com and others… basically the biggest blog network in the world. It was music to my ears to hear him say that they NEVER look at their Google analytics for keywords. They care about their users and their users experience on their website. They care how much users recommend their site to a friend. They care how much time a user spends on the site. They get hundreds of comments per post and constantly look at how to get users to interact more with their websites.

So you would think a site like this…. who could care less about their rankings in Google, would do really bad in search engines, right? You could not be farther from the truth. They dominate Google for many phrases…. and when they get that traffic it only helps them grow more because they are optimized for users sharing their content… not for manipulating Google.

I am in the same boat. Have I profited from SEO? Yes very much so. But I do well in SEO because I have first and foremost created websites that people actually naturally want to link to and refer their friends to. This in turn helps me build authority with Google which helps my websites rank for their keywords.

This was not always like this. I used to live and die by Google. But then my sites started getting nuked out by Google (my own fault) and I thought my world was over… and while I was able to get them back in because of the connections I had, it taught me a valuable lesson… and from then on I decided I would never again live in fear of Google. Sure I try to adhere to Google’s best practices in regards to linking and paid posts and stuff labeling them properly with no follow tags but we do so little of that, that honestly it really does not play a part.

The really interesting thing… as you can see from my examples above, is that the more I focused on building my brand and the user experience on my websites. The better my rankings in Google did. This all with next to zero on site Search Engine Optimization.

Seems really strange right? Well I can see where many people would be confused. You should read my back posts about SEO… and things in particular the history of SEO and the future of SEO.

One of the keys is to be too big to fail.

Here is one thing I really want you to keep in mind. At its core Google makes all of its money because people use its search engine. If people have a bad experience using that search engine then they will turn to other search engines. So Google hates it when YOU make them look stupid. In October of 2007 I made this video about making Google look stupid and why its important not to. In my 10+ visits to Google headquarters in the years since every time that video has come up in conversation by a Google employee. I dunno if they show it internally or something but I have been told on many occasions by many different Google employees that it hit the nail on the head (off the record of course).

The basic just of that video was talking about how Google needs to keep up this image that they have this big super computer driven algorithm and how it knows everything. Kind of like the mechanical turk.

Let me give you a couple case studies on what I am talking about. Many years ago John Chow was just getting started in the world of making money online. He started a blog at JohnChow.com. He did just about everything that Google hated. He setup reciprocal linking structures, sold paid links, and other… what Google considers “Black Hat” methods. Google took him out of the search index and whenever anyone looked for John Chow they could not find him.

But a strange phenomenon happened. John Chow continued to grow in popularity. Well not grow but EXPLODE. Over the last several years he had built his readership to 70,000 RSS subscribers and thousands of daily web visitors. The John Chow brand was in full effect.

But now Google has a massive problem. John Chow has become too big to not be in Google. After all if you Googled for his name and could not find him in Google the user is left with a bad experience and considers Google incompetent. They don’t know the back-story or care why he is not found.

So Google reached out to John and they reached an agreement so that he could come back into the Google search engine.

Did the ends justify the means? Hell yes. John is not only back in Google but he is ranking for every single one of the keyword terms he was practicing “black hat” techniques for.

Do you think John would have gotten very far if when he had little readership he stopped doing his thing years ago and followed Google’s rules to a T? Maybe he would be like every other blogger trying to do that.

Lets look at a bigger brand for a minute.

A few years back German car manufacture BMW was outed for doing some serious “Black Hat” linking techniques and Google swiftly responded by taking them completely out of the search engine.

But amazingly enough they were right back in Google after cooperating… It was one of Google’s top priorities to get BMW back in its index. Can you imagine how incompetent Google looks when someone searches for BMW and they cant find the BMW website?

Some of my professional SEO friends that take on some large clients love it when they are big brands because they know they can push the boundaries.

Sorry I got pretty winded, but I wanted to drive home a couple of points.

1. Make websites for people, not search engines.
2. Make websites that convert to your end goal… not just rank for keywords.
3. Build a brand around a community. One that loves you and will fight for you because they love your services. Don’t shut them off.
4. Make your brand so big that search engines need you.

So those are my thoughts on Search Engine Optimization. Now please keep in mind I am not a professional SEO. I have never been paid for SEO services. I don’t spend time researching Google Patents or brain storming with other SEO’s about what could possibly happen in the future. All of my opinions about SEO come from my experience in doing over 10 million dollars in online commerce in the last 5 years.