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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Doug Heil on Blackhat SEO

Doug Heil of will be participating at the upcoming Search Engine Strategies Chicago “Black Hat/White Hat” SEO panel. Doug is currently working as a search engine optimization consultant; before jumping on the internet in 1996, he worked in the lumber business for almost two decades, he says. I emailed Doug some questions on the subject of SEO.


What are the latest blackhat tricks in the industry which you think people get away with unpenalized in Google?

If a technique is truly blackhat and against Google’s guidelines, I don’t believe people get away with any of them. Eventually the site will be caught if they are spamming. It’s true that the site might get away with blackhat for awhile, but it’s not a long term solution if the site is serious about their online business. That being said; the paid links thing can be disguised, but I would rather not go into how. This might be something that comes up in our session at SES Chicago on December 11. I’ll be on that panel so things should be interesting.

Could you specifically name some things people may still get away with in terms of (non-nofollowed) text link advertising?

You want something specific. Okay. We all know that site owners who build SEO tools or any other kind of tool can go directly to a blog owner and ask for a review of their tool. Sometimes money is passed, sometimes not. Sometimes the blog owner who reviews the tool will use nofollow or some kind of disclosure. Sometimes not. How about all of the “guest” bloggers out there? Oh yes; tool owners and others are going to that guest blogger who blogs for authority type sites, and asking them to review their new tool. Yes, sometimes the blogger does indeed review it for free, but sometimes the owner passes some cash to that guest blogger for the review. The blog owner has no idea of this.

These guest bloggers are found at the authority type sites. Sometimes they blog for one or two sites, and sometimes they run around to a bunch of them. Heck; in some cases the guest blogger does not have to do anything as the owner of the tool will write the content for them. Keep an eye out for all those bloggers out there who seem to write something two or three times per week, if not daily. I feel this is a problem and why I think reviews and such will go the way of comments in blogs, and also of comments in forums. How many times do we see a blog article wrote and nofollow is being used? Almost never. Does the blog owner always vouch for what his/her guest blogger is writing? I don’t think so. You can substitute the word tool for anything that can be reviewed.

Interviewing others can act in the same way. People who are interviewed are approached by tool owners. The blog owner can hold the interview or a guest can hold it as it does not matter. For example; Philipp is interviewing me in his blog. The SES conference could be paying me to place a choice link in here somewhere. Philipp would not have to know about it at all. Do you see? The conference is NOT paying me in any way shape or form for this interview or to drop a link. I just used that as an example of how things might work and do work.

Google and other search engines will have to either start ignoring blog article links, or adjust their algos to not allow incoming links to count like they do now.

What are some of the blackhat SEO approaches which formerly worked but which Google caught up on recently?

The biggest technique going is creating many user profiles on authority websites. Google has always known about this, but I feel they are slowly ignoring these types of things as we go along. It’s not going to be worth your time creating profiles and sticking in links to funnel back to your main site. The SEO industry calls this type of thing joining communities to become good members. I call it BS.

What do you think – is it worth to invest time figuring out how far one can stretch the “SEO limit”, or would you say it makes more sense to build great content (and optimize a site in other ways useful to visitors)?

I’ve never understood the mentality of stretching the limits to find out what that limit is. So no; it’s not worth it. The limits in my opinion are those things you do that makes lots of sense that further enhances and makes better your website for your visitors. It just so happens that doing things that makes sense for your visitors also translates well for the search engine robots.

Besides; trying to find things that go up to a certain line, but not go over that line is a losing proposition in the long run. Search engines aren’t dummies. When you think you are just up to that line of search engine spam, all the sudden you find your site over that line as the algo was tweaked, and you find yourself asking others what went wrong.

Do you think Google has successfully fought what they consider punishable text link ads? Or are people still buying text link ads and getting away with it?

Your use of the word “successfully” is interesting. In my mind, doing your best to beat a system, any system in any industry offline or online, is a good way to not be successful. Has Google been successful at stopping link buying? Not yet. Do people still get away with it? Yep. Is it a good long term strategy? No it isn’t. Your attempts at beating the system eventually get caught.

Did you notice any big ranking algo changes in Google web search recently?

Not really. I say that from the standpoint of not having to constantly monitor things like that. I’ve always felt if a site is built for your visitors, any search engine stuff is already taken care of. Something I have noticed though is a slight weighing down on the importance of the anchor text for incoming links. This is a good thing.

What do you think of Google’s “First Click Free” (for Google users) initiative?

It’s a good thing. It allows a site with lots of great content to be found even though the content might be behind a private area. It’s a legitimate way for Google to do things. I have lots of things I think Google does not do very well, and could do much better, but this was something that’s very good.

What do you think Google does not do very well, for instance?

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand what I mean with that. Google is the best search engine. That’s not just my opinion, but the opinion of millions of Google’s visitors daily who use her to find what they are looking for. If they didn’t think the results were any good, they would find another search engine. With that being said, oh yes, there are things she could be doing much better.

One of those is with fighting search engine spam. Google knows that spam is the one thing that can destroy results. Google needs to penalize the source of that spam. It’s very much okay to penalize the site doing the spamming, but what about the firm who may be helping the site spam? It seems that SEO firms get off clean in this case. They are free to help other site owners who may not know the firm just helped another get penalized. The blackhats will claim that as long as the owner is informed of the risks, all is just fine. This means that the owner and the SEO are conspiring together. Blackhats are assuming that the owner is educated enough about SEO to make this type of informed decision. How can this be? This is why Google needs to do a better job fighting spam. Penalize the SEO as well. Have site owners disclose in some way that a SEO is helping them when they hire them. I do have many ideas about how that could happen. Something needs to be done. If not Google, some other smart search engine will come around to do this anyway.

Google always states that a good SEO helps the search results. That is very true, so why not help those good SEO’s do their job? The above is a good way to weed out the blackhats which helps the good SEOs. At least it would help along the process of changing their hat to white.

The penalties for sites caught spamming need to be more harsh as well. Enough of the slaps on the wrist and back in the results. Each day more and more sites are coming online in each industry. Google doesn’t have the excuse anymore that leaving a site like BMW out of the results, may result in a bad user experience as the user cannot find BMW. There are plenty of sites that can take the place of the big boys now. Going against the guidelines should mean a penalty that is longer and even across the board.

What is some of the latest chatter in the search engine optimization industry?

I really don’t care about that kind of stuff. What I do care about is all the blogs out there who write information that is either just wrong, or wrote solely to cater to those who love sites like sphinn, etc. I don’t believe for an instant that SEO blogs are places where a new site owner or anyone else should be getting all their information from. Just how many tool reviews do you want to read in a week? My answer is zero.

Do you have any tips on how to optimize the rankings of one’s YouTube video in YouTube search?

Nothing that’s really mind blowing. Create a nice title for the video that actually makes sense to a reader. Make sure your title is very relevant to the video by using words that describe the video. The same thing goes for the description of the video. It’s basically the same principals you use with each page of your site. Your title and description should be specific and relevant to the page.

A bit of a more general question, do you think the current finance crisis affects budgets in the web industry/ SEO industry/ web advertising industry?

I don’t think it affects things all that much. Choices are being made in more careful ways. Advertising budgets might be scaled down a tad with off site promotions, and more being put into online budgets like PPC and SEO. I think the current economy is forcing companies to become much more aware of what they are doing, and how they are researching firms to help them. As we move forward, better research will be put in place as more and more firms offer different types of online advertising, creating a greater need for scrutiny of those firms. A true best practices organization will eventually be out there to help the process along.

[Thanks Byron of SEO-PR/ SES for helping set up this interview!]


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