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Old 12-03-2004   #1
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Confessions of a White Hat Content Spammer: What I've Learned by Ignoring Google

There was chaos and alarm last year when the infamous "Florida" debacle hit, and websites by the scores dropped out of existence as far as Google rankings were concerned. It was at that point that I decided not ever to be disturbed or upset over search engine changes. In fact, I decided from that point on to ignore Google altogether. After all, we'd been advised to do just that.

GoogleGuy had said publicly, before then and after, to create sites for users and not Google - that if sites were created with users in mind, they would do well with Google. In fact, I got a couple of slaps on the wrist when said gentleman came up behind me and posted said advice after I'd posted relating certain things I'd done - like putting up "coming soon" pages with a link to them to "fetch the bot."

I made a quality decision at that time to ignore Google and whatever the latest thing was that they or any other search engine had up their sleeve, and instead dug into search engine research papers, to try to figure how people who program search think. Those triggered a renewed way of thinking, and based on on those, precipitated by what GoogleGuy had said, I figured out that search engine engineers who design the algos more than likely have as their primary concern what their users are looking for and strive to create search that's relevant to what their users search for and how they search, rather than being concerned with what SEOs are optimizing for. So I tried to adopt a differently focused attitude: What are users/visitors/customers looking for, and without even thinking about search engines, how can a site be best "optimized" to meet the needs of users and increase traffic movements within a site?

What I learned by ignoring Google et al was that when you concentrate on how users are searching and shopping, if you focus on those needs and create content accordingly, focusing on what else people will be interested in when they arrive by targeted keywords, you can eventually increase your sites' income three-fold - simply by thinking about how the people in a particular market shop, how they search, and by trying to meet their needs - by creating more pages with content relevant to what and how they would be looking and shopping if we were in their shoes.

Therefore, some questions arise. Jill Whalen posted here, in msg #81:

http://forums.searchenginewatch.com/...ad.php?p=25527

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So how do you decide what's despicable, and what's just plain old spam?

Why is it okay to steal from the search engines, but not from other webmasters?

And aren't you also stealing from other webmasters with your brand of spam?
I'm having a hard time understanding why this particular brand of spam is so much worse than spam in general, I think.

I am glad that there are limits to what most spammers will do. And I think your feelings of this being a despicable technique perhaps might help you guys to understand more where some of us come from with our dislike of spam in general. Take your feelings about this type of spam, and apply it to all spam, and you then have...well...Doug!
How about those among us who are "white hat" content spammers? Those among us who do it know exactly what it is, so we might as well not play dumb. We might as well fess up - if you do it, you *know* you're doing it and you know exactly what it is. Mind, you, it is - or can be and generally is - quite within search engine guidelines, conforming to the letter of the law to the T.

Are white hat content spammers in any way stealing from other webmasters, just because they know how to do it, or concentrate their efforts on doing it? Are they/those among us "spamming the engines", or just listening to the advice they give us to create pages relevant to users?

How *do* we decide what's despicable and what's just plain old spam, or what's ethically acceptable? Are white hat content spammers sinners or saints? Are they/we gaming the engines, or just doing what they advise us to do by creating "relevant" sites and pages?

Last edited by Marcia : 12-04-2004 at 12:22 AM.
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Old 12-04-2004   #2
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Thats one of the reasons that I dislike using the undefined word SPAM which has different meanings and connotations to different people. Perhaps the most hardline definition I have seen is "If you are doing anything because of search engines then you are spamming" This is a bit ridiculous to me since if there were no search engines I would never publish a commercial site (as it could never be found), hence the very act of publishing a site could be considered by some as spam.

IMO you should build your pages with content that appeals to the viewer, and which will sell your products or services. You would be foolish however to ignore what search engines are known to like. Is it spam if you use headers or is it good web writing practice?

Search engines and webmasters have a symbiotic relationship in that neither can survive without the other, and if the search engines reward your webwriting with high rankings, and those pages still sell customers, who is to say that it should be labeled with that ill defined tag spam?

IMO the search engines make the rules and if they rank you well over some time they are implicitly implying that you are not spamming.
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Old 12-04-2004   #3
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What I learned by ignoring Google et al was that when you concentrate on how users are searching and shopping, if you focus on those needs and create content accordingly, focusing on what else people will be interested in when they arrive by targeted keywords, you can eventually increase your sites' income three-fold - simply by thinking about how the people in a particular market shop, how they search, and by trying to meet their needs - by creating more pages with content relevant to what and how they would be looking and shopping if we were in their shoes.
Are you asking if this could ever be construed (or I suppose misconstrued) as spam?

If so, I'd say of course not! How can anything that you do to simply give users what they want (which in turn gives search engines what they want) be spam.

It can't be. It won't ever be.

It's not.
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Old 12-07-2004   #4
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So I tried to adopt a differently focused attitude: What are users/visitors/customers looking for
Isn't that the primary goal for any marketeer...? Find out who your target users are and what they are looking for and then deliver them what they want...

Combining website traffic - user behaviour together with search engine referral information can give you most answers you are looking for and valuable insights for future lead aquisition and sales conversions.

Try to be your customer. Be creative, be smart.

It's always difficult to cross the border between spam and what's allowed to do from a marketeer's perspective. Why 'devaluate' paid text links...? A paid link doesn't say anything on the relevance and importance in relation to the query? If I sell lousy widgets and I have a lot of money to take a market share I can easily get exposure with TV commercials and print ads in the major newspapers.

As for a marketeer it's always the creative part to attract new prospects and turn leads into customers. The online environement gives some great opportunities to do so...with most important the 'reversed Direct marketing' tool they called Search Engines.
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Old 12-07-2004   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcia
What are users/visitors/customers looking for, and without even thinking about search engines, how can a site be best "optimized" to meet the needs of users and increase traffic movements within a site?
IMO, this is Professional SEO 101. These days SEOs that are focused on ROI simply have to take this approach. It's not new and it's certainly not spam.
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Old 12-08-2004   #6
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Confessions of a White Hat Content Spammer: What I've Learned by Ignoring Google

My website rarely get top listings at Google but that new beta MSN search thinggy loves it!!!!!
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Old 12-08-2004   #7
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Marcia, don't put all your egs in one basket

For the majority of sites I've uptimized in the past years I've been doing more or less what you explain: Focus on the users not the engines. This has, I believe, most of the time kept me one step ahead of the engines instead of one step behind. It works great for most verticals. But, have you done gambling, adult, pharmacy or antivirus? I do it all. Even for very competitive areas like this you can surely gain a lot of succes with "wite hat" techniques as described but only to a certain point ...

To gain top rankings for the most generic and most searched for terms in very competitive areas you often need to go further and move into the "gray" areas. If everyone else in that market tweak their on- and off-site parameters to the max so will you have to do and you can't do that by just studying search tech in general and user preferences. You need to study algos for that - one way or another.


Anyway, my point is just: Why stick with one way of doing SEO?
I pick the methods I need to get to where I want - it's that simple. Most often I don't have to do more than what you explain, Marcia, and in that case why should I do more? I am a lazy guy so if I can get away with half the work, I sure do it, but if that won't get me the desired results I will move on to the next stage.
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Old 12-08-2004   #8
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To me, the key is one word within this statement, (taken out of context of course),
>you can eventually increase your sites' income three-fold <

That one word is EVENTUALLY.

Most of my clients, especially, (as Mikkel pointed out), the ones in the gambling, pharm industries, don't pay top dollar for eventually.

Also,(again as Mikkel pointed out), we don't make the rules, we just play the game and the casino/texas holdem game is not the same as the custom drapes/swimming pool chemicals game.
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Old 12-08-2004   #9
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But, have you done gambling, adult, pharmacy or antivirus?
Antivirus?

Oh the irony...
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Old 12-08-2004   #10
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Great post, Marcia. Utter zen, and right up there with the kind of insight that BigDave and europeforvisitors possess. This is the heart of your post, to me:

Quote:
What I learned by ignoring Google et al was that when you concentrate on how users are searching and shopping, if you focus on those needs and create content accordingly, focusing on what else people will be interested in when they arrive by targeted keywords, you can eventually increase your sites' income three-fold
Brett's koan has been to add a page of content a day. One of my koans would be "I advise people to spend less time on their toolbar PR, rankings, or a single keyword phrase and more time seeing how they do across several search engines, seeing if they can be relevant for diverse phrases, and on looking at their logs to figure out what keywords users are typing to really find the site". And I'd compress that down to "look at your logs, not your rankings." There's often more interesting stuff to learn in one's server logs and by thinking about how surfers use your site.
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Old 12-08-2004   #11
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GG, you'd be a great SEO!
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Old 12-08-2004   #12
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GG, you'd be a great SEO!
Nah, he always spoils SEO Threads with facts.
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Old 12-08-2004   #13
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GG, you'd be a great SEO!
Maybe not as good as Lycos or Ask Jeeves.

Do I smell Google going into the SEO game. Rumors, let them begin...
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Old 12-11-2004   #14
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Originally Posted by Mikkel deMib Svendsen
Anyway, my point is just: Why stick with one way of doing SEO?
I pick the methods I need to get to where I want - it's that simple.
That's the golden nugget for me. Couldn't agree more.
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Old 12-14-2004   #15
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GoogleGuy says...
"And I'd compress that down to "look at your logs, not your rankings." There's often more interesting stuff to learn in one's server logs and by thinking about how surfers use your site."

I couldn't agree more. How else are you going to track down new bots, and ID new spider IPs before they wipe you out...?
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Old 12-14-2004   #16
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Mikkel, I had to read your post a few times before replying to digest a couple of important points you've touched on

Quote:
For the majority of sites I've uptimized in the past years I've been doing more or less what you explain: Focus on the users not the engines. This has, I believe, most of the time kept me one step ahead of the engines instead of one step behind. It works great for most verticals. But, have you done gambling, adult, pharmacy or antivirus?
This really wouldn't have anything to do with those, it's pretty much about shopping and marketing of consumer goods. And it's personal sites of my own that I'm not answerable to anyone else for. And to be fair, Google had decided to hate the first site in question around January or February and still does, but the rankings were there and still are for the main keywords at Yahoo and MSN. So the adventure didn't start from square one for that - it did get into going for the increase and cross-selling. Another pretty much was from scratch.

I can think of a related area to those you mentioned where it wouldn't get the necessary rankings for prime keywords but could apply to cross-selling and increase traffic for the 2nd and 3rd level keywords. But that's still consumer goods oriented.

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I do it all. Even for very competitive areas like this you can surely gain a lot of succes with "wite hat" techniques as described but only to a certain point ...
I don't personally do those, haven't and don't intend to; but while you're 100% right about rankings for certain markets the most important part of the statement for some people is "only to a certain point."

As an illustration of something I'd long forgotten about, probably the closest I'd personally go is lingerie, which I decided I'd like to do a site for way back around when I was first starting out. Not wanting to bother with billing shipping, I called the marketing rep of a popular company and was referred to a fulfillment house. Having glanced briefly at the fulfillment site prior to calling them, I asked the gentleman on the phone what the deal was - whether it was just linking into their shopping cart and having the order shipped, then being paid a percentage of the sale.

"Well not exactly," he replied "Once they get here we do some cross-selling for higher priced items." So I asked what kind of items. He said, "leather and toys."

I was delighted. I responded, "Leather and toys, that's great! Like teddy bears and purses? Terrific, I know those markets already, I can easily sell those."

There was a pause, he said "Wellll, not exactly," and said he'd email me some further information. He did, and I didn't.

Quote:
To gain top rankings for the most generic and most searched for terms in very competitive areas you often need to go further and move into the "gray" areas. If everyone else in that market tweak their on- and off-site parameters to the max so will you have to do and you can't do that by just studying search tech in general and user preferences. You need to study algos for that - one way or another.
Mikkel, it isn't all that limited, people need to know that you have to study algos for other areas as well, though not to the same degree across the board. Remember - there's a big difference between someone brand new and someone who's been at it for a few years. It gets to be where a certain amount of optimization is done automatically without even having to consciously think about it.

The critical thing you're pointing out imho, is that some markets certainly do take far more than others. It can be very misleading to people to lead them to think that certain techniques are all that's needed. It simply isn't so; it isn't honest and it isn't fair. Not even necessarily for teddy bears and purses.

Last edited by Marcia : 12-14-2004 at 03:14 PM.
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Old 08-04-2006   #17
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This thread was originally written back in December, 2004 and I thought I'd give an update on how this has worked out.

Quote:
you can eventually increase your sites' income three-fold - simply by thinking about how the people in a particular market shop, how they search, and by trying to meet their needs - by creating more pages with content relevant to what and how they would be looking and shopping if we were in their shoes.
I put up a new domain last year (around July of 2005) and gradually added a few pages here and there, watching the stats and adding more as it became evident what people were looking for and how they were searching. As more pages went up, more clues became evident and so did a pretty good idea of how the target audience did their searching and how they were "speaking to me."

The figures speak for themselves, and I think it would be a good thing to share them. The site was moved to a new host the last week in November, so here's the first month available through last full month's stats:

December 2005
Unique visitors: 1177
Pageviews: 3,424
Bandwidth: 111.50 Meg

July 2006
Unique visitors: 5,745
Pageviews: 17,179
Bandwidth: 660.34 Meg

That sure does NOT happen with all sites, but on this one the "voice" of the surfers has been so loud and clear that it's become a personal thing, and putting up pages almost feels like being responsive and "talking back" to them - giving them what they're looking for and speaking their language.

It's one of those rarities in life I guess, where watching the stats becomes something like a two way conversation, and instead of being just inanimate web pages, bytes and bits, a site can become a living, growing thing and a real joy to work on.
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