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Aaron Wall and I Debate the Open Discussion of Webspam
Posted by randfish
In years past, I'd occasionally post about various aspects of webspam - manipulative links, cloaking, thin content, etc. In these posts, I'd use examples I'd seen - sometimes particularly egregious ones, other times more subtle offenders - both to help illustrate the points and to provide concrete evidence. It's hard to say "link spam is a big problem and Google's susceptible to it," without specific data to help back up that point, and it's much easier to brush aside generic statements than observable cases.
This came to a halt several years ago as a segment of the public SEO community derided the practice as "outing" or "snitching," and used both public and private methods of pressure to lambast and ostracize those who engaged in public discussions of webspam with specific examples. Today, there's a few rare but useful examples of public webspam discussion that slip through the cracks, including:
- Yoast's recent post showing off GoDaddy's link building spam
- Matt McGee's great post pointing out abuses of video snippets
- Aaron Wall's own exposé of Mahalo's SEO tactics
Seeing these, I'm hopeful that our industry is becoming more professional, less paranoid and less like a mafia. These were always the features I hated most about the SEO world on the web - that we would rarely "come together" as a group to laud progress, embrace accomplishments or conduct research (though projects like the industry survey and search ranking factors, both ours and David Mihm's local version stand out in those arenas), but that groups would unite to antagonize or attack each other.
So, it was a fun coincidence this week when Aaron and I had a chat over Twitter on this very topic, which I've Storify'd below:
There were several things I really enjoyed and appreciated about our conversation:
- Despite the 140 character limit, it was (mostly) sensible :-)
- No one lost their temper or turned to personal attacks (which, unfortunately, hasn't always been the case in the past and for those times when I've played a part in that, I hope Aaron accepts my apology)
- The discussion included some humor and fun
- Both of us clearly have a lot of respect for one another and, despite arguing vehemently on this issue, maintain both an industry and personal kinship
The disagreement, at its core, seems to be around the impacts of open webspam discussion. I think those who engage in gray/black hat manipulation (or marketing of any kind for that matter) publicly on the web shouldn't expect privacy from their fellow marketers nor from the web community as a whole. Just as we learn by studying the launch of Spotify or the customer acquisition tactics used by Dropbox, so too can we learn from those who manipulate the sensitive parts of the search engines' algorithms. And, in doing so openly, I think we help separate our profession from the practice of spam and show the broader web community that we are not a mafia focused on silencing those who expose gray/black hat, but rather a diverse set of professionals who openly acknowledge and call out bad practices.
Aaron takes the other side, believing that the more standards are imposed (formally or informally), the less opportunity will exist for those who practice SEO. Many others have taken a stance that public webspam discussion is an offense worthy of some pretty horrific insults, and I've been on the receiving end of a large portion of those. It's, sadly, an issue that's created a lot of strife in the community, sometimes irreparably hurting relationships. I'm really glad to see that's not the case between Aaron and I, though :-)
Naturally, I'm curious about your perspective and, thus, have created a short survey below (anyone can view the results, and it's not particularly scientific given potential audience biasing):
While I look forward to reading some great comments, please keep in mind the sensitivity of this topic and the guidelines for posting on SEOmoz. We do remove comments that don't add positively to the discussion or show respect to other posters, and it's when topics are at their most volatile that we'd like for everyone here to be at their most TAGFEE.