Best reason not to outsource your SEO work to the lowest bidder

In addition to running a Web design and development business, I also run numerous “side project/hobby” sites and blogs that appeal to various interests of mine. Without exception they all suffer from copious amounts of spam — and some of it might be coming from you without your knowledge.

This spam is virtually all “link building” spam. This means that — unlike e-mail spam — the intention of the spammer is not to get you to visit the site or product they’re linking to, but rather they are building a massive collection of links back to the source. The reason for this is because search engines use the number and quality of links back to your site to help determine your site’s authority (or PageRank). In a perfect world, such links would all be genuine “votes” for your site from other Web sites, in our world it results in paid linking schemes, and this sort of spam.

I realize the Internet both fosters and requires a healthy level of cynicism in its usership, but I try my best to maintain the view that most people are good people. I believe that the vast majority of Web sites that are spamming my sites are not actually the culprits directly responsible. I would guess that in well over 50% of cases, they have paid a firm to handle the rather nebulous “SEO” work. Frequently this is just the guy that designed their Web site, who then heads over to an outsourcing resource and offshores the work to cheaper labour in India, Eastern Europe or Asia.

It is then this sub-contractor that employs questionable tactics in an attempt to boost the site’s SEO value. The problem, aside from being an incredible time-suck in my day, is that not only does it have a very low return value, it runs the very real risk of doing far more damage to the site than no link building at all.

A lack of benefits paired with dangerous consequences

First, most spam messages land in spam traps and never see the light of day. Of the millions of spam comments, profiles and various other submissions I’ve received on my sites, very very few ever actually make it to the “live” indexed site. Most are simply auto-moderated and deleted. This blog, for example, gets approximately 1,000-2,000 spam comments per week, and I never even see most of them.

Those that do get through are often tagged with a “nofollow” attribute that tells search engines that it is valueless and shouldn’t be used as a “vote” for the link’s authority.

But worst of all for the offending site are people like me — people who go out of their way to report spam Web sites to blacklist Web sites and the search engines themselves (see resources below). This has the potential of not just lowering the spam site’s ranking in search engines, but having it removed completely. And should the offending site get on a Domain Name System Blacklist (DNSbl), it could hurt the site’s ability to have their e-mail received by customers and clients.

To me, that’s a lot of risk to take in hopes of getting your site well-positioned on Google. It’s a risk a lot of spam/affiliate sites are obviously willing to take, as they’re not “real” businesses and so can quickly be shut down and pop up again under a different name/domain. However, for genuine businesses engaging in similar reckless behavior (with their knowledge or not), could find themselves with a useless domain, no search engine ranking, and a need to find a new IP or hosting provider; never mind that it also flushes their reputation down the toilet.

Punish the site, not the spammer

Most spam catching does so through the use of IP addresses and the e-mail address of the spammer. Unfortunately these are very quickly switched and regenerated for a new batch of spamming, and thus mostly useless as an effective way of stopping spam.

This is why I think the best way we can prevent spam, at least from legitimate businesses, is by punishing the legitimate business. Actively trying to get a legitimate business that is ignorant of the blackhat actions of their SEO “expert” might sound harsh, but it is the most effective way of assuring better consumer education, which in turn will encourage SEO firms to develop better practices or risk losing newly-informed clients to more ethical firms.

If you run a Web site that gets spammed, I hope you’ll join me in taking a hard line against this sort of spam. It’s easy to just flush it and forget about it, but a little bit of reporting can go a long way to reminding companies hiring spammers that ignorance of the method is not absolution. If you are a company looking to increase your search ranking and considering hiring an SEO firm? Please educate yourself on at least the basic do’s and don’ts. Here is some advice from Free Marketing Zone:

Researching Before Hiring an SEO Firm

Find out a little bit more about the company and its clients. If they publish a list of the clients they have worked with, contact those clients and ask about the SEO firm. You can go to search engines and see if their clients rank highly by selected keywords or keyphrases.

If a company doesn’t provide a client list, you can ask in forums and message boards about an SEO firm. Maybe some clients will show up and advise you about the firm.

Another way to check if a firm is worthy is to see who links to them. Go to Google and Bing and type in:

link:www.seofirmname.com

Look at 20 pages at least. If you see that links are from blog comments, link farms, FFA pages, or there are hundreds of links from non-related Web sites linking to them, then there’s a red flag. Various related pages or client sites linking back are a good sign.

Some Resources

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