There is a fascinating new movie trying to raise funds (on indiegogo here) from pissed-off business owners that got slapped by the Panda and Penguin updates in recent years. It’s being made by the excellent SEO Josh Bachynski.
I was a “victim” of those updates because I had many pages with duplicate content and an anchor text percentage that was deemed too high in Google new goggles. It was a big slap to my ego because I had been at No.1 for the term “skip hire” for about 6 years after mastering the “dark art” of SEO.
I even had an ex-employee writing emails to my investors taking massive glee over the fact that we had fallen and pointing to the “fact” that this meant I did not know what I was doing in SEO. It was an interesting time that literally put thousands of SEO agancies out of business, or at least changing direction and rebranding themselves as “Digital Marketing”, “Social Media” or “Content” agencies.
The trailer for the film is below. It takes it’s title “Don’t Be Evil” from the strapline that Google launched itself with back in the late nineties.
Although the decimation of so many businesses that relied on their website rankings for a living is no laughing matter, I have often found the idea of “morality” over SEO and web rankings to be rather amusing. I had one suspicious agency owner (who took it upon himself to write a load of bollocks about me online under the pseudonym “SEO Sherlock”) who tried to tease out of me whether I did “black hat” or “white hat” SEO (I told him a load of lies about outsourcing to India, which I have never in fact done, just to throw him off the scent).
“Black Hat” SEO is defined by Webopedia as…
“In search engine optimization (SEO) terminology, black hat SEO refers to the use of aggressive SEO strategies, techniques and tactics that focus only on search engines and not a human audience, and usually does not obey search engines guidelines”
Was I doing Black Hat SEO? Not as far as I knew. I just knew that getting lots of links using my target keyword as the anchor text got me to the top of Google and made approximately £20m in the process.
I mean, what business would not, in all seriousness, NOT want to be at the top of Google for all their major search terms? Of course people did whatever it took to get there. There were no “rules”, no official body that could tell you to do things one way or another under rule of law. Heck, Google itself was having to play catchup so fast that it was not going to outline any laws beyond some vague guidelines in webmaster tools. It was the wild west, open season. A great big roller-coaster ride called “Cat and Mouse” between the Big G and everyone who wanted a piece of the traffic it was generating.
Do I regret using those tactics back in the day? Of course not! My morality was based based on my need to feed my family, pay my employees and succeed in business. I was not hurting anyone by being at the top of Google. I was not “gaming” their system. I was just doing what needed to be done at the time, and I was very proud of myself.
Possibly too proud, for when the two P’s came to town, I took a fall. It hurt. I went from several hundred free leads a day to several dozen. I, like the rest of the SEO industry, was dazed and confused. We all found ourselves with a sore head and sorer backsides having just fallen off our collective horse that had been galloping across the desert but was now disappearing rapidly into the sunset.
I took some deep breaths and decided the best course of action was inaction. I was not going to “do” any more SEO until the dust had settled. I stayed like this, licking my wounds, for about 18 months. Adwords came back into action (although at vastly increased prices), and I diversified. I worked on conversion rates. Instead of focusing on getting millions of leads, I focused on working the leads that we did get far harder. We got leaner, tighter, more efficient and, eventually, more profitable.
It was a tough time, and I was on my own. The 300 or so people that we had employed had all been there because of me. Because I invented the business and because I, magically, got us to the top of Google for thousands of keywords. It was a lonely job. No-body else understood how I did it, and no-one really cared – they just took their salary at the end of each month, thank you very much.
So, has SEO changed much since then? Absolutely. Is it still easy to get to the top of Google? Ridiculously easy actually, but don’t tell anyone 😉
If you got hit by Google, I suggest you throw a few quid at this movie, if only to see the stories that unfold. It is one of the stories of our age.
Google has long been something I have a love/hate relationship with. One one-hand, it’s one of the most useful tools every conceived by man, on the other it’s a massive NSA spying machine that is digitising the entire human experience and sucking the life out all the concepts we used to hold dear like privacy, personal freedom and sovereignty.
Is it evil? Possibly. Take a look at this excellent article by Nafeez Ahmed about how Google was seed funded by the CIA if you’re interested in going down that particular rabbit hole.
I believe the filmakers are looking for people to contribute not only money to help make it, but also their stories. If that sounds like you, head over to indiegogo.
I may well see you there.