Where is Under the Radar in SEO?
Bob Mazza is the first person that I can remember who got boinked for certain SEO tactics (2002) – (oh, I know there were earlier ones, I think Brett found an inktomi paper that mentioned blacklisted SEO’s), but Bob…Well, Bob was the first to sell the value of links, and he did pretty good building a powerful network.
Then Google stomped on Bob’s network and said "oh, you can’t sell Pagerank" – "that’s a bit too over the radar Bob." Bob survived and thrived from this experience, and every now and then graces a forum or blog with some pretty interesting knowledge and insights. He’s a damn smart guy who showed us one of Google’s drawn black lines by default of being the first serious one selling what he was selling.
I also remember that right after that I realized that there was nothing wrong with "buying Links"…just that in selling them there might be problems. Back then there were 3 "big dogs" in the link BUYING business.
One got bonked because Doug Heil published an email sent to him from this link buyer offering a 3 way trade that mentioned PageRank (above the radar when an email is published on a public forum). This "big dog" came back with another business.
Another big dog had some sites boinked, so he removed all his paid links, asked for forgiveness, and built back up slowly and more under the radar.
And the third big dog got bonked kinda late prob for excessive buying, and moved more underground and into real estate internet marketing.
I’ve seen lots of companies bite the bullet since 1999 for the phrases "internet marketing" and for "search engine optimization". They get ranked high, then they get bonked for riding too close to some invisible "over the radar tactic". These tactics might have worked one day, but overnight they can get filtered (automatically or manually). It’s the nature of the Natural SEO business.
In October of 2003 I got my own "ass kick" from Google for a period of time (not on our site, but rather on a handful of other sites we were working on). The following day in Scotland, Shak told me something like "you’re not a real SEO until you’ve gotten a site banned". I was thus a true SEO 😉 .
The following month Florida came and wacked out another handful of our sites, but by then our missory was blended in with everyone else’s Florida woa’s. At least we had been given a months head start on Florida to start to start cleaning our SEO shit up, and to build out better. In thinking back, I can see several "stupid" things I did that caused us to be over the radar in excess. I can think of several lessons learned :
Don’t buy every link you can find and link it to you. Esp as an SEO – it can fuck up networks.
Don’t link to your clients, and don’t ask them to link to you.
Don’t create powerful, and easily recognizable linking neighborhoods.
Stay more under the radar with things that should be under the radar.
Preach White Hat – but don’t go so white hat that you do nothing towards increasing website rankings. Link Popularity is still a big part of that, and doing what it takes to help a site to obtain votes can be the most important job of an SEO.
Look out for invisible lines between white and black in the eyes of search engines. If a grey area looks be be getting too popular, the filters AND the humans might be after you.
It is us, the SEO’s, job to analyze these Invisible lines and use our own judgment between what are the lines today, and what might be the lines of tomorrow.
So what is "under the radar"?
What is "over the radar"?
And if it’s "over the radar", why do we see sites using these tactics and winning with them for years?
On another, but related note:
Three 2006 Predictions:
I think that for serious SEO in 2006 you’re going to see less people trying to "game" the search engines on serious websites. I think that serious websites are going to have to move into trying to create the worlds best resource for that topic with their website.
Blogs are going to be an even larger force in search engines. I think that the Blog laws will be written in the next few years, but in the meantime, it’s the wild west.
Do you agree with my predictions? What are your 2006 predictions?
The defining of the “blog laws” will be interesting. If they discount to much lots of whiney vocal bloggers will sing the blues to anyone who’ll listen. If they keep it too open, aggressive folks are going to beat dead horse into the ground.
Perfect suggestions Jim – I couldn’t have made them any better.
Good points – I think there’s being above the radar, and over the radar.
Relatively speaking, my own SEO presence on Google is pretty small – I’m not in any of the really competitive verticals, and I don’t try and push Google on guidelines. I’m simply not clever enough. So I’m not particularly “over the radar”.
I know I’ve been “above the radar”, though, and that Matt has looked at my work. Impression given is that he’s content to let the algos deal with my sites. Google is already extremely strict on how it regards site quality so is probably good at filtering anything it dislikes that I do automatively.
Always a fear that one day any search engine will devalue my sites manually, though – which is why I’m trying to branch my business model away from pure SEO and into areas where I can apply technical expertise, without having to live constantly under a Sword of Damocles on the SEO side.
Hm…I should correct my comment above:
“Google is already extremely strict on how it regards site quality so is probably good at filtering anything it dislikes that I do automatively.”
Google is already extremely strict on how it regards site quality so is probably good at automatically filtering anything it dislikes that I do.
Just in case I gave the impression that I’m clever enough to do scrapers. I’m not. 🙂
I agree that blogs will be the big thing in 2006. Not just any blogs though… With so many new blogs popping up everywhere, only the really good ones will make a big difference in a sites rankings. We will need more blog experts.
The phrase “under the radar” is straight from the avionics term “flying under the radar”, meaning to avoid detection. Anyone trying not to have their SEO activity noted, by the engines involved in particular, was said to be “staying under the radar”.
What is ‘under the radar’ is anything we don’t attract attention to. That can be white hat as much as black hat activity, such as simply not advertising who you work for, and not tying the reputation of your clients to anything but their own site.
So you can’t get penalized for an ‘over the radar *tactic*’. A tactic is either acceptable or it isn’t. But an unacceptable tactic that is detected gets removed, while an unacceptable tactic that is really ‘under the radar’ can only be detected by actually seeing it, and may last forever if it is truly sneaky.
Ammon, Great words – and from someone I’ve respected for years.
For those of you who for some chance don’t know – Ammon Johns (aka Black_Knight) is one of the most highly respected SEO’s in the industry. When Ammon talks, we should all listen – and listen closely.
Too kind, Jim.
The weirdest thing about staying ‘under the radar’ is the natural conflict between trying to stay unnoticed (not attract unwanted scrutiny for techniques), while also trying to attract as much notice as possible (high ranking for important search phrases).
A successful SEO campaign that is under the radar is almost always a contradiction of terms.
The answer to that contradiction is best illustrated by an analogy I think. Think of a great actor/actress. You should never see them working. You should never be aware that they are acting. Instead, it should seem entirely natural, that they are just being. The only way to know how great a truly great actor is, is to see them in many wildly different roles, seeming entirely natural in each.
That’s the basic approach to staying under the radar.
One of the major tricks that helps is to make the high rankings look almost accidental. The other, and by far the easier, is to make the high ranking such an obvious good result that again, people don’t question why it ranks well.
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