If you’re an article spinner, you’re a spammer. Man up and admit it!September 21st, 2010 25 Comments
Get ready for a rant. (And comment if you think I’m wrong. Or right.)
A good client asked me to write some web copy to promote his SEO service. Fine. No problems. I’ve done that many times.
So I asked for some details:
“I need more information about your SEO service. At the moment, I have nothing other than your claims that you can do it. To be truly compelling, we need to be able to offer some information that illustrates your credibility and capability in this field. As there are no secrets in SEO, I’d suggest discussing your methods openly. This shows you HAVE methods (which is always a good start), and helps readers to feel comfortable that you’re not doing something underhanded. That you’re a serious provider. I can’t just make stuff up here, ‘cos I don’t actually know what your methods are.”
Turns out my client has no idea what methods he uses, because he actually outsources the whole SEO service to a sub-contractor. He told me he’d ask the question and get back to me. A day or two later, he forwards this from his SEO…
“First we will create you some content, a lot of content, and once this is written, we will then place this on various sites as blog posts, blog comments, articles, videos, forum posts, trackbacks and much more. And within these snippets of content will be a link back to your site, containing the keyword terms mentioned earlier, it is these backlinks that really get things moving. We use as many diverse sites as we can and we do this nice and slowly, as this is mimmicking natural growth within a Search Engine – the more people hear about your site, the more they will link to it.”
Now let me draw your attention to one key phrase, here: “mimmicking natural growth.” Hmmmm… That raised some red flags for me. My reply…
I’m not sure whether it’s a good idea to discuss those tactics. To know for sure, I’d need to see some of the offsite content he’s referring to when he says he’s “mimmicking natural growth.”
I need to establish whether this content is high quality and useful, or if it’s just spammy, low value content. If it’s low value content, I’d probably gloss over it. No-one wants to know that their ranking is based on spam. I’m not saying these tactics don’t work, I’m saying people won’t view them favorably.
Also, as a side-note to you, this raises red flags to me. These tactics may work now, and may continue to work for some time. But I think you need to be aware of the risk inherent in them. IF (and it’s still an “if”) his content is low value (I suspect it is), the risk is that it will become increasingly less effective, the smarter Google gets.
Why do I suspect it’s low value? Because he’s “mimmicking natural growth within a Search Engine”. If it were high value content, he wouldn’t be mimicking anything. He would simply be fostering organic discussion of, and linking to, high value content.
So. The upshot is that I don’t yet know enough to write about your tactics with any detail. It’s your call: do you want me to gloss over it, or wait for more detail?”
Still with me? Good. Now here’s his SEO’s response…
“The content is not spam, it is 100% written by 2 Brits, and then it is spun by hand, by 2 Brits. If the conent were to be 100% unique then we’d be charging $5000 and not $300, so I think you need to gloss over that as don’t want you to be giving misleading info.
Plus our content is always around 70% unique, which is 40% higher than Googles terms of Service.
Lastly – ALL SEO is gaming the system, and the mimmicking of “fostering organic discussion of, and linking to, high value content” – as you are making Google believe a site is more popular than it actually is, so in effect any linking to a site that is not natural could be deemed as a red flag…”
Now we’re down to the good stuff. Let me highlight and discuss a few choice quotes from the above…
“spun by hand” — original & spun for $300
Do you know what spinning is? It’s where someone takes an article and ‘rewrites’ it, so that it says exactly the same thing in different words. Same structure, same point, same meaning, just slightly different wording.
Let’s consider that for a second. Good junior SEO copywriters charge upwards of $60/hr. I charge $150/hr. Could a junior SEO copywriter write a helpful, meaningful article, then rewrite it half a dozen times (or more), in just 5 hours? Unlikely. Could I do it in 2 hours? Definitely not. If I were really familiar with the subject matter, I might be able to write a passable original article in 2 hours, but you could forget the rewriting! (This post alone took me 1.5 hours to write, and it’s something I know a lot about, something I’m passionate about. And half of it is quotes from an email thread!)
And even if we could do it for that money, how does re-writing the article in different words help readers? Even if done well?
I asked for links to some of these articles to assess whether they were any good, but surprisingly, haven’t received any… ;-)
“our content is always around 70% unique, which is 40% higher than Googles terms of Service”
Take a look at Google’s Terms of Service. No mention of any ratio there… ;-) Pure bullshit.
ALL SEO is gaming the system… you are making Google believe a site is more popular than it actually is
More bullshit. Content based link building isn’t about gaming the system. Ask Garrett French! It’s about working hard to write something truly link-worthy, then letting people know about it, so they can choose to link to it if they like it. It’s not about making Google believe your site is more popular than it actually is, it’s about actually making your site more popular.
My final reply, if you’re interested…
“Thanks for that. Have to be honest, more red flags for me, mate.
Firstly, I’ve been in SEO a long time, done a lot of research, and talked to a lot of other SEOs. I’ve NEVER heard anything about a specific percentage change required to be considered unique. Of course, there’s always the possibility I’ve just missed it. So I did some digging. I can’t find anything about it in Google’s terms of service. And when you think about it, it’s not a terms of service issue. Terms of service relate to YOUR use of Google, not GOOGLE’S use of you.
I also asked a few SEO gurus, including David Harry and CJ Jenkins, and they knew nothing about it either.
Nor could I find anything about it in the Google Webmaster Guidelines.
Interestingly, though, there IS something in the webmaster guidelines that relates to the mimicking issue:
“Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?””
Knowing what you know now about your SEO’s methods, what would your answer to this question be?
On that note, all SEO is NOT gaming the system. Spammers use that defence all the time, and it’s just a smokescreen. I’d advocate an approach whereby you write high quality blog posts that are helpful and informative to your intended audience. Then you simply announce that content to people who care. Those people will then link to your content because IS quality, not because it MIMICS quality.
In your shoes, I’d be asking your SEO:
- for links to examples of a lot of content generated for a single campaign (enough that you can see the similarities and differences — see the quality of the ‘spin’);
- a link to the place where Google specifies a particular percentage change required for content to be considered unique (the percentage thing he mentioned exists in Google’s terms of service).
You need to know what your risks are. There’s no way in the world that spun articles are written for readers. And anything that’s not written for readers is on Google’s hit list. Simple as that. If he thinks he can outsmart some of the smartest brains in the world, and continue to game the system, then that’s great. I wish him the best of luck. I say he’s welcome to that approach, and I fully support his right to take it, and to accept the inherent risk.
But you have to ask yourself if YOU want to take that risk. And if you want to expose YOUR CLIENTS to that risk, without their knowledge. If they pay you, in good faith, to get them a ranking, and they lose that ranking because you (yes, they’ll be pointing the finger at you) were doing something that Google told you NOT to do, and you got caught, you could end up in court.
Again, I have absolutely no problem, ethically, with the spinning tactic. I think it makes the web a dirty place, and gives SEOs a bad name as snakeoil salesmen. But I’d still do it myself if I thought it could earn me good money, for long enough. I wouldn’t transfer that risk to my clients, though…
Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. I’d love to see some examples of his content, either way. Just out of curiosity.
I’m sorry I’m taking a bit of a confrontational approach here. It’s not ‘cos I have any interest in proving your guy wrong. I just feel a professional obligation to you. Plus I think you’re a good bloke and a good client, so I wouldn’t want to see you take a hit over this.
Let me know how it goes.”
Let me know your thoughts
Do you know of any spun articles that provide value to readers? Is all SEO gaming the system? Please comment…
Please comment below with your thoughts. I'm not so old a dog that I can't learn a few new tricks!