SEO is Here to Stay, Best to Embrace it.

This is kind of a late response to the recent SEO debates, the main articles being published on Smashing Magazine by Paul Boag and a rebuttal by Bill Slawski in collaboration with Will Critchlow.

In all honesty I think both articles have their merits, however I think neither fully deal with the problem of why SEO keeps getting slammed.

Paul’s article focuses on:

  •  Manipulation not being a long term strategy
  • Businesses developing in house teams to write content
  • Designers being responsible for accessibility
  • Discouraged reliance on SEO companies and using rankings as KPI’s

I pretty much agree with all of the above, however I am not in the ‘rankings don’t mean anything’ camp either. The article clearly showed a distaste for the SEO industry, and questioned the value SEO’s bring to overall success online.

It was also a little naive suggesting you simply create quality content that is sharable, forgetting even the best content needs promotion.

You’ve probably read the article already, but if not head over there, the comments are particularly interesting.

As you can imagine, 100’s of SEO’s came out in defence and the end result was a very comprehensive rebuttal put together by Bill.

His article covered some of the technical issues we deal with as SEO’s and thoughts from industry leaders, which included:

  • SEO is the practice of helping site owners connect with their target audience
  • SEO is making sure search engines can find, classify and value content
  • SEO is doing anything that will increase traffic from the major search engines
  • SEO is about succeeding in a world where users turn to search engines for discovery, research, validation and comparison (I like this description by Will Critchlow)

Despite a very thorough article there were still responses like this:

Ok, this will sound controversial but all the techniques mentioned above are just common sense. I still agree with Paul’s view from last week that SEO is unnecessary if you have a clever developer and great content.

You’ve had a big article to try and persuade me otherwise but all I’ve read is some advice on prev/next and canonical links meta tags. These are are just this year’s equivalent to keyword meta tags.

The rest of the article is just meaningless rhetorical business-speak, like: “SEO means focusing more on the customer and less on yourself. SEO means providing value. SEO means looking at the big picture and helping a company transform its business. SEO means identifying business objectives and determining the best way to go about realizing them.” Not very convincing.

I know I’ll be down voted by those working in SEO desperate to cling on to its assumed relevance in today’s web industry but my advice to clients is to forget about any approaches by SEO salespeople and consider spending the money on content, via copywriters or PR agencies for example. All they need SEO-wise is half a page of instructions about simple methods such as page title lengths, url structures, image alt tags etc. It seems to get them to the top of Google.

Apparently we’re trying to cling on to the relevance of SEO in today’s web? I think ‘clinging on’ is a ridiculous thing to say, the industry is booming, there are more jobs in SEO than ever before, more investment, and the forecast is further growth. Clinging on? Really? This shows it’s more of a ‘chip on the shoulder’ attitude rather than a well informed opinion.

The Real Problem

I personally don’t think it matters what the rebuttal stated, there is a clear attitude towards SEO, particularly in development, design and even journalism circles, for whatever reason they just hate the industry and no matter what value we as SEO’s add, this never seems to change, with certain groups only ever focussing on the negative, thinking they are somehow helping in the demise of SEO.

If SEO is really that much of a con, why is the industry growing so fast? Why are more businesses both big and small investing more money in it? Why is there growing demand in the job market?

Do you hate SEO? If so these are the questions you should be asking! Not ‘what do SEO’s actually do?’ but ‘Why do companies invest so heavily in it?’ and ‘Why is it growing?’.

The SEO market is worth over £500 million in the UK alone.

It is growing by nearly 20% each year.

Stop hating on SEO and ask yourself, “Why is this market so successful?”.

I appreciate snake oil salesman and spam emails don’t help the perception of the industry, however I continually get spam emails from developers, design agencies and cheap copy writing services, yet I don’t feel the need to question the industry.

OK, so what do I think SEO is?

I Might as well have my say in this debate. Let me start by saying what I think SEO was:

  • Ensuring sites were accessible
  • Pages were keyword optimised
  • Anchor text was informative and descriptive
  •  Unique content was being produced regularly
  • Directory submissions
  • Article spinning
  • Forum spamming
  • Text link buying

Yes, 6 – 7 years ago, I would say 90% of SEO companies had a model very similar to this, and the reason it looked like this is because it worked. It drove traffic, revenue and helped to establish some major brands in the UK and US markets.

Some companies still adopt this low quality model; however they have a big shock coming to them if they don’t adapt.

As SEO’s our primary objective is to understand signals search engines use to rank websites, and have the ability to advise on and implement strategies that provide the right signals. In short an SEO should be able to go into a business, quickly highlight the opportunities available and put a plan together to capitalise on them, this may include:

  • Accessibility audit
  • Canonical issues
  • Pagination mark-up
  • Schema mark-up
  • Duplicate content issues
  • Content strategy
  • Content Marketing
  • Analytics audits
  • Outreach
  • Content promotion
  • Digital PR
  • Link auditing
  • Penalty recovery and link clean up
  • Google +
  • Authorship
  • Rich Snippets

These are just some of the tasks we do as an agency and all go through the SEO team. Maybe the name is wrong ‘Search Engine Optimisation’, maybe it should be ‘Search Engine Opportunity’, after all an SEO specialist is someone who can identify opportunities to drive traffic and revenue from search engines.

Most of the above tasks would require input and assistance from developers, designers and copywriters; however the SEO Specialist would usually be responsible for bringing all these elements together.

Would a developer, designer, PR specialist and copywriter be able to deal with all of the above? You need all the elements to be successful. This is why I think Paul’s original article, although had valid points, was a little naive.

The reason why companies invest in the above is simple, because it works! It delivers results.

A quick example….

I worked with a small business last year who really wanted to increase revenues through the website. The site was well designed, converted well and had great content. It was in a very niche market and traffic was never going to be massive, however there was still significant opportunity to grow revenues to this small business, so I put the following plan in place:

  • Optimised title tags on all pages
  • Created location based landing pages which incorporated the details of partner businesses
  • Listed company on Google places
  • Built local directory listings and citations
  • Set up 10 guest blogging opportunities
  • Offered promotional badges to partners
  • Set up Facebook page
  • Shared photos of recent work and encouraged clients to like the page
  • Encouraged clients to review services, and added them to the site and applied schema mark-up

The Results?

  1. Increased monthly traffic to the site via Google by 800%
  2. Increased traffic from Facebook by 2000%
  3. Gained top 3 rankings on over 30 core keywords
  4. Top rankings across 10 locations on Google Places
  5. 250% increase in monthly revenue from the website

This made a significant difference to this very small business, it was transformational. Would anyone else other than an SEO specialist put the above in place? Would the designer, Copy Writer?

Good SEO produces business changing results

SEO is growing so fast because of the results it can drive, if you can show your expertise or activity has an SEO benefit you will more likely get the budget you need. Does it really matter what it’s called?

Companies will invest in opportunities to drive more revenue, SEO justifies this investment, it doesn’t matter what the activity is.

A good developer is vital to the work I do as an SEO, as is a good designer, copy writer or PR specialist. Even though there is plenty of snake oil in all these industries I still recognise a need for the services and how they integrate with what I am trying to achieve.

It’s time to drop the pride, SEO is here to stay, the advice of a good SEO will help developers, designers, copy writers and PR specialist all get more from the work they do. It’s time to embrace it, there is no need to feel threatened, SEO isn’t here to replace any of the above industries, rather it is here to compliment them.

SEO’s understand search engines, and the signals used by search engines to understand how authoritative a website is. They then use this knowledge to bring together a pool of skills to help capitalise on opportunities and drive more traffic, conversions and ultimately revenue.

… Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays…

The Disavow Tool Works! Real Sites, Real Recoveries!

See update here  – More Insights on the Disavow and Recovery


It seems like the only thing I have posted about this year is penalties, link removals and reconsideration requests!! Well at long last I can finally put a post together that is a little more positive; in short I have some good news! But I still want to discuss the above.

If you have been negatively affected by unnatural links, penguins or any other type of link spam penalty, there is a solution, you can get out of it and in a reasonable amount of time.

The Disavow Tool

Yes, you will all be aware Google launched this on the 16th October, and there has been mixed opinion on whether or not the tool works, why Google have launched it, and what impact it might have on search results in general.

Well, just so we’re all clear, it does work. If you have been hit by a penalty, following a few simple rules and using this tool is all you need to recover your rankings.

However, before I dive into the evidence I thought it might be useful to go over some of the reasons people were against or dubious of the disavow tool, and then I can talk you through how to sort this mess out.

Negative SEO

First of all let’s be clear, in my experience negative SEO has never really been an issue, I’m yet to see a plausible study that shows negative SEO really works. Yes since penguin hit there have been forum threads and the odd post about negative SEO attacks, however I have seen nothing convincing (feel free to prove me wrong in the comments). We even had a client that was hit with around 10,000 Xrumer links as part of an attack, the impact on rankings?? Nothing! In fact we saw improvements.

So, to say Google have brought out the disavow tool to defend negative link attacks holds no weight in my opinion.

Google should just ignore bad links

I am 100% sure that if Google could ‘just ignore bad links’, we would not have seen the unnatural links message or Penguin. The reason why Penguin rolled out, the disavow tool launched and unnatural links messages were sent, is because Google cannot algorithmically tackle link spam. They may be able to identify certain types, and devalue certain anchor text signals, but ultimately they are fighting a losing battle. This is the reason we have the disavow tool and all the penalties, Google wants us to clean up the web for them; “hey we’ve identified some bad links, we believe you are trying to manipulate our results, go clean it up or consider yourself penalised.”

Now you may feel this crowd sourcing from Google is wrong and a way of trapping SEO’s, that’s’ fine, but don’t be naive enough to believe that Google could just ignore bad links.

Yes, Google may have said in the past “Hey don’t worry about bad links, we can detect them and stop them passing value”, but come on, they’re not going to say, “Hey we’re really struggling with this link spam”. We’d all have a field day!

Good sites might get hurt

I have heard people saying “Good websites may be wrongly reported and stopped from passing value”, honestly; I don’t think this will be the case. If you have been hit by a penalty the last thing you’re going to do is disavow your better links. Plus if links are on good sites, its straightforward enough just to email and ask them to remove or change the link. It’s the spam sites with no contact details, no maintenance, it’s these sites that will get reported, and if reported enough may get de-indexed.

Basically, if your link profile is made up of bad links, expect to lose rankings soon.

None of the above reasons should stop you using the tool!

Anyone who completely disregards the tool based on some moral stance against Google obviously isn’t or hasn’t made any money from natural search. Any agency who advises against link removals, link disavowing or sending in a reconsideration request is naive and doesn’t fully understand the updates that have rolled out this year.

If used correctly the tool works, and here are some examples to prove it:

Example 1 – Manual Link Penalty

– removed 95% of link spam by August
– Unnatural links message in July 2012
– Reconsideration rejected
– Used link disavow for remaining links
– Filed reconsideration
– Rankings came back within 10 days

link disavow />

Example 2 – Manual Link Spam Penalty

– Unnatural links message received back in March
– 80% of links pulled down within 3 months
– Multiple reconsideration rejections
– Disavow tool used
– Filed reconsideration
– Message received advising manual spam penalty removed
– Rankings back within 7 days

manual action 2

Example 3 – Algorithmic Anchor Text Filter

– Unnatural links message received in March
– 60% of bad links removed
– Multiple reconsiderations rejected
– Disavow tool used
– Filed reconsideration
– Message received advising there were no manual penalties
– Rankings algorithmically recovered 3 weeks later

algorithm filter penalty

The above charts are from searchmetrics and give a visibility score based on rankings and potential traffic on those rankings, it is just a trending tool, but perfect for spotting penalties.

So if you have been hit with any kind of links penalty you’re going to want to know how to deal with it, and there are a few pieces of advice I would recommend you follow:

Link Audit

Make sure you undergo a thorough link audit. Combine Opensiteexplorer, Majestic SEO and Webmaster Tools links to ensure you have the biggest sample possible. You will then need to work through them and classify your links; I would split them into 3 groups:

> Good link
> Good site, aggressive anchor text
> Low quality website and link

Obviously leave the good links alone, contact the sites with aggressive anchor text and request removal, and add all spam links into a text file ready for the disavow tool.

You MUST do a link audit before using the tool, the last thing you want to do is disavow a link that is genuine and passing value. On the other hand you need to make sure you get as many of the bad links as possible.

If you do the audit and find you have very few or no good links then don’t expect your rankings to return, at best you’ll have a clean sheet to start working from again.

Disavow + Reconsideration

As well as disavowing the links you should also send in a reconsideration request, this is the only way a manual penalty can be removed and until you get a response you don’t know which one you have.

Remember there are 2 penalties at play!

The link penalties handed out in the last 18 months are made up of 2 types:

1 – Manual penalty for unnatural links

2 – Algorithmic anchor text based penalties

The problem is you may have them both. If you follow the advice from above you will receive a response from Google advising which you have, this advice comes in the form of 2 messages:

Manual Penalty

manual action revoked

manual action revoked 2

If you get a response like above, happy days! You will recover within 10 days.

Algorithmic Issue

You may get 1 of 2 messages:

algorithm filter

If you get this back it means your issue is algorithmic, and adding the suspect links into the disavow tool will help you overcome it, or you may be suffering with a Panda penalty which will need to be investigated.

algorithm filter disavow

Again this message means there were no manual actions and the issue is algorithmic, if it’s down to links, disavowing them will alleviate the issues.

Remember you may have an algorithmic penalty and a manual action! You have to take care of both and send a reconsideration request.

So there you have it, the tool does work, and it will help you sort issues with penalties.

It amazes me when I see people advising against the use of the tool, some businesses are losing millions in revenue because of these updates, to not use a tool that kills links that are hurting that revenue is just ridiculous.

Before I finish up, let me add a couple of warnings:

> Building good links and doing lots of social/content/viral marketing, is not going to sort out your penalty

However, on the other hand:

> If all your links are low quality, then Google isn’t going to reward you for removing them, you need good links in the first place

In summary:

1 – Carry out a link audit and classify links
2 – Manually remove aggressive anchor text
3 – Add spam links to a text file
4 – Disavow spam links
5 – File reconsideration
6 – Await response
7 – Recover rankings

Throughout all this, you should build great links through REAL outreach and marketing.

If you are struggling with this penalty or have any questions about using the disavow tool, please let me know. At Branded3 we’re continually advising businesses how to deal with these penalties and seeing lots of successes.

Finally! Google Launches a Link Disavow Tool

Well at long last Mr Cutts announces the anticipated link disavow tool at Pubcon:

link disavow tool

This gives webmasters the opportunity to upload a text file through webmaster tools, identifying any toxic links they believe point to their website, it does however come with a few warnings.

– Just because you think a link is toxic doesn’t mean Google aren’t counting it

– Don’t just disavow whole domains, you may have good links on there as well

– Still a lot of uncertainties around how it treats subdomains, blogspot, wordpress etc…

– Complete a full link audit and try and remove links first

Google still recommend removing links before adding them in the disavow tool, and personally I would only use this tool if you feel your search rankings are being negatively affected.

You use the tool by uploading a text file through your webmaster tools account:

To remove a linking page =

To remove a domain =

Add the above examples on a separate line for each disavowal.

I’d be cautious removing whole domains for the reasons stated above, and would only use the tool if you feel bad links are negatively affecting natural search performance.

Before using the tool I’d suggest a full back link audit, and remember Google treat links put in the disavow tool as nofollow, so if they were adding value you will no doubt lose rankings and traffic.

You can find the tool here:

And here is a little video from Matt:

For those spam links you just can’t contact, I think this tool can make the difference.