Dear Rabid SEO-Mongering Jackasses

Just so you know, when I click on a link that takes me to your site to look at an article, and what I get is a full browser screen full of ads before you bring up any actual content, I do two things:

1. I assume you’re an asshole, because you’ve just wasted my time;

2. I put your site on a blacklist of useless sites that I will never, ever visit again.

Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, I’ve noted a strong correlation between SEO-optimized, ad-intensive sites, and really crappy content, probably because what’s been written takes a back seat to a desperate hope that I’ll click through a Google ad that’s ridiculously unrelated to the content at hand. Nearly inevitably the content is one of two things: a “Top [insert number here]” list which in fact has no critical evaluation at all but is just a slapped-together list of whatever the author could find in a five-minute Google session, or the dry heavings of some “social media strategist,” retching up some bit of wisdom that wasn’t particularly new the first time it hit the Web, back in the last millennium. These sites are the best argument there is for avoiding any sites on the Web other than Seth Godin’s and Cracked.com.

Anyway. If you are an SEO-obsessed jackass — and you know who you are — please pull your head out and have a site that’s meant to be read, rather than a site that unloads a shotgun blast of ads into a visitor’s face, followed by an article featuring bargain basement writing skills. If you are someone wandering the Web and you land on a site where you have to scroll to get to the content you came for, you probably don’t actually have to scroll. It’s not going to be worth your time. That site’s not there to engage your brain, just your eyeballs. Just back out and never go back.

41 thoughts on “Dear Rabid SEO-Mongering Jackasses

  1. The funny thing is that, while those sites can rank well in search results, most people do what you do and hit Back. The bad thing is that this isn’t really SEO, it’s spam. Good SEO includes precisely what you said – writing content people want to read. SEO focused just on getting people to a site isn’t based on understanding the business goal. It’s as if someone opened a store, tricked a lot of people to come in the front door, then had annoying, loud, confusing displays that prevented those people from getting to the things they wanted to buy. Sadly, too many people fall for that as “SEO” because, after all, it’s the interwebs and confuuuussing. Sigh.

  2. While I know exactly what you’re referring to, please note that “SEO-optimized” doesn’t actually go with “really crappy content, probably because what’s been written takes a back seat to a desperate hope that I’ll click through a Google ad that’s ridiculously unrelated to the content”.

    If you’ve properly search engine optimized your site, the most imporant PART of SEO is making sure the content is relevant. Whether Google AdSense is running in automatic mode, and trying to figure out the proper ad to display is also a separate issue.

    As someone who makes websites for a living, and does actual SEO work, I’m just sayin’, please don’t lump in bad sites with “SEO”. SEO isn’t just another word for “keyword stuffing”, which is really what you’re talking about here.

  3. They do accomplish one thing: convincing more people to install security based addons (adblocking, flashblocking, automatic cookie deleting, forcing https connections) …

  4. That’s why I run Adblock Plus through Firefox. I can view sites like that and they look like actual, normal blogs. For sites I really want to support, I set it so that it doesn’t block ads for those sites so they still get the ad revenue. Because I tend to only go back to sites with good content, I’m more than happy to put up with some ads when I visit.

  5. Oh, dear dawg, yes. I’d like back the two hours of my life I spent last week picking through black hat SEO sites and content mills looking for useful information.

  6. Dear John;

    While we appreciate your dissatisfaction with our website, let’s be honest here.
    You, and your readers, are reasonably intelligent, net-savvy surfers. You are probably not grandmothers surfing the ‘net for the first time, bored call centre operators clicking mindlessly to try and escape the drudgery of their soul-destroying day jobs, or young teenagers who don’t know how to surf effectively.

    We don’t care that you get annoyed when you hit our site that’s 1% content and 99% ads. Why do you think we’ve generated thousands of spammy back-links, used subscription coding and hidden URLs to temporarily trick Google into referring you to us, and done whatever other Black Hat SEO tricks we can to get your attention?

    Because if we trick enough people into coming to our site, inevitable, the Law Of Stupid People In Large Numbers will mean we end up getting some ad revenue. And, unfortunately for people who want real, meaty, original content on their websites, there are an awful lot of people out there who really think they’ll get some value out of yet another “Top 10 Reasons To Buy A Lexus!” website.

    Sincerely,
    Dodgy McAdSpammer.

  7. I just want to know how you have to twist your brain to be able to look at that mess of ads and be proud enough of it to post it in public. If it were my creation, my response would involve a shed and a shotgun.

  8. Category 3: Content that’s been scraped from other sites, such as Wikipedia, then adorned with ads and SEO sludge.

  9. Just for giggles, could you please explain what “SEO-optimized” means? That screenshot is the sort of page I usually encounter when I visit a page that is no longer viable (the person let the registration expire, etc.).

  10. lol, I’ve been doing copy writing for a new Cracked.com project all weekend – just one of the many ways you are Awesomeness Incarnate.

  11. My favorite part of that screenshot is the clueless SEO advertiser on the sidebar who’s used the clever shorthand ‘M4M’ to mean ‘Magnet 4 Marketing’ without, you know, googling it first to see whether it ALREADY MEANS SOMETHING.

    I mean, sure, there’s a lot of money to be made in doing M4M work online but it’s, uh, probably not the sort of work that advertiser expected.

  12. Johnny@11 – SEO Optimized is a silly term, as Optimized is what the O in SEO stands for – Search Engine Optimization. This means optimizing your web site, in both content, structure, and (now) performance, for what search engines (mainly Google) prefer, so that your web site comes up as high as possible in search results. There are ‘white hat’ and ‘black hat’ camps – those who use their SEO powers for good, or or evil, as with all tools.

    There are those who mistakenly think that all SEO use is bad, or spam, and those who are ignorant enough to believe it doesn’t work (even within the web industry!).

    The best use of SEO is when you make a web site whose content is original, USEFUL, and matches the key words and phrases (and hopfully advertising) you’ve been optimizing for. Sure, you can get a lot of people TO your site with black hat techniques, but if you’ve tricked them there via deceptive means, it mostly just frustrates them. Google tries to tune their search algorithms (and their manual review process) to give more points to useful content than not, though you can temporarily game the system, at least until they change their criteria, or you come to their notice and go through a manual review and get slapped down. Their punishments range from various penalties (-10 spots, -20 spots, -40 spots, etc), to outright removal from their systems (which is VERY difficult for most people to get back in, if not outright impossible for most). If you do what’s right, and you do it really well, Google will usually notice and reward you appropriately.

  13. John – not all SEO is bad. It’s a tool, like any other. Some people use it for evil. Most seem to use it ignorantly, and wind up doing damage to their web reputation and business. Equating badly-done ads and spam to SEO is simply wrong. I’ll let it drop now.

    Just think how YOU would feel if people started using writing for evil! :)

  14. This site has not been SEO’d. If you look in the bottom right there is a “Advertise Here” blank square. I’d say that nocks this sight down to merely Search Engine Enhanced. You got to have every spot taken to be optimized.

  15. Sorry you encountered suckage! I can’t read those kind of pages at all. People get all mad at me when I can’t do repeated Google searches until I get a migraine trying to get my brain to filter out all of the unnessicary and unw-*

    ( Ummmmmm……nothing matters right now,,,,must watch more Assassins Creed Brotherhood….droooooool…)

    *-anted clutter that might or might not surround what I am trying to find. I understand dude, it is sad.

    oops…totally lost focus there.

  16. Perfectly agree with all this. One thing you may not know (or may, who am I to presume what one knows and does not know) is how the articles on these sites come about. There are freelancer sites out there offering to link freelance writers with people who want to hire them. The majority of the clients on these sites are SEO orientated and, basically, they try to hire writers to do them short articles (100 – 500 words) which reference certain keywords as many times as they can and they pay less than slave wage for these (sometimes about a dollar or two for a single article). The combination of their requirement to have the same words repeated many times (always bad grammar) and the fact the low wage only ever attracts either really bad writers or foreigners with different economies (where even an American dollar may be worth a significant amount in relative terms) who have English as a second language tends to mean that the overall quality is low.

    Not sure what can be done to moderate this activity – should the free market economy where the businesses can offer what they like to people willing to accept that wage be allowed to persist or should various governments impose regulations to minimise it? But it does seem to be making the internet a sometimes tedious place to be.

  17. As others have said, AdBlock Plus (Firefox or Chrome) has been my sanity filter for some years now, and variations of it before then. Do you really browse the web with ads, warts and all?

    I’m genuinely curious, as I do encounter such people from time to time, and they normally tell me they actually don’t notice the flashing, animated “look at me!” banner ads, pop-ups or pop-unders. Maybe I have undiagnosed AD(H)D or something, but just I can’t concentrate on a web page that is busier than my caffeine-addled brain. If it weren’t for ad-blocking plugins, I’d still be using Lynx, I think.

  18. The problem is, it works. People won’t stop creating such horrendous sites until such horrendous sites stop making money. And unfortunately user-friendliness and revenue often don’t go together. This study, for instance, found that huge in-your-face way-beyond-the-realms-of-decency ads generated the most revenue.

  19. John Scalzi,

    Amen. I don’t know an SEO from a CEO but if I follow a link to an article that looks interesting and I get barraged by ads, especially the free floating in-front-of-the-article bullshit, it drives me crazy and I try to never go back to that site.

  20. I tend to go with the assumption that 99% of all ads are hooey and clicking on them will usally result in a bad case of cyberherpes. I could be wrong but it works for me.

  21. A complaint about abusive people figuring out a way to be atop the search results could use a link to the story in today’s New York Times about the sociopath who apparently figured out that if he can get enough people ranting online about his site’s fraudulent dealings and his terrifying responses to their complaints, and often mentioning the name of his site and a few brandnames in those impassioned, genuine, widely read rants, his firm can sit atop the search results for those brandnames and he can rake in the business – even though an actual search for his business’s name would immediately reveal that they’re pure poison. Now that‘s worse than having to click back out of a useless site full of irrelevant ads.

  22. In a more complentative vein, I really wonder about ads – not just online, but broadcast and printed as well. Seems like everyone I know claims to ignore and be u affected by ads, and especially never to click through – and yet the ads are sold. Do I just know the wrong people? Are they lying to me? Are we lying to myself? Are the ad buyers the workd’s biggest suckers? Seems like one of those possibilities must be the case, or a combination …

  23. @Warren: I wonder sometimes if the ad buyers even know what they’re buying. A net-unsavvy businessman might hire an Internet advertising service to help him get the word out, not realizing how they’ll do it. I’ve heard companies claim they didn’t know they were being advertised in spam – they just hired a service and didn’t ask about their methods.

  24. I have never spent a moment SEO-optimizing my website. Rather, the site was designed to support a subject that is interesting in and of itself and is sufficiently distinctive and content-rich that there’s no need to ‘compete’ for web attention.

    Isn’t that what any good business does: find a distinctive niche rather than compete alongside the herd?

    In this sense I suspect writers know more about business than most self-styled CEOs.

  25. Dear Mr. Scalzi,

    Hope you are feeling better. I’m not sure what an SEO is (Sophomoric Equine Opportunist?) but I do know these sites of which you speak. Have you tried “Readability”? Twenty seconds to read what it says, one new button on your toolbar, press it, and voila, just the text, no ads, on any site you choose. Until these SEO bastards (Sudden Electric Overlords?) find a way around it, it is one of my favorite things this year:

    http://lab.arc90.com/experiments/readability/

    Enjoy!
    Michele

  26. Oh, have you heard that negative comments on sites like Better Business Bureau are supposed to help the company to a better search position. At least one company is taking advantage of their over 300 complaints on BBB, noting that it helps them to be bad at service.
    NYTimes Article

  27. I must say, reading the first two sentences of the actual “article” in the screen-grab there — all that’s visible at the very bottom — tells me all I need to know about crappy content. Starting a sentence with “Actually” and ending it with “really” earns you a time-out in the corner wearing the pointy hat.

  28. Hey man, this article is fucking FANTASTIC! Well done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! These SEO websites are fucking bullshit.

  29. I was going to chime in with an “amen”, and give a link to a post wherein I list “11 Ways You Can Stop Pissing Me Off On Twitter”, but that’s like, a list, y’know? Even though there are no ads, and the post itself is pretty funny and informative, it would be shameless shilling.

    So, to only provide the list to people that want to see it, feel free to Google the above phrase.

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