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Open Letter to Spammers

John Doherty —  April 11, 2011

I would love to just write this:

Dear Spammers,

Go away.



I cannot however, because I have mixed feelings about spammers.


Today this site was hit with some massive spam by someone labeling themselves Betus Promotion Code. This is betting/gambling website that I guess is trying to achieve rankings through comment spam, hoping that their nofollowed (at least on my site) profile names in comments will help them rank.

Let me be clear: I do not like spammers. However, I do respect a lot of blackhat (and dark greyhat, I guess) SEOs, for a couple of different reasons.

Why I Respect BlackHat

I respect blackhat because let’s face it, those guys are brilliant. You really have to know your code and craft in order to maliciously inject hidden links into websites without their knowledge. In fact, I even think JCPenney’s “SEO” company that was buying links all over the place and achieved #1 rankings for so many terms was brilliant, because they did it for so long without anyone knowing.

Whenever I hear blackhat SEOs speak, I am always mesmerized and impressed by what they can do. When I saw Martin MacDonald build 1.4 MILLION links to Distilled’s website (as a show of what he can do, not what he does do), I was unduly impressed. I was speechless, in fact.

Now, do I approve of these tactics? Of course not. They give the SEO industry a bad name when they are caught and stories are thrown across the Internet (think of JCPenney and Overstock). I don’t like that when SEO was portrayed on CBS’ The Good Wife that the character was labeled a “spammer.” Is that the name our industry has?

Blackhat SEOs think in creative ways as well. In spite of what we might say, or want to believe, they use interesting ways to exploit weaknesses in other websites, and apply these tactics to the same problems that so called “whitehat” SEOs are trying to solve. They simply do it in different ways.

Why Blackhat SEO is Necessary

Blackhat SEO is necessary, in my opinion, because it keeps the good guys in business when the bad guys are caught. Those of us who try to work ethically, earn our links, produce content that is of value and relevant, who desire to build and work with websites who treat others well and want to provide a good experience, also have the opportunity, and challenge, to educate companies about what it takes to win, and to win well for a long time.

If we build sustainable SEO strategies and set companies up for longterm success (which is what all companies should strive for, in my opinion), then we are doing a service to these companies. Also, creating these strategies takes a lot of hard work. It is much more expensive and time consuming to have a team of creative linkbuilders, graphic designers, and IT people working together to dream up, create, and distribute valuable content. It seems much easier, albeit requiring a lot of other skills, to spin content and inject hidden links. Press a button once you have found the target websites, spin your content, automatically create your profiles, and go grab a coffee.

I’m sorry, but that’s not the kind of work I could be proud of.

Risk Talk

Let me end this diatribe by saying that I agree with this article on Sphinn. I think we need to stop using “hats” and talk about “risk.” One of the commenters even went so far as to say “If there’s risk, it’s not SEO, it’s just web spam.” I don’t know if I would go this far, but I would say that risky SEO is just that. It’s not only risking the websites these people are working with, but it is also risking (or contributing to the already existing) the name of our industry.

On Monday, my post entitled “How Distilled Stole My Page Title” went around the Twittersphere. It was interesting to see the feedback and there were a lot of comments from a lot of people I respect. Read the comments here.

Now I run into an issue. I’ve never confronted something like this before, and I want to test in order to see what will cause the page title to change back in Google.

I need your help testing

How should I proceed with the testing? The first test is already in place. I unapproved the comments that Jen from SEOmoz thinks may have been contributing:

This test has been in place for 24 hours. It does not seem that Google has cached the page yet, but according to @rosshudgens:

The title has changed a bit. You can see that there is now a new “- The” in the title:

Compare to before:

I am going to run this test until tomorrow morning. Now the question becomes “What do I test next?”

Take the poll and help me out!

What Should I Test?

  • Request others to add links to the post with anchor text (40%, 4 Votes)
  • Ask Distilled to change the anchor text (30%, 3 Votes)
  • Apply both NOODP and NOYDIR to the site (20%, 2 Votes)
  • Get lots of people to search "John Doherty Distilled Linklove Conference" (suggestion via @billsebald) (10%, 1 Votes)
  • Apply NOODP to the site (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Apply NOYDIR to the site (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Other (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 10

Loading ... Loading ...

If you select “Other”, please tell me in the comments what you suggest.

Thanks everyone! I’ll be publishing my findings once all this is done!

Sitemap (n): A file placed on your web server, in XML format, to alert search engines to a website’s existing pages. Submitted manually to search engines using Webmaster Tools.

I just made up that definition, but it is also deceptive. I’ve been in web development for about 5 years, and I still hate sitemaps. At least, I did. I do sometimes.

Sitemaps can be incredibly helpful for websites, especially new websites, when trying to be discovered and ranked by search engines. They can be easy or terribly difficult to create, depending on the size, scope, and format of your website. I’ll cover this in a later post.

Basic Sitemaps for Beginners

Sitemaps for indexing, and therefore SEO, purposes are created in XML (eXtensible Markup Language) format. To learn more about the format for XML sitemaps, read this article on Sitemaps.org, the first result when you search “xml sitemap format”, and a surprisingly good resource for beginning.

A sitemap can, and possibly should, be generated every time you update your website by adding a new content page or blog post. Sitemaps should be placed in the root folder of your domain (so if your website is http://littlebluewidgets.com, your sitemap path should read http://littlebluewidgets.com/sitemap.xml).

Now, this is not an error-proof way of telling the search engines that you have a sitemap or that they should look for it. After all, if they have not yet found your site, a sitemap simply being placed in your root folder is not going to do you any good. You should use the search engine webmaster tools.

Webmaster Tools

Both Google and Bing have been nice enough to provide webmasters (and SEOs) with Webmaster Tools. Google’s is found here and Bing’s is found here. You must register your website with each tool and then place the given code into your site’s header (or use Yoast SEO for WordPress to do it automatically on your WordPress blog). Wait a few minutes (I usually wait a couple hours) and then verify your site.

Once inside, find the Sitemaps area where you can submit the path of your sitemap on your website.


To find the sitemaps area in Google, simply log into your Webmaster account and click your website. Once the Dashboard appears, click “Submit a Sitemap”, which is found in the lower right-hand corner of the page.

Click "Submit A Sitemap" to move to the Sitemaps page

When you move to the Sitemaps window, click the “Submit A Sitemap” button and the below window will appear:

Google Sitemaps Window

Click "Submit A Sitemap" and enter your sitemap path

If you have entered the correct path, you should see a green check mark under the Status column.

Now on to Bing!


Submitting a sitemap to Bing is a bit trickier. Once you sign into Bing Webmaster Tools and select your website, you will land on the Dashboard page. Click the “Crawl” section, which is just to the right of “Dashboard” on the top navigation.

Bing Dashboard Screenshot

Click "Crawl" to move to the next step.

Once in the Crawl section, click “Sitemaps” on the left side of the screen:

Bing Crawl Webmaster Tools

Click "Sitemaps" to progress to the next step

Then click “Add Sitemap” and the following screen will appear:

Sitemaps for Beginners

Enter your sitemap path into this box

As long as your sitemap is in its proper place and you designate the correct path, you should see “Success” under the “Status” column.


I have taken you through the steps to submit your sitemap to the main search engines, Google and Bing. I highly recommend that you use a website CMS or blogging platform that allows you to automatically generate and submit your sitemap to the search engines.

I personally use Yoast SEO for WordPress, which I use to update the sitemap (I’ll be doing so directly after this post goes live) and ping Google and Bing to alert them that I have updated my website. This increases the likelihood of your new content being indexed.

Questions? Comments? Leave them in the Comments section!

Do you ever long for the days of 1950’s or 1960’s America, where most Americans lived in small towns, walked to the corner store for groceries, knew their neighbors across the white picket fence, and used word-of-mouth as their gauge for knowing where to eat and who to do business with? I think we’re heading back this way with the advent of brands and, in my work circle, brand SEO.

A Bit of Explanation

A lot of talk in SEO circles recently has revolved around domain and author authority. Bing’s Director recently said on SEOmoz’s White Board Friday that they are taking author authority into account as a ranking signal. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Anti-Spam team, has also said that author and domain authority are ranking factors for GOOG’s SERPs.

The recent talk I just referred to is brands. More namely, the increased importance of brands on the Internet, of recognizeable, established brands that have earned the right to speak in their specific space. When I talk about smartphones, what brand come to mind? When I mention MP3s, what brand? How about tablet computers? What makes this brand stand out? Yes, they make great products (I’m writing this post on one), but what else?

Why Are Brands Good?

My answer to the above questions? Transparency. Openness. No, I am not talking about throwing all possible ideas out into public for everyone to see. I’m talking about Steve Jobs responding to customer emails (even if they’re not always nice). I’m talking about Bing’s Director, Stefan Weitz, talking to Rand Fishkin on White Board Friday. Shoot, I’m even talking about SEOmoz’s TAGFEE code of conduct.

Brands encourage openness. Personal openness, fiscal openness, corporate openness (treating employees well comes to mind). Over the past decade, and especially the last 3 years, America has been rocked by corporate scandal after corporate scandal. Enron. The 2008 US recession. Circuit City. Obviously the idea that corporations should keep all expense sheets, CEO salaries, and employee bonuses behind closed doors has not worked.

How Might Brand SEO Look?

Brand SEO will also have to involve transparency from the practitioners. I think that as established physical brands increasingly move to the online space (and there is talk that they should not), they should be more concerned than JCPenney was about their marketing professionals and online reputation. This will involve a greater push by the internal marketing execs to have more oversight over their contractors and consultants, which in the end will provide a more robust ethical approach to search, business, and marketing.

How will the details of brand SEO be different from current day? Maybe they will not differ significantly, but I would bet that the practice of buying links will become less widespread, as more SEO professionals seek to be white-hat because of the increased exposure, which we have seen in recent weeks, when the dark-arts practitioners are caught. I think linkbuilding will become more of an art, requiring skilled writers and PR professionals, which will also cause SEOs to become more well-rounded than currently (which is saying something).

Concluding Thoughts

I love working in SEO. I get frustrated when I have to keep things secret, when I have to try to cover someone’s unwillingness to be transparent about their business. I think using brand recognition and authority, and thus author authority and recognition, as ranking signals will make our lives, and search results, better because some voices, the trusted voices, will count more than others. We can no longer trust a number (PageRank) because it can be tricked.

We once again have to trust people. Yes, we trust that these people have not been paid by someone to endorse a product, and also have to trust that even if they have been, they would not agree to the money unless they truly believed in the product. We are returning to the spirit of the days when we would call Mom when wonding where we should eat, instead of stopping a stranger on the street to ask their input, which is essentially what we have been doing with many search engine results.

Long live brands, I say. These are exciting times.

I set up a WordPress.com blog account around the beginning of January because I had heard increasingly more about WordPress since I began my job in the Search Engine Optimization industry. I wanted to create a personal portfolio website that I could use my developing SEO skills on, as well as publishing my writing about SEO, Social Media, and Book Publishing.

I quickly realized that WordPress.com was not for me, because you had to pay for every upgrade, to edit the CSS, to use a custom domain name (that I had already bought elsewhere), and to add plugins and widgets. It was not to be.

I decided to migrate my website to WordPress.org. Here’s what happened, and also how you can solve the problems.

Migrating to WordPress.com when your domain name is already assigned to WordPress.com

First, WordPress offers a great 5-minute Installation Guide that is pretty accurate and helpful. I suggest reading it first and reading the rest of this post if it does not help you.

After I signed up with Bluehost as my hosting provider and installed WordPress using SimpleScripts, I changed the nameservers over at my domain host (GoDaddy) to point to the WordPress nameservers (note: if you have multiple domains, make sure that you change the correct one. My first mistake.) When I went to load my new site, however, I was still accessing my old WordPress.com site instead of the new WordPress.org installation.

Here are the steps I took to solve the issue

First, I deleted the domain name from my WordPress.com account. I had already set it up to forward to my WordPress.com URL. Even after I deleted the domain from WordPress.com, it still took about 30 minutes to propogate. I chose to take a shower.

Second, I uninstalled and reinstalled WordPress on Bluehost using SimpleScripts. They actually make it very easy. One note: Unless you want them to automatically generate you an account access username and password combination, click “Advanced Settings” and set your own.

Third, I set my GoDaddy nameservers back to the default. Once that change took effect, I was able to change them to the Bluehost default nameservers (ns1.bluehost.com and ns2.bluehost.com).

What I Learned

Don’t skip steps. Pay attention to what you are doing. No seriously. If your changes are not taking effect, backtrack everything you have done, short of paying for your host and domain name again, and start over. If your domain name is assigned to a WordPress.com account, delete it from your WordPress.com account without forwarding it before you change nameservers

Questions: Have you encountered these issues before? What did you do to correct? What advice would you offer to someone self-hosting a website for the first time?