I could be like a lot of other SEOs, saying how fearless I am and how I’m not scared of Google. I could blog about how a lot of greyer tactics & strategies are still alive more than ever, and show you evidence of them. I could even create a case study to show factual evidence of old fashioned, tactical link building (not necessarily grey/black hat) and its effectiveness.
But the truth is, I’m scared. And paranoid. When you read news sites like Search Engine Land and Search Engine Roundtable and see penalties handed out left & right for things that seemed generally white hat just a few years ago, you can’t help but think “maybe what I’ve thought for so long that’s completely white hat is targeted next?”
When you pour all your blood, sweat, and tears into a site, and see it tank because one human reviewer decided that it deserved a manual penalty because of the latest interpretation of what is & isn’t spam, it’s hard not to lose a little sleep at night.
And it doesn’t help when you see the darker side of the SEO community claim that they’re being personally targeted because they poked the bear. Regardless of the legitimacy of those claims, knowing that G can destroy everything you’ve built without breaking a sweat is quite unnerving.
“But Jon, you’re a generally white hat link builder. You rarely recommend, if ever, anything that most would consider is black hat. What do you have to worry about then?”
That’s true, but if I’ve learned anything, time changes the interpretation of what’s white/black hat, and generally anything that’s actionable (which is what I like talking most about) gets abused, then targeted. I don’t want to wake up one day to find G targeting all sites I’m associated with (clients, my own sites, etc.) because of some new reason to be angry with.
For example, what if they start setting examples not just by going after individual target sites, but also bloggers advocating certain tactics/strategies that are suddenly not? What’s stopping them from doing this? It’s a great fear-building tactic, and they sure as hell don’t care about bloggers enough to feel any remorse. I know to a lot of you that sounds ludicrous, but there are a lot of truths today that might have sounded absurd just a few years ago.
It also doesn’t help that Google can easily get away with anything that they’re doing. We’re at a point with the Web now that for a lot of mildly competitive verticals, there are plenty of sites that deserve to rank. Even if you think you’re the best possible result, there are very few instances that anyone is going to care whether or not you no longer show up at the top (this is really only the case for branded search).
The aggregate of all this sucks. A lot. Some of the most enjoyable moments I’ve had as an SEO were publishing a new post here on this blog, and watching the interesting conversations that would pop up around new ideas.
But now I’m reserved when it comes to publishing anything that might be considered a violation of G’s guidelines sometime in the future and watching everything I’ve built come crashing down.
I now understand why there is so much regurgitated crap in this industry advocating the same generic, fluffy white hat strategies that make us throw up upon reading. It used to be because no one wanted to give away their good stuff, but now its also because they’re either scared of advocating something that could soon be considered against G’s guidelines (and thus hurting their reputation), or because they could be poking the bear.
I really believe Google is transitioning from being on the defensive, to being on the offensive. Fear building is continuing to grow, and its definitely off to a hot start in 2014.
I still want to post here because I know how helpful it can be for some people, but I’m debating whether or not to start publishing more content privately through my other channels than on a public blog or via social media.
It’s essentially risk mitigation, which I believe is really going to become a theme not only for SEOs who blog/speak, but also for actual target sites (i.e. removing blog comments because of outbound links).
You can easily say that Google is winning because of a post like this being written, and I wouldn’t disagree. But is it really worth potentially poking the bear? For me at least, there’s too much at stake. I’m trying to give my clients the highest chance of success, and I’m pouring way too many hours into my own sites for me to take such an avoidable risk.
So with that said, you now know one of my deepest insecurities about being an SEO. I’m paranoid; I’m not denying that. We all know that it comes with the territory that you live & die by Google’s rankings as an SEO, but with more & more sites being randomly targeted, my paranoia has definitely peaked.
But I’m curious to hear what you guys/gals have to say about this. Am I way too paranoid? Do you think I’m arrogant to believe that Google cares about what I’m publishing on my blog? Comments are much appreciated, and I’ll be responding to any & all.
Note: my goal is not to sell you on anything in this post. I just wanted to give you honest feedback on what’s on my mind. But if you want, you can sign up for my newsletter; I send emails infrequently (once every 30-45 days), but I plan to keep you guys updated there on where I plan to publish more content, if not on the blog.