The SEO Cycle: A Contrographic

by Jarrod Wright

Whether you've been in the industry for a while or if you're still just starting out, you've been there.

We've all at least once dipped our fingers into the shadier side of SEO. It's hard not to. Only very recently has Google started to finally crack down seriously on web spam in the SERPs, and even now there's still a ton of crap affiliate sites outranking brands. Sure, Google's heading in the right direction, but we're still not there yet.

That's why I thought this contrographic was an absolute perfect way to describe what's happened to SEOs at least once in their lives. It's also a great resource to show beginners, because I can guarantee they've at least thought about the shadier side of things.

So here's the first infographic to appear on Point Blank SEO!

SEO Infographic

The SEO Cycle - 650 width

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The SEO Cycle - 800 width

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Agree? Disagree? Keep the conversation going on your blog by embedding it (the code's above!). If you do, make sure you credit Jarod at Subtlenetwork.com, the creator, as well as this post (the embed code does this already, so copy & paste and you're good to go!).

Since Jarod & I realized that some of the images used in this graphic might make great visual aids by themselves (is that panda/penguin image not awesome?!), he also made them available as stand alones. The embed codes below take care of the attribution (each image is 350px wide). If you choose to host them yourself, remember to give proper attribution!


So, what do you think? Have you fell victim to this process (I have multiple times...)? I'd love to hear your thoughts below 🙂

Thanks for reading! Make sure you follow me on Twitter & checkout the course.

This post was written by...

Jarrod Wright – who has written 1 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Jarrod is the owner of Subtle Network Design & Marketing located in Clearwater, FL. With a solid background in print and digital design, his recent focus has been almost exclusively on internet marketing. Find him on Twitter.

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  1. Sebastian says:

    Love it. I think a number of us have all been there, especially recently 😉

  2. Chris says:

    I like the info graphic, but I think in reality, everyone is purely gray. It costs way to much time and money to be purely “white-hat” unless you have a group of people supporting you and a client that has a limitless budget. It has to be a mix.

    • I think once you get to a certain point professionally, your clients start to be larger players who probably deserve to be number one. SEO as practiced at that level is a whole different animal than the knife fight that the average SEO finds himself entrenched. Dealing with condensed timelines, limited budgets and the pressure to deliver results for an uncooperative client makes the straight and narrow feel like less of an option. I am not going to pretend to have the answer. This is a perilous racket. There are no allies on the first page of Google.

  3. Love this! Just added it to my site and I think almost all of us in the SEO world have fallen into this trip more then once.

  4. I couldn’t agree with this more. I find it a genuinely difficult dilemma. In some cases you have to endure the risk to compete with the spammers unless you get lucky, have the time/energy to work for years before seeing results or have a huge budget for branding.

    • Or get lucky with the right cocktail of dodgy links. I work in a few high-spam niches and you would not believe some of the link profiles I examine. SEO feels like alchemy when you see whats ranking these days.

  5. Kane Jamison says:

    If you’re going to Warrior forum for your grey hat tips, no wonder you keep coming back to white hat. That site’s useless…

    • There’s probably a wheat:chaff issue anywhere you go. I don’t know if I would prejudice myself against the value of any information based solely on its source. One might say that parsing the gems from the get-rich quick nonsense on Warrior is analogous to sifting the gems from the platitudes and generalities common other places. I appreciate, however, that you may be the first to take the bait of the contrographic. I am very interested now… where is it that YOU get YOUR information about effective gray hat tactics?

      • Kane Jamison says:

        Wicked Fire and Black Hat World have lower wheat to chaff ratios. Still lots of crap to sort through, but far more gems than you’d find on Warrior Forum. Haven’t followed any of the sites heavily in the last two years so may have changed somewhat.

        On the flip side, I agree that the “blog comments for the sake of it” get really old on SEOMoz. Makes it impossible to find useful comments on new articles. Wish that effect didn’t happen, I assume that it partially comes from the points requirement for followed profile links.

        All of that said, I’ve been through the cycle and spend the vast majority of my time in the top position. Long-term I don’t see a whole lot of value in grey-hat activities for the sites I currently work with (small/medium business) – mostly will come back to bite your brand in the ass in some way. To me it’s not worth it for client sites or my own.

        • Thanks for the share. I almost used the wickedfire logo because it would have been a lot better from a design standpoint. I wasn’t sure, however, how popular that forum actually is. I wanted to be sure the concept was clear. I don’t read BHW that much because the design makes my brain hurt and the name makes me feel a little dirty. I too am on the top of the swing… but it is starting to feel like any link building, regardless of the organic nature of the outreach, contains risk. 6 months ago, I thought the links we got through our work on MyBlogGuest were gold, now I am wondering if they’ll end up being a liability. Blog networks and spinning software have long been removed from our toolbox, but my definition of gray hat includes a lot more. You may only oscillate from very light gray to a slightly darker shade of gray, but I am assuming that most people go through this cycle. This graphic exaggerates that, but I am not convinced that the pendulum ever goes away. Even if it’s only because the consensus and changing landscape cause the wobble.

  6. Nice work Jarrod. You show the cycle but you don’t make a point for or against. I presume your message is don’t fall prey to grey hat behaviour, stick to your guns on quality?

  7. Dan says:

    I think alot of people fall for the ‘I can build you 10,000 Backlinks’ and get you 1st on Google within a month! There will always be people out there trying these techniques, people just need to be educated before using an agency or SEO company.

  8. Great illustration Jarrod and you’re so right. What I like best about this post though is the display of your absolute mastery of link bait. Not only do you have compelling content, but you’ve broken it into bite-sized pieces and even given the code. Well done sir!

  9. Alex H says:

    If you haven’t considered it already, here’s some code for the textareas to make them a bit more user-friendly:
    readonly=”readonly” onclick=”this.select();”

    • I think I may be having a brain-fart.. but this looks like some clever spam to me. I applaud the use of technical jargon though. Much better than the standard “Thanks for sharing your blog is very valuable indeed”. Enjoy your nofollow link to your twitter account… I guess? I feel really confused all of a sudden. Am I crazy here? I don’t want Kane to make fun of me again.

  10. I have noticed parts of this entire recidivism cycle at an particular SEO conference. When I attended MozCon in Seattle earlier this year, I found myself wondering at the spectrum of link building tacts that ranged from stuff Matt Cutts would approve of to much more questionable stuff. One guy’s (Paddy Moogan) presentation included 35 link building tips, most of which were clean, but some of which remind me of the “evil” version of your SEO guy in the graphic.

    I’ve found that if you simply contribute to the productivity of the web by adding to the discussion wherever you are, then you can still compete with the people who are cheating the system, but you stay clean and have a good conscience at the same time.

    For instance, here I am reading your infographic and blog entry after being referred here by AJ Kohn’s Google+ post. I decide to participate in the discussion. You are nice enough to ask my name, email address, and website, which I gladly provide. I submit a comment that contributes my personal experience related to what you are discussing, and in return I get a little recognition.

    • Well said. I think a major factor is the competitiveness of a niche your targeting. Some transactional keywords can easily net the top ranked site hundreds of thousands of dollars per month. Well written blog comments and hopeful dreams won’t do much when there is such a strong profit motive for others to cheat. Recent changes have made sustained cheating much less common, but I am still seeing a ton of fly-by night operations creep onto the first page in between updates.

  11. SEO NJ says:


    I think the point here is that no matter what Matt Cutts says and No matter what Penquin/panda/yada yada, SEO keeps evolving. You have to make a blend up of various techniques and test.. I think black, gray, blue, red hat does not matter, because SEO should only be 1 part of other marketing strategies (SEM, Social, Video, on and on)..if you are not offering that whole strategy to a client, then good luck, you’ll need it.. and uf you are just selling SEO your clients will eventually either fade or someone like me will take them over with a better blend approach that delivers consistency and transparency. Great info graphic! We should call this the black and white dance

    • You must be totally pissed at your parents for naming you SEO NJ. Were they some sort of modern industrialist hippies?

      • NJ SEO says:

        Yes they were! I guess I incorrectly spelled it wrong, so i fixed it .. One other note is the amount of “Drive bys” people getting into the game of the internet marketing business. What I have also been keen to, is that many people who attempt to do this business without a hint of design and copy ability. Even if you SEO site to death, if its crap to the end user, its still has poor conversion. Part of winning the SEO business, is winning over the clients to building a smarter web presence so that the uptake of traffic is converted. non of these fly by night scene into the equation, and its always evolves. One thing .. you should check the Page load speed on your Subtle, i was getting 32 sec..not sure if its a network issue or server thing , check it out on web page test.. hope it helps.

  12. David says:

    Average SEO is sinking and the game is really getting tougher for them. It’s now survival of the fittest. If you can’t fight with the rest, you are going down. 🙂 Each update is getting crazy but the jump in PR on the first week of November makes SEO still worth fighting for.

  13. Matt Coffy says:

    Ah yes, the proverbial lampooning of the blog poster on the relegated disdain of care for diction and clairvoyance of a third grader. One of my favorites…. Thanks for the ROTFLMAO moment, It took me most of the day to put this one sentence together with coherent attention to context and proper grammarnaziam level prose. The point of the infographic and my added input relate to this rather simple dialog; the many people who have recently entered into the SEO marketing world are merely piggy backing in old techniques. I have personally watched several competitors of mine recently whipped like a star in a S&M film from poor SEO and blatant disregard for real marketing strategy. As Google catches up to the techniques that have recently been shifted to the “do not do” list, it relieves the client bases from those limited capability shops. We have already anticipated what real online marketing should accomplish for a customer.

  14. DennisG says:

    Nice, I liked the IG.
    Was actually surprised you didn’t mix up the alt text on the embed codes.
    These all cary the same embed code, which could have been an opportunity to create a more diverse backlink profile for this post.


    • Really good point. I think I fell victim to the copy and paste laziness. I don’t know if changing them up would help my optimization since all of the smaller ones link to a non-optimized page, but they probably should be different just for the sake of proper HTML. I forget sometimes that alt tags have a purpose other than keyword stuffing.

  15. Search Ramble says:

    pretty neat…made me laugh actually 😀

  16. Dan Cutler says:

    Haha… this is a pretty reasonable assessment of how the pendulum swings for “an SEO”.
    How to fix it? IMO:

    Don’t cost Google money while you’re making money off Google (for example waste their resources crawling and indexing webspam that’s of no use to searchers) – parasites get eradicated. If you do, don’t cry when you get stepped on and point to the other guy who got away with it. You don’t know his secret sauce either, which leads me to my greater point…

    Stop thinking like *you* have all the answers, or need to! The whole Black Hat vs White Hat SEO thingy is kind of embarrassing and industry people waste *hours* playing Philosoraptor around the subject, then when they’re finally certain they have it ALL figured out (lol) Google releases an update, they get trounced and bleat about it.

    This is why the Agile cycle is so attractive to me, it’s not about grand schemes (because the world might change a hell of a lot before those big plans come to fruition) it’s about short-term increments that over time add up to that grand scheme – based in, and backed by, data every step of the way. You don’t need to plot out everything first. All you need is where you want to wind up and what to do next. It really eliminates a lot of the “but I thought I was supposed to ____” complaints.

    So don’t worry about what SEO is, or isn’t, or etc. Look at your data and figure out which number needs to go up. Then look at more data and figure out how to do it 🙂

    PS last thing, don’t forget that a lot of SEO thought leaders make their money by being thought leaders. They’re not selling SEO services to clients so much as they’re selling the SEO industry to junior industry members. Their registers ring through making people buy into their methodologies. Some are straight up scamsters and some seek to provide genuine value. But all of them have skin in the game of defining what SEO “is” and pretty well all of the time that definition is one that leads you towards their product, service, or system.

    Great post man!

  17. Jennifer says:

    Excellent graphic Jarrod! Definitely every SEO doesn’t always tow a straight line and as it becomes increasingly difficult to get clients to rank for highly competitive short tail keywords, the more SEO’s will try out some greyish techniques. I have been evaluating backlinks of websites ranking on the first page for head terms for many years, and it’s interesting to see that even the folks at SEOmoz and company don’t always follow what they preach.

    • Do as I say not as I do. I too love looking at link profiles. Most of the really big names don’t work with clients or if they do the clients aren’t anything like those the “average” SEO would work with. It’s real easy to remain philosophically pure when your working with fortune 500 companies who already have a mountain of link equity. Raising their traffic by 5% is considered a huge success. When your clients are less established and your charged with tripling their traffic, your options become a little more creative. I personally don’t believe that any real SEO in the trenches is completely white hat.

      This is the test i use….

      Let’s say you email a VERY authoritative and relevant blog in your clients niche pitching a guest post. If the blog replies that they charge a smallish review fee on all guest posts. Do you…
      a) Say “no way, I only want links that are completely free”.
      b) Look at the clients budget and pull the trigger if you think its worth it.

      If your answer is “b” (and, in my opinion it should be) then your on some section of the grey spectrum. I don’t pretend to know where the line is or where it should be. I expect that it is different for each person. I do know that if you stray too far in either direction, your bound for an ass kicking of some type.

  18. Brook says:

    I realized last month that my nerdy link building staff was no longer enough. They are great guys but this wouldn’t but it anymore. So I gritted my teeth, pulled from my savings and hired a badass PR. The type that sets up events, calls TV stations and doesn’t take no for an answer. Why? Because I have a couple of great writers and I realized that the only way to dominate is get our clients onto huge news/magazine/educational websites.

    This has proven to be cheaper than having 10 link builders going for a month. One article from a National Newspaper with a link back got a page 1 result in 10 days (on a new website). Now we are working on dozens of others.

    I think us nerds need to come out of the idea that real people don’t exist anymore. You would be amazed what one call to an online magazine editor can do for you. If you do it with enough energy.

    Let’s see how we do after the next Penguin Update/Refresh – gulp!

    Your first illustration (Mr Angel) could

The SEO Cycle: A Contrographic - Point Blank SEO