Why SEOmoz Needs A “For Entertainment Purposes Only” Disclaimer

Note to all the more delicate members of my audience: you might want to consider reading this instead: “Why Rand Is Wrong About The ‘Twelve Attributes’, Part 2 – The Touchy-Feely Version“. All others, please feel free to continue here.

Some people have mentioned to me that they think at times I might be a little harsh in my posts. This may be somewhat true on occasion. What I try very hard not to be, however, is sloppy or nonfactual. Yes, sometimes I can be wrong… but at least I do try to thoroughly research my material. I cite sources. I do careful evaluations. Maybe terribly busy CEO’s don’t have time for such nit-picky crap as fact checking, or thinking about what they write, or making sure they don’t say one thing in one place and imply the opposite in another. If that is the case, then maybe they just shouldn’t blog.

The fraudulent mediums act (1951) states:

(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, any person who-

(a) with intent to deceive purports to act as a spiritualistic medium or to exercise any powers of telepathy, clairvoyance or other similar powers, or
(b) in purporting to act as a spiritualistic medium or to exercise such powers as aforesaid, uses any fraudulent device, shall be guilty of an offence.

Then in section 5:

(5) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall apply to anything done solely for the purpose of entertainment.

I do need to make a quick disclaimer here. I don’t read a ton of posts at SEOmoz, and most of what I have come across at this point happens to have been written by Rand himself. The other writers there might have some kickass material that they do actually spend time developing. However, Rand is the figurehead. I’m going to take a guess here and say that Rand is probably not actually using tea leaves, astrology, or a Magic 8-Ball for his research. Most of those methods would have higher odds of being, or in the case of the Magic 8-Ball, at least sounding, right.

Now, there is nothing wrong with writing material just because people enjoy reading it, not in the least. It’s when you present that material as expert advice that the need for disclaimers comes in.

Rand at one point did ask me if I would go through his posts at SEOmoz and show him which ones I thought were poorly written. I never did actually get around to doing that, since Rand decided shortly thereafter to retreat completely behind his troll defense, and quit answering questions altogether (regardless of who asked him and despite what he claimed he would do). Luckily, since a friend and fellow Rand-fan happen to point out one of his more recent writings to me, and since it seems to fit the bill, it looks like I have the opportunity to do that for him, at least for this one post.

By the way, despite the facts that the post happens to be based around, this is not a critique of Rand’s somewhat slimy efforts to cash in on the recent penalizing of so many paid directories in Google, as if he had any clue that it was going to happen. True, while the debate surrounding his self serving review of Aviva may have in fact had some sort of butterfly effect that had something to do with their rankings dropping, it would have had nothing to do with any kind of foreknowledge that Rand himself held. However, this is not about him trying to exploit the impression some may have regarding him having some intimate knowledge about what happened. This is strictly a review of what Rand identifies in his post as, “Twelve Attributes of Obviously Manipulative Directories” (which, for those who are unsure, means “Signs Of Directories That Do Bad Things”).

Let’s just take a quick look at these “attributes”, shall we?

1. General in subject matter – Now, Rand does quickly qualify this with “this isn’t a bad thing on its own”… the problem being that it’s not a bad thing when taken in conjunction with anything else, either. “General in subject matter” means that the directory accepts many different categories, such as Arts, News, and Sports… in essence, it describes the vast majority of web directories that exist.

2. Anyone can get in – Obviously Google has stated many times that editorial discretion is an important factor in determining whether or not a particular directory should be considered worthwhile. It’s a standard company line. What is considered a worthwhile site is of course going to vary wildly from one editor to the next, and is completely subjective, but it is well known as something that Google touts. However, Rand demonstrates nothing whatsoever to show that the directories that have been penalized are in fact doing this. Most of the ones I looked at have both submission rules as to what can and cannot be submitted, and reserved the right to remove websites. That is the very definition of editorial discretion.

3. Marketing to Webmasters – I can only guess at this point that perhaps Rand is thinking that the best place to market paid web directories, which are listings of websites, would of course be to anyone but webmasters… like maybe strippers, or perhaps newspaper boys.

4. Promoting Search Engine Link Value, not Traffic – Eh, I guess. Not too much to say about this one actually. Do please keep it in mind for #7, however.

5. Use of Manipulative Link Building – Ok, I know I said I wasn’t going to make this about Rand and his Geraldo Rivera (without the talent) tactics, but come on! I mean, wtf, he talks about people “joining webmaster forums that allow signature links” (which is exactly what he did over the years), and I forget, who was it that wrote the post about buying links under the radar? Mind you, I’m not talking about whether or not it is something that can get you in trouble with Google, I’m strictly focusing on the snide mannerisms used in discussing something he has no problem being more than a tad bit two faced about.

6. Stuffing Links & Content to “Look Natural” – Not much to say about this one either, except still, not one single example of what he is talking about. This sounds to me more like something that just “sounded right” to him so he included it, rather than anything he actually “discovered”, but of course there is no way to know for certain.

7. Setting up “Premium” Sponsorships – He is saying now that offering more exposure in the directory, by either putting the listing at the top of the category or on more pages, is a sign of a “bad” directory. Since both of those things have more to do with traffic than PageRank, this is of course the opposite of what he said in #4. Go figure.

8. Interlinking with Other Directories – Near as I can tell, either Rand is using the phrase “interlinking” in a way different than what damn near every other SEO would use it, or he forgot what he meant to say as he was typing it. He’s saying in the body of this “attribute” that offering package deals with multiple directories is a sign of an “obviously manipulative directory”. I have no clue what rationale (if any) there is behind this assertion. He doesn’t offer any explanation, merely illustrates how bad of a sign this is by saying you’d be better off burning your money. Yeah, that explains it.

9. Common Popular Links – In a very similar manner to #8, the title of this one doesn’t match very well to what he actually describes. At all, actually. He says (as near as I can tell, mind you, since his actual writing is fairly disjointed at times and difficult to follow – he might have meant to say something completely different) that for some reason if the most recent additions aren’t related, the search engines won’t like the directory. Again, no rationale offered for this.

10. Bid for Links – Well, I have no clue. I think he means bid for placement, since I am unaware of anything else that would match this title. While I personally think the concept is dumb, his reasoning behind the claim that it is a way to manipulate search engine rankings escapes me. Again, while there may be a very minor advantage to having a link higher on the page (probably true, although have yet to see anything seriously done to test it), this sounds more like prominent placement equals more traffic. This is about directory owners playing off of the addictive and sometimes feverish nature of auctions in order to make more money per link. He classifies it as “the most obvious link manipulation ploy (he has) seen in a while”. He offers no explanation why links of this nature would actually have more search engine manipulation power than normal, fixed-fee links.

11. Multiple Links with Your Choice of Anchor Text – This is the same as #4. I’m guessing he thought he needed to make the list 12 items long for some marketing reason, and had trouble not repeating items.

12. Banner Ads from Your Directory on SEO Sites – Right! Because marketing to webmasters your product for webmasters is… wait, wait… deja vu. Didn’t we cover this?

It seems that a bit of what Rand is trying to say is that people who actively promote their directories are inherently going to be building poor ones. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t know of any paid directories that are worth anything that haven’t been promoted at one time or another, and Rand doesn’t bother to offer any examples that would show otherwise. Rand does in fact indicate that what he is doing is guesswork, but it is with a single word that most will miss near the top of his post. He states that the post is in fact about “why Google might take this move”, and the use of the word “might” instead of “did” of course clears it up for me. I still think that by the end of the post (for some, just by the length of it) he will manage to leave the impression with the majority of his audience that he thinks he actually does know what he is talking about. In my opinion (which, when all is said and done, really is For Entertainment Purposes Only ), a more clear disclaimer should definitely be present on his posts.

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