SEO Inc., a leader in the search engine marketing field suffering through some tough times, has threatened Google Blogoscoped with legal action for commenting on their current woes.
Phillip Lenssen, the blogger who regularly reports on Google and the search industry at Blogoscoped, discovered some days ago that SEO Inc.’s Google rankings had dropped completely off the map. While SEO Inc. had long bragged about holding the number one spot for “search engine optimization“, it is now nowhere to be found. In fact, even a search for the company name doesn’t reveal the company’s own website.
Phillip, who follows the latest news in the world of search marketing, was simply reporting on the chatter in the rest of the web. A search for SEO Inc reveals page after page asking “What happened to SEO Inc.?”, and saying “SEOinc. vanishes from Google SERPS”. Phillip’s post says that this “hints” that SEO Inc. is being penalized by Google for engaging in “black hat” optimization of sites. He never alleges that to be the truth, and never outright accuses them of being evil. He simply points out the obvious assumption, and that should be construed entirely as his opinion.
Instead, SEO Inc. sent him a cease-and-decist letter, threatening him with “the appropriate legal steps” and to get “injunctive relief” and “substantial monetary damages” if he did not cease his “campaign to discredit and damage the Company”.
Campaign? What campaign? A search of Google Blogoscoped reveals a single post mentioning the company four months ago, also about its Google ranking, as well as a six-month old one promoting its toolbar. What campaign indeed.
The news about SEO Inc. being penalized by Google is horribly damaging to the company, and I can understand why they would want to sweep it under the rug. Threatening legal action, however, is just stupid. Boing Boing has already posted on the story, calling it “about as bogus a claim as we can imagine”, as have John Battelle and Brad DeLong. Perhaps Slashdot will be next.
Lesson one: Trying to silence a journalist is the easiest way to attract more journalists.
Fall of SEOInc
“Search Engine Optimization Inc. uses our proven Search Engine Placement techniques to rank more sites in more top positions than anyone in the business. Our cutting-edge strategies are currently used by companies including AT&T Broadband, IGN, Sierra Trading Post, and Microsoft. (…)
The title of Certified Advanced Search Engine Marketing Strategist from the Academy of Web Specialists is your assurance that SEO Inc Search Engine Optimization incorporates highly effective, ethical and proven methods of gaining you top positioning.”
– From the SEOInc.com web site
It’s kind of ironic that SEOInc.com, a search engine optimization company which for a while was on the Google number 1 spot for the highly competitive query “search engine optimization”, is now nowhere to be found in the Google results. This is likely due to the recent PageRank update and even more algorithm tweaks implemented by Google. Enter “SEOinc” into Google.com, and SEOInc.com is nowhere in the top 10; and the SEOInc.com PageRank has dropped to “none”. Only by entering “site:seoinc.com” into Google will you see the site is still indexed in some way.
And while a low or non-existent Google ranking is bad enough for sites outside the SEO industry, it hits everyone in the SEO business twice as hard: not only are SEOInc not being found with search engines anymore, they’ve also lost their biggest proof their services are worth paying for.
Of course, the fact this site has seen the Google death penalty hints that they’ve overoptimized using “black hat” search engine optimization (such as linkfarms, for example). In either case, these days it pays out more than ever to optimize your content and to deliver valid, accessible HTML, without spending a second thought on what search engines may like. They’re just too flaky to be trusted.
If you still do trust search engines, and your knowledge about them, take this case in which SEO left a webmaster clueless:
“I played the link exchange game heavily when I started the site two years ago. I was pretty happy with a PR of 4 and decided to divert more time to content and design.
My page rank dropped from 4 to 3, which got me miffed, but I still ranked pretty high for the search queries I was aiming for, so I didn’t pay much attention to it.
Now, my page rank went from 3 to a ZERO in this last update! (…)
I just wish I knew who I rubbed the wrong way to get a ZERO. Any ideas?”
– Webmaster in alt.internet.search-engines
Google has a reply on their webmaster guidelines page:
“Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, ’Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?’”