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Would you report a competitor to Google?

I was recently involved with an interesting situation with (yet another) large brand falling out of the good graces with Google. For those playing along at home, this time it was (via the WSJ) walking the path that J.C Penney and Forbes had before it in previous weeks. Fun stuff all around.

Borne from some conversations with my peeps at the SEO Dojo, I got to thinking about these recent ‘outings’ and how SEOs that I know feel about them. We shall have a look at the two main camps I’ve seen and then you can tell ME what you think…

Sound like fun or what? Sure…..


Fight Club

The first school we are going to look at is; Fight Club. And the first rule of fight club? (all together now) Don’t talk about fight club. These folks believe that SEOs are a fraternity and while we may disagree at times, we should never ‘rat’ each other out to ‘the man’.

For starters, the term ‘ratting’ is troubling because it shows the venom. It is more appropriately named ‘reporting’ and I guess ‘rat’ makes those doing it hopefully feel scuzzy or something. The folks in this segment carry super-secret SEO decoder rings and believe we should keep it amongst us.

This is interesting as a few old school folks told me that they’d even hammer each other privately when one was spamming the SERPs. Like a sports team, it was dealt with ‘behind closed doors.

The Little Guy

On the other side of the conversation we have the little guy. From here is the stance that a smaller retailer can’t compete against the big brand. They don’t have the budgets nor the leverage. Furthermore it seems that Google often gives a brand more leniency with the rules than the small enterprise. This is due to search quality issues and a conversation for another day.

The little guy believes that if he can find an advantage against the behemoth, that they will damn use make the most from it. If that large brand giant, with resources and budgets to burn, still feels the need to ‘cheat’, then they should reap the whirlwind that may come with risk adverse strategies.

Let the Battle Begin

There are nuances to these lines in the sand, but that’s often shades of these same colours. What can be missed at times within these conversations is the root of the problem. What is or isn’t gaming the search engines. Very few SEOs I know believe the hard line of the Google guidelines are how the game is played. Fair enough.

There are a lot of common tactics that are employed by SEOs that given hard scrutiny, wouldn’t stand up. I have spent the last few days staring at Google guidelines and certainly there is a lot of wiggle room for interpretation and what was acceptable last year, may not be today. This can be frustrating to SEOs. If Google opened up a channel for us to honestly ask if a tactic was viable, would we use it? LOL… oh… hold on.. gotta wipe the tears away.

The adversarial relationship between SEOs and search engines, fuzzy guideline interpretation and enforcement, have all played into creating the canyon between us.

What About Me?

I know… you care right? I thought that it was best, before I turn it over to you, that I make my own case. And hey, sorry to dissapoint, but I can see it from all sides. There is a big difference between doing SMB SEO and Corp/Big Brand SEO. I have done both over the years.

The little guy? I can see it. Come on, I am the fellow writing; the Art of War – SEO Style. When out numbered, one must think laterally and take advantage where it is available. Do I believe in reporting competitors as a strategic element? No, I don’t. Do I believe that they have every right to use that advantage? I sure do.

Fight Club? While these folks are a little aggressive for my tastes, I can see things from that camp as well. Just do your job, beat them honestly. Keep the dirty laundry in house. The only question I do have on this end is; are these folks doing questionable link building? Is that why the aggressiveness?

There is an argument from both sides that the other is hurting the image of the SEO industry. That part, we can debate. I’d like now to turn it over to the commentary here, on social channels, wherever this story leads, let’s have this out for once.

To get things rolling, I asked a few folks in the SEO Dojo Chat room, here’s some responses;

“Yes there are some gross exploitations of the algorithm however I am of the persuasion that not all paid links are bad links (just because I don’t pay google for them) further to that the bucket loads of SHIT content thrown out by SEO’s to Optimise sites is far more harmful to the perception of seos as a while is much more amateur and less useful to users as a whole makes googles job in general more difficult as a whole compare that type of ‘whitehat’ SEO activity against a targeted text link from a relevant newspaper page for example where it has been acquired on a demographic targeting perspective and tell me which ones better for users, for perception and for SEO” – Pete Young; Holistic Search

“I’m a realist. We all have to expect our competitors to do what it takes to win, whether it’s a big brand or small business. Small businesses entering certain markets need to expect to compete with brands that have been around for a long time, who have enormous marketing budgets. Big brands using these budgets to fund risky techniques should expect thier smaller competitors to look for these tactics to report, and eliminate them as competition.

I personally choose to find creative ways to compete rather than report a competitor. At the same time, some of the larger brands are treated like a star quarternack in a small town. We all know they are "juicing", but they are too important to suspend from play. This not only sets a bad example, but stacks the deck against the second string players who have been working hard to get in the game.” – Jeff Sebring

"Personally, while I don’t like the idea of one firm or individual ratting out another, and have no intention of participating in it, I also don’t feel sorry for anyone that gets caught with their paws in the cookie jar. They either knew the risks, or they should have!

So I’m inclined to say, play your game any way you choose, but don’t come whining to me if you get caught bending the “rules”. Report anyone you want, too. I won’t be doing it, because I’m just not put together that way. And if I find out you’re doing it, I may have to reevaluate my opinion of you. But in the long run, I think our industry needs to have some level of transparency, if we don’t all want to continue battling against ever-increasing distrust.” – Doc Sheldon

Now it’s YOUR turn. Where do you stand on this? And why…

Category SEO
David Harry Lead SEO Consultant at Verve Developments

David Harry is the lead SEO at Verve Developments and specializes in SEO audits and forensic analysis. He’s been in ...

Would you report a competitor to Google?

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