Naughty, Naughty SEO Agency

I have long suspected that such things go on, but it is only very recently that I have actually found proof. An SEO agency spamming social bookmarking and spamming it incredibly badly.

SEO

SEO, or search engine optimisation, agencies are tasked by clients to improve their search engine visibility. A large part of improving search engine visibility involves getting links to whichever page it is that should be more visible. There are literally millions of articles online dedicated to this. I won’t do them the disservice of rewriting them here, but if you don’t know about it (and are interested) there’s plenty out there for you to read.

Social Bookmarking

Social bookmarking is a collective term for services such as stumbleupon, digg, mixx and a thousand other services. All of them allow users to both bookmark webpages which interest them and share them with their friends, the majority of these services have some sort of algorithmic sorting mechanism to sort the shit from the shit hot. Another thing they all have in common is that they are “social”, users can “follow” other users, comment on other users links. You know, social.

Evidence

I literally stumbled upon this particular instance of social bookmarking spamming by one particular SEO agency. I have blanked out everything which identifies either the username or the clients of this agency:
stumbleuponSpamming Naughty, Naughty SEO Agency

I have a damn fine way of finding more SEO agencies doing the same, and I am convinced there are loads to find. For the time being I’ll keep that to myself, though people with a decent idea of how the web works will be able to fathom it out for themselves too. This particular SEO agency has been particularly obvious in that they’ve used the same username across a huge number of social bookmarking sites, here’s a screenshot of a Google search for their username (with the identifiable bits removed):

SEO spamming social 11 Naughty, Naughty SEO Agency

Why would an SEO agency spam social bookmarking?

  • “Every link counts” might be one explanation, though I really need to ask “really? REALLY?
  • Has this agency not considered the potential implications of their actions?
  • Why does this agency bookmark pages which nobody else deems worthy of bookmarking?
  • Why doesn’t this agency create astonishingly great content for their client and bookmark that?

By abusing social bookmarking in this fashion they are, in effect, linking each of their clients with a spammy footprint. Search engines reference social links as an indicator of quality! Anyone, but especially SEO agencies, considering spamming social bookmarking with spurious and mediocre bookmarks should consider these questions:

  • Will they also use spammy signals to punish rankings?
  • Is that a gamble that you should really be taking with your clients and their reputations?
  • Is that a gamble that your clients should be funding?

47 comments on “Naughty, Naughty SEO Agency

  1. This is what you get when you pay £100/$100 per month for an SEO service…. thanks for the examples because I have had a couple of potential new clients throw the the 100 bucks a month price at me in recent weeks.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Ralph!

    I wish I could tell you that this is part of 100/month SEO. But the agency involved in this case simply does not operate at that level, they are a large and renowned agency!

  3. Am sure it’ll eventually catch up to them and they’ll get a spanking! Just another example of someone taking the p*ss out of clients I bet.

    Wonder what other dodgy tactics they are into. Bet they guarantee #1 ranks too!

    • Cheers for the comment Shane :)

      It totally is taking the p*ss out of clients, but this particular agency isn’t one that guarantees #1 ranks – or at least not to the best of my knowledge they don’t!

    • Hey Barnaby,

      Thanks for your comment!

      Yeah, I think it’s only a matter of time. Social indicators are being used for positive ranking now already, so it would make absolute sense to use them for negative ranking too wouldn’t it?

  4. Haha – there’s a widespread belief in the underbelly of some sections of the SEO world that every link *does* count. I worked briefly with a guy who filled his days going through a huge spreadsheet of social bookmarking sites doing exactly this.

    In fact, if he wasn’t dead, I’d have said you’ve caught him! :)

    • What a spectacularly hideous avatar Carps! Sorry, but I’m sure you won’t take offense ;)

      It’s funny that there are people who preach about natural organic links and quality content yet do this kind of spamming… People doing this don’t deserve to die though, it is after all learned behaviour which can be changed.

  5. It’s amazing how little certain SEO “experts” actually know or understand. When their clients get nowhere with their efforts, things will change.

  6. I think what you are looking at is a fundamental *FAIL* in many SEO agencies. The problem is that many of them simply don’t GET it. Rather than allocate their social strategies to someone who lives & breathes social, understands the etiquettes and standards of a successful inbound marketing strategy, they end up taking the easy route, either throw the average Joe in the office the task or outsource it to Mr Patel. And the result of that is what you have highlighted above Andrew, spam masquerading as social. The link value is worth a donkey’s dung and the social benefit is lower than talking to yourself.

  7. Fascinating stuff and well done in catching a big fish red handed (or am I mixing my metaphors?).

    Don’t you need to get this message to a wider audience though? The people who will ultimately benefit from understanding what’s going are the clients and the sooner they see what’s going on the quicker the issue will be resolved

    • Cheers Richard!

      I didn’t know fish had hands, though I suppose they must get fish fingers from somewhere… ;)

      You make a very valid point about getting the message to a wider audience, I think this post is doing exceptionally well and getting a lot more traction than I thought it would!

      The problem is that even with the power of social media (and search media) it will never be possible to reach everyone who should know about it. My approach here is much more to raise awareness about this practice within the industry.

  8. There are of course various automated programs that will generate hundreds of links by managing the whole process of creating profiles, adding content and bookmarking. The result is indeed spam but can have a useful SEO effect in some cases. These tools tend to be aimed at stay at home get rich quick internet marketers…interesting if this has been used by a reputable agency with a major client.

    • Thanks for the comment “mature” :)

      There are indeed such tools available, but they are anything but “social” and essentially only add quantity not quality to an already teeming pond.

      I haven’t yet written up my policy on comments, but if you want a link from a comment please use a name and not a keyword :)

  9. You didn’t exactly do a great job of hiding the fact that the clients in question are [xxxxxxxxx] and [xxxxxxxxxx]! And everyone knows [xxxxxxxx] do their SEO :)

    • Thanks for pointing that out Peter,

      there were 2 instances of domain names in the google search screenshot which I missed – I sincerely thought I’d got all of them, and now I have :)

      The purpose of this post wasn’t to out the agency or the clients, so I’ve edited the relevant bits of your comment, I hope you understand.

      The agency you suspected in your unedited comment was not actually the agency in question.

    • Cheers Jordan!

      You and me both mate, thing is that this is coming from a very reputable agency. It’s only one, but there are many more doing it and it brings zero value to the client, in fact it may well harm clients. Hence trying to raise awareness about it :)

  10. Mashable submits all of it’s own content to stumbleupon, digg, twitter, facebook and other major sharing sites. I personally rarely read mashable and am not a fan (pages take to long to load with the 35 million adverts) but I wouldn’t call them spammers?

    I think many many blogs (including my own) self submit to a number of social sites. If you want to sit there and wait for someone to submit for you how do you expect to get found? Some posts may only get 100 views, others get 10’s of thousands.

    I think one of the keys here is transparency. If you submit using false names and the like I feel you are ‘tricking’ the user to an extent. But if if was submitted by mashable and it is a mashable link, you then get to make that choice.

    I know this strays slightly as I am talking about ‘self promotion’ rather than seo agencies but I still think it has some relevance…

    p.s I love how in recent comments I am reading
    ‘mature dating websites on Naughty, Naughty SEO Agency’ ha ha ;-)

    • Cheers for stopping by Stuart!

      It does stray slightly, but it is an interesting point to make. Thank you for giving me a great topic to write another post on!

      For me, it’s all about the quality.
      If you’re going to social bookmark something make sure it is something that is genuinely great, something that other people will want to share, comment on and, above all, see in their social space.

      Your p.s. made me LOL properly too, people get links on my blog, keywords don’t – simple really :)

      • I must admit, I’m very, very, very slightly guilty of this in the sense that I will go onto Digg and SU, etc and post a link to something of mine or a clients and rarely digg/SU up other people’s stuff.

        BUT

        1) I only do it now and then
        2) The reason I don’t big up more of other people’s stuff is that reading Digg, etc is very far down my daily to-do list and I rarely get to that part of the list – though I soothe my guilt by remembering that I do share a lot of links via Twitter.

        • Cheers Craig, good to see you here!

          I could be wrong, but I think that in your case you know the difference between posting something genuinely worth posting and just posting for the sake of it… I’ll have to check now :P

          • Oh yeah, I’d never post just for ticking a box. I used to get into trouble in PR for the equivalent – if something was a crap story I wasn’t bothering a journalist with a phone call about it just so a box could be ticked.

            Also – and YMMV – like RSS, I find that in Scotland, the average punter doesn’t use these tools in their online experience (unless it appears in their facebook feed).

      • Happy to contribute to the post if needed ;-)

        Everyone is different though, who are we to decide what is great content? Some of my most time consuming and ‘great’ posts have only had a few hundred views. Add a pair of boobs and you get 20k through SU! ha ha

    • Thanks Kay :)

      It surprised me when I found it too! Stumbling is great fun really, but must be soul destroying if you’re only discovering mediocre pages and then having to enter them in a spreadsheet so you can report to your clients about “all the links we got for you”!

  11. Very Naughty indeed. xxx xxxxx xxxxx should be ashamed :) the unsupervised work of a trainee or intern surely?

    Waste of time if not anything else. Time would be better spent chatting up the talent in the office.

    • Trust you Dave! ;)

      I suppose the intern / trainee argument could be a valid one. This particular account has been spamming since December 2008 though – that’s a long time to leave an intern unsupervised, no?

      • That is a different matter then. If this user has been spamming for over 2 years, they must realise that there is no benefit to be had from these bookmarks. If anything they are detrimental to the client.

        As you say… The likely purpose is just to add lines to a spreadsheet. Shameful.

    • I also can read through black highlights. I guess everyone can with appropriate viewing angle.

      Nice article. Buyer be aware. Those links maybe would not hurt your rankings, but can destroy your image.

      • Thanks Roko!

        People with good eyesight don’t spend enough time in front of a monitor ;)

        Seriously though, I think that over time as social and search converge more this kind of footprint will indeed hurt rankings as it ties into your social graph.

        Even with that said, I suppose the solution is quite simply better content as opposed to more content.

    • Nice try Ed ;)

      1. The scribbles are #000000 and have an alpha of 100%
      2. The image is saved as a GIF (maximum of 256 colours in there)
      3. I’m on an iMac too.

      I’ve sent you an email too though, feel free to send me a screengrab and I’ll buy you a pint if you’re right!

    • Thanks Ed,

      I still couldn’t see it from the screenshot you made, though on my laptop it was just visible – I’ve since added 4px radius Gaussian Blur to it for extra measure.

      The purpose of the post was to expose the practice, not the practitioner.

      Look forward to getting you that pint!

      Cheers :)

  12. Very naughty indeed and great article Andrew!
    There are some naive seo’ers out there who will spam the world and their clients would be none the wiser or worse still not understand what they are doing.
    Name and shame is the only way :p

    • Thanks Danny!

      In this instance I’ve called it, but didn’t want to name or shame them.

      I believe there is a site due to launch quite soon that does give people the opportunity to name and shame though… ;)

  13. I would make a distinction between a “professional” SEO agency which I think would not do this and a “SEO Shop” run by a “SEO kiddie” which would probably do this a lot.

    • Thanks for the comment Peter,

      I thought that too. I was wrong. This is a huge SEO agency.

      If “Simple Simon’s SEO” company was doing this I would have expected that from them and not even bothered to write about it. In this case it is “Large SEO Brand” who is doing it and that’s why I did bother to write about it.

      This is a “professional” SEO agency, they have incredibly large clients that they are doing this low level spamming for, they should know better.

      If they don’t know better they should take consultation on it.

  14. From recent experience this doesn’t surprise me because I increasingly feel that very few agency SEO’s are good at getting decent quality links.

    I’m aware that building links is my own weakest area so I’ve been watching the work of a few agencies that have been assisting companies I have connections with and monitoring the links they achieve. What I’m seeing is a lot of very low-level links such as directories, blog spamming, etc. and with some of them the sort of artificially created sites for link networks along with identical lists of links on other peoples’ artificially created sites. Very few decent links that might actually do some good – most of them I wouldn’t want if they were offered to me. Now these agencies are supposed to be expert link builders yet they aren’t achieving quality links.

    If what they’re doing works for improved rankings then it suggests that Google is crap at assessing links – if what they do doesn’t work then it suggests that there are damn few genuine link builders. My feeling is that since most commercial sites no longer offer reciprocal links these agencies have fallen back on the only way they know to create bulk links, and to hell with the quality cos the client can’t tell the difference between a good link and a bad one and pays by quantity.

    Maybe all the talented link builders are independents.

    cheers

    Bill

  15. Great post Andy! Crap links don’t count. This practice is just an exercise in trying to justify charging people for ‘expert’ SEO. I wonder how much on-page optimisation this agency are doing? My bet is little as truly effective on & off page takes time and persistent effort, something that these nonsense agencies are too damn lazy to put in. Fact is they are happy getting paid for this shoddy service and their clients probably think they are getting true value.

    • Thanks Mike! You’d be shocked if you knew who this agency is. They have a very strong reputation for whiter than white hat practices. This is not Mr Patel’s (*) one-stop-spam-shop who cold call and promise you number one rankings in Google, no this is an agency you would choose to work with on the strength of their reputation. They’re a big player.

      In the aftermath of J.C Penney, Forbes, Overstock SEO agencies all over the globe are now either:

      Patting themselves on the back for not being blackhat
      Filling their underpants wondering if their paid links are next to be exposed

      But (and this is a sir Mix-a-Lot sized but) they don’t seem to recognise that using Mr Patel’s (*) one-stop-spam-shop to “social bookmark” their client’s sites is ALSO buying links, is ALSO against Google’s TOS… and they would seem to be naïve enough to think that the footprint left behind by their actions won’t be visible for ever more.

      It once more comes down to the cold hard fact that trying to game the system on the cheap whilst reaping massive profits is a piss poor strategy (although it has bought someone a few very nice cars and houses)

      (*) Mr Patel’s one-stop-spam-shop is intended to be a fictional characterisation, if a company actually exists with that name I am truly sorry.

  16. Why not just leave the company name there? Most SEO companies don’t really care and I’m sure at one stage or another all SEO companies have done it. I used to have a network of pligg sites that I let SEO guys have a link on for £80, the list of top end SEO companies that used it was interesting, I only used it for affiliate sites but these guys straight linked to the homepage. Good post

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