The Old School SEOs and the “secretive SEO”

The Old School SEOs and the “secretive SEO”

When I started college, we used Altavista to find information on the web (yeah, I am that old). A year later, people started talking about a new search engine, a super cool one. When I graduated, the new industry that was born after the Dot Com Bubble Crash was rising.

At the beginning of Google Dominance, not many people knew how to do SEO. Not even what SEO was, for that matter. I am talking about those years where if you signed up in the Adsense program, most of the ads you'd see on your website would be something like "Do you know who invented paper?"

I am not sure if I am getting the dates right, but I believe that was when the SEO industry started to grow. A few people realized that getting links was necessary, and the automation began.

We are honored to present to you the industry of Spam Link Building and its most prominent stars*: Scrapebox, Link Farm Evolution, Bookmarking Demon, SENuke, GSA, and, of course, XRummer.

*Those are the main ones that pop up in my mind. I know there are many others.

When regular people asked how you did SEO, the answers were always evasive and cryptic. You didn't want people knowing that they could rank sites just by having a decent website (Flash-based websites were still quite common at that time), some content on it, and lots of links. The most competitive SEO advantage was knowing how to use those tools to get as many links as possible, as fast as possible.

Another time I'd like to discuss how that behavior changed some parts of the internet forever: the creation of the "no follow" tag, the fall of PHP based forums (spammed to death), the later spam wave on WordPress blogs, the Penguin Penalty & the Negative SEO. But for now, I want to share my thoughts about Secretive SEO.

The first rule of SEO Club: you don't talking about what you do to rank

I was part of that group: the people who didn't tell exactly what we were doing, trying to keep all details as secret as possible. Like the old masons, the secret knowledge should be jealousy preserved to keep the business for us and us only. Customers didn't know what we were doing, but they had results, so most of the time, they were happy.

*Another essential thing to keep in mind is that at that moment, Google had way fewer SERP types and lesser analysis capabilities (AI at scale was still out of the business landscape), so results tended to be more stable and predictable. Without penalization, the worst-case scenario for link spamming was poor results.

But now things are different

Fast forward to the present. Everything related to SEO is public knowledge. The SEO problem is not a lack of information but a lack of perspective and applied knowledge. It is not about the what anymore, but the how in your specific case (technology, language, budget, infrastructure, company).

However, I still found many people selling SEO like in the good ol' days: not telling much about anything. They still try to convince potential customers that they know something that (almost) nobody else knows, that they are doing tests every day to "hack" what Google is doing, and that they have a "secret sauce" to rank.

I found this embarrassing. But also dangerous for the industry. SEO does not have much of an absolute standard (a single, unified set of rules to follow). The absence of it made more than necessary the individual participants of the industry doing their best to appear to others that we are not selling snake oil. Intentionally trying to obscure SEO will lead to a lack of confidence in what we have to offer.

In the beginning, not many people knew how Google worked. Now, nobody does for sure, not even Google's engineers (trust me on that). That is why it is essential to be open about what we do and how our actions can benefit our clients.

Sometimes this can be not easy because it will require explaining technical things to someone who isn't aware of how SEO works. In my experience, we have to find a way to explain what we are doing, at least in terms of the overall strategy, main tasks, goals, forecasting and timelines.

In the future, I'll go deeper into how we can present this information in a friendly way, but for now, at least be aware of the need: do not be secretive about what you do in SEO. Explain yourself as much as you can, and justify your decisions based on the client's specific context.

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