The Dark Arts

I just finished writing my previous post, and decided to try and find something I'd written to a client in the past about their SEO. With minor edits to conceal the guilty, here's an extract from an email to a web development client of mine last year:

The obvious questions are:

a) Would you achieve those rankings
without paying $400 a month? EG If we had a decent site, with decent
relevant copy and content, you should be up there anyway.
b) How much $ sales can be ascribed to the SEO
campaign – eg how many sales have you achieved from click thrus from
the search engines? That presumes the buyer behaviour is that they
might know about companies offering your product, they Google some words,
up comes your site, so they click thru, and then buy.

2. I'm not entirely happy with the SEO work
on your web pages. By my reading it contravenes Google's guidelines. It
includes hidden text, hidden links that are solely present just for
search engines. These are tactics expressly banned by Google. See

If you weren't aware of the hidden stuff. try going to your site,
then click View > Source. You'll see all the HTML code, scroll down,
there's a bunch of stuff that, using some trickery, is not visible to
your customers, but is visible to the automated search engine spiders.

It might work, but the problem is if Google (in particular) catches
you. You'll be dropped from their index then need to fight to get
reviewed and reinstated.

This is why I have a problem with SEO
like this one. It's interfering with the natural order. Sites appear in
Google in the order that Google's algorithms has determined based on
relevance and popularity. So if you have a good site, with great
content, that people want to visit, you'll deservedly rank well. SEO like this relies on tricks and manipulations to circumvent the natural order.

Good site optimization should be about creating a great site, not messing with mother nature.

SEO Secrets

People who know me, or who browse my blog and various writings, will know I'm not one for hawking products. But finished reading an eBook by fellow Australian Glenn Murray called 'SEO Secrets' and am making an exception. People who know me may have also heard me on my SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) soapbox.

I tend to lean towards the notion that paid SEO is the dark arts. I've worked with a bunch of clients who have paid companies for SEO work, and none of it has impressed me. I had one client last year forking out $400 a month, and the firm had basically broken every rule in the Google book – hidden links on the home page (reams of them); white text links; using a flash page to hide SEO text – you name it. On my advice they dropped the SEO firm, and we built a whole new site, using tried and true conventions, and hey presto, they rank as well or better for their keywords. And save $400 a month.

I fell over Glenn's book when looking for something completely unrelated, I was hunting around for good examples of an eBook being sold online in preparation for Fiona and I releasing our book (more on this in a week or two I hope). I liked his site, I liked he was Australian, I liked the fact that he really must be a copywriter because his sales pitch is the complete antithesis of the hyped up high pressure rubbish you so often see by the con merchants flogging their tired old paid information booklets.

So I did what I almost never do, and bought the book. And am glad I did. The majority of the content is not a major revelation to me, because I've been building sites for a long time, and generally feel I'm across the big issues with regard to coding and optimising content on a site. We kinda did this all before at our previous business – with literally hundreds of thousands of pieces of content on the site network it became second nature.

But Glenn's book is a clear, well written, concise confirmation of my prior knowledge, plus throws in a few nuggets of 'oh of course' information that I know will prove useful in the future. And all nicely organised in a format I can easily dip into as required.

If unlike me you are not across the SEO issues, but you have a web site, and you want to know what all the SEO fuss is, then I reckon this is a good purchase.

Glenn concludes his book with:

"Search Engine Optimization is not a black art; it’s a science. There are defined rules and proven methodologies."

OK, I'm going to hold to my assertion that it's still the dark arts. There are so many variations, permutations and circumstances that, when teamed with the fact you are dealing with unknown Google algorithms, there is no guarantee. But Glenn has done a good job of laying the known facts on the table, and offering a clear path through the maze.

You can buy Glenn's book from his web site by clicking this link. And yes, I'll be upfront and say I've signed up to his Affiliate Program and yes I get a commission.

It’s time to live on your wits

I woke up this morning and realised that the Black Saturday bushfire tragedy marked more than just a terrible loss of life and property. So I sent off a twit , but now realise there is more to say.

In Australia there is a saying ‘she’ll be right mate’. It’s a kind of colloquial way of expressing a confidence in the future. If a friend is feeling down, we’ll console them with a ‘she’ll be right’ assurance, and buy them another beer.

Despite a year of ever-increasing doom and gloom news about the economy, the people on the street seemed not to be taking it personally. Whilst others were losing their jobs, unless you had a direct connection, the idea of recession seemed remote. We also forget how many people don’t even read a newspaper or watch the news, we employ several Generation Ys in our coffee shop, and it’s remarkable how little they consume of traditional media. Of course they are all Facebookers, or MySpacers, which is fabulous and lovely, but not a great way of finding out the world is descending into chaos brought on by a bunch of greedy financiers and an incompetent government regulatory framework.

On Black Saturday more than 200 Victorian’s lost their lives in bushfires. 7,000 or more were left homeless. And this wasn’t thousands of miles away, it’s happened in our backyard, only an hour or two’s drive from Melbourne. Over the past few weeks everyone has now realised they have a connection to the disaster, some incredibly painful links – they’ve lost a friend or relative; others more tenuous – we recently met a woman whose sister was married in front of a blazing reception centre, they took the wedding photos, then ran for their lives. Some prominent people died. Brian Naylor, the news anchor for decades on television was killed along with his wife. Several entertainers and other notable people also died.

My realisation this morning is that in the past few weeks ‘she’ll be right’ isn’t cutting the mustard. The world is in chaos. It’s finally hit home to individuals that they are going to be affected. And they are withdrawing, hibernating til the storm passes.

We had one of our best trading days ever at our coffeeshop on Black Saturday, despite the incredible heat. We closed at 4pm, so it was too early for any of the terrible news to filter through. All we knew was that it was a searingly hot day, and that some bushfires had been started. But since that day takings are down 30%, without exception, day after day. Many of our regulars are not showing their faces, we’re being kept open by the backpackers coming in for the free Wi Fi.

People have woken up from their comfortable, consumer, credit driven slumber.

It’s why we’re taking radical action in our lives, and starting to move assets into cash. You can’t mess around at the edges on this stuff, to survive you have to change your context, change your interpretation of the world.

We had several business projects on the board this year. We’ve completely changed our attitudes to them, we’re bringing forward our internet, IP based projects, that require little up front investment; and putting on hold projects that require significant investment in cash or assets. We’re getting rid of every single piece of debt within the next couple of months, right down to the credit cards. We’re off loading any bits and pieces of shareholdings, left-over company assets.

It’s time to live on your wits. To dig into your personal intellectual assets, to build a safety net of non-devaluing assets, like cash and personal ability, and protect yourself and your family.