Posted May 15, 2007 9:13 am by with 15 comments

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Wow, reading Australia’s The Age’s article on Australian search engine optimization companies, you’d think they were all spammers, fearful of Google retaliation.

The article has lots of SEO execs speaking on the “condition of anonymity” and claiming that 8 of the top 10 ranked Australian SEO firms are spammers. The article comes after The Found Agency fell from grace, when Google discounted links it had received from a free “click counter” distributed on many sites.

The company had been using a “click counter” to optimise its search rankings. By offering a free counter to other websites, which linked back to the Found Agency site, the company was able to boost the number of in-bound links to its pages. The number of incoming links to a website is a measure used by Google to determine its relevance and quality, thus its ranking in the search engine’s index.

Reading the article, you’d think that all Australian SEO’s are spammers and live in daily fear of Google…

Next‘s source spoke anonymously because he fears retaliation from Google if he is quoted criticising the company’s uneven enforcement of its policies. “If I spoke my mind (and was named), you wouldn’t find me on Google, that’s for sure,” he says.

The SEO guru says Google was less fearsome before it became a publicly traded company, but times have changed. “It’s not the warm and fuzzy organisation it was when it first started,” he says.

“They make their own rules and there’s nothing you can do to put them in check because we all rely on their invention for a crust.”

Ok, let’s add some sanity to this article, shall we?

  • First, I’ve met the CEO of The Found Agency and he seems like an honest guy. He may have made the mistake of being too aggressive (and obvious) with the backlinks from his free click counter, but all that happened is Google discounted those links. Google’s policy on linking appears to change each week, so the discounting of links, is hardly new.
  • Don’t ever trust the accusations of a competitor who’s not willing to go public with his comments. It’s easier to make claims about your competitors, when you don’t have to face any accountability.
  • “Most” search ranking firms are not unethical. The comments of a couple of “anonymous” individuals is not enough to broadly label an entire industry.
  • Google doesn’t retaliate to comments you happen to make about it. If your hands (and web site) are clean, what do you have to worry about? On the other hand, if you are spamming Google, then perhaps you shouldn’t be throwing “spam” stones in a glass house, in the first place.

For sure, the Australian SEO industry is still young, and maybe not as mature as that of its U.S. cousin, but that doesn’t mean it’s the red-headed step-child either. I’ve met some very talented Australian search marketers (email me for a recommendation) and they’re doing some great work.

Maybe we should look at this story as a positive. You know a country’s SEO industry is maturing, when traditional media starts calling them spammers. 😉

  • While the article’s characterization of SEO firms is off, I think the tone of responses from the SEO agencies is a symptom of a bigger problem. Google is no longer the golden child and more people (at least people who have a business on the internet) are becoming fearful of the Google monopoly.

  • Jordan McCollum

    For some reason, the click counter almost reminded me of a widget (web 1.0 style). Wonder if links from popular widgets will be discounted.

  • At least widgets are usually on topic. Random stats counters pointing towards SEO sites are kinda spammy.

    There may be some discounting here and there, but I think most in house widgets will fly under the radar.

  • As Andy rightly pointed out, there are many white hat SEO firms in Australia. Whilst the Australian SEM market might be young in dealing with Australian clients, there are a number of SEM/SEO firms who have been around for years, doing work with overseas clients.

    There is a great depth of talent in the SEM/SEO space in Australia – seems that the Age missed interviewing some of these people!

    Here is hoping that Australian firms are not all tarnished with the same brush.

  • I’ve never seen a ranking of the top 10 Aussie SEO agencies, anyone care to blog the top 10 for me? 😉

    IMO the anonymous commentators are idiots.

    Hiding behind anonymity reinforces the silicon snake oil perception that media and consumers have of search marketing.

    As Andy said, don’t make grey/black tactics so obvious. I’ve seen many agencies register link farms and MFAs under their business names, on the same C class etc!

    That being said, I’d rather use an agency that I know is experienced in black or gray tactics than a pure ‘white’ agency. What happens when the ethical SEO company you have hired encounters a blackhat competitor using an automated splog farm? Would they know how to combat such a tactic?

  • As an Aussie, I would be more inclined to say that “The Age” misreported the information.

  • Not all Aussie SEO companies are spammers, but the risk is that they will become one… I have done researches on the link building strategy of some of the top Australian SEO companies, and it is really scary to see that they are using out-dated strategies at the limit of the black area.

    What happened to Found Agency might happen to a couple of others, if they do not lift their approach on link building…

    However the more scary thing is that ‘dark grey’ companies are often public speakers in SEO Events ! Spooky

  • Personally, I saw some sites named “I hate GL” or “GL sucks”, etc. with a page rank of 5 or 6. I don’t think GL goes through the hard work of looking out for haters. When you’re so powerful, you don’t need to defend yourself!

    NOTE: The keyword ‘Google’ was replaced with ‘GL’ for SERP Descriptions tying me to aggressive key phrases. 😉

  • The Found Agency are just loving all the comments, the company has had massive exposure over the past 48 hours, in the eyes of most “all publicity is good publicity”.
    Their rankings have dropped and as Alvin states it is a bit spooky that these Aussie guys are the ones doing the public speaking re SEO’s and SEM’s, if they can’t get it right who can. “Found” have a statement on their website re the issue,but this page is not the one viewed by someone doing a google search.
    The rankings that put Found Agency in the top 10 SEO’s was by a USA web marketing company.
    Found Agency writers have certainly and openly been very critical of google in recent months perhaps this could add to their adversity.
    Whatever it will take them some time to recoup from Google page 9 back to page 1.

  • “However the more scary thing is that ‘dark grey’ companies are often public speakers in SEO Events”

    There’s nothing scary about that. Some of the best speakers and the most savvy SEO operators are dudes that ‘drive above the speed limit’.

    I’d prefer being stuck on a (wi-fi equipped) island with guys like DaveN, Oilman, Mikkel and Webguerilla than just about any whitehat. Blackhats are some of the most sought after speakers at search conferences worldwide because what they can teach is usually not as readily available as ‘ethical’ SEO advice.

    If I was Found Agency I would be using the penalization as an all-out publicity blitz. Each backlink back to them (that isn’t condomed) is another vote…

  • Hi

    I guess the dust has settled a little on Found agency. And it is also very interesting to note some of the other firms in Australia, both large and small with “questionable” seo practices have made improvements to there own sites and have improved there ranking as a result. So at least there are a few positives to come out of it all.


  • There are some issues with Australian SEO firms. I will mention just two of them. Some SEO companies creating heavily optimized business directories trying to capture search keywords. Also many SEO companies are using footer links – not a state of the art SEO. I used to be doing footer links with some of my old customers since almost everyone else is doing it. But stop doing it with my new customers. So those are just few things. By the way this post is a great optimization work for Marketing Pilgrim. You will know what I mean when you search Google for “Australian SEO firms” 🙂

  • Nice post Andy,

    I know (as a new Internet marketing firm) we’ve got a big counter-culture to sway, seeing flags like these raised at the leaders in term searches doesn’t make it any easier.

    shor’s on the ball for mentioning the demand of black-hat knowledge over those that stick to the speed limit.

    Great blog. RSS’d!

  • Having primarily done SEO for my own sites over the last 3 years I found myself looking for an SEO contract in Australia (sold my business)

    When talking to agencies, I checked out the sites of some of the biggest SEO companies that they were recruiting for.

    Surprise surprise there were stacks of remixed (read copied) content and an abnormally high link count for many of them.

    It would seem to me that many of them have taken the Grey-Black Hat route, though I cant imagine how else you could get top rankings using White Hat without being the Bruce Clay of Australia or the Rand Fishkin of Sydney or some other SEO guru.

    I may even do an name and shame over on my blog