The SEOscerers Apprentice

SEO can quickly get out of control if it involves gaming open source communities. Don’t risk your site becoming a jailbird.


Have you ever considered hiring an “SEO expert” to “improve your Google rankings”? I don’t mean the type that advises you how to ensure all the express and implied metadata on your web site is correct. That seems a reasonable thing to do, and it shouldn’t take a magician to help you get it right, and can almost be automated.

No, I mean the type who want to actively manipulate your rankings through external means. Those “external means” seem more often than not to involve activity that is at best unethical, like sending spam or stuffing download sites, and possibly illegal, like using botnets and unauthorised site access to do the above.

One of the communities where I help out recently heard from someone who had engaged an “SEO Expert” to artificially boost their status. Just like the novice in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, it seems to have got out of hand. They were begging for help to undo the damage:

We found thousands of links pointed to our site … This was caused by a SEO team we hired. We want to get our templates shared to more users via your site and hired a SEO team to upload our templates to your site. But they are too aggressive and put too many links inside.

Exactly why the community plugin and template repository had accepted all these fake templates is a great question for another time. The point is that stuffing hundreds of links into fake templates or plugins and uploading them to a community repository is sociopathic and ought to have rung alarm bells.

The lesson here is that SEO “experts” who offer to game open source communities for you to “improve your rankings” are scammers, and using their services is bad for your business. While there may have been an instant boost in some sort of metric the SEO scammer was offering to assist, any sort of sociopathy is going to eventually come at a social cost.

The reason for this is Google has for a long time had automated and manual checks for breaches of the guidelines on site linking. Once you have unleashed the demon of spammed links to your web site, you are only a short distance from a manual action against your site and then you will need to try to unpick the damage that has been done.

This template-stuffing issue isn’t the only example. There are a constant stream of requests to the moderators of mailing lists begging for removal of old postings that were sent by or on the advice of “SEO experts” and are now poisoning search engine ratings rather than improving them. These requests mostly have no effect, since list moderators rarely agree to remove old posts — see the Apache policy for example. Even if they do, the many mirrors of community mailing lists are unlikely to be affected.

At the heart of the problem is the confusion of metrics with the results they purport to illustrate. Gaming effects that seem to move metrics in the short term is never smart; one day the rules will change and your virtual gain will become a real loss. The best solution is to not play the game in the first place.

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