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Did Matt Cutts Put out the Bat Signal? – Why WrightIMC won’t be “outing” anyone

WrightIMC will not be participating in the “outing” of SEOs for violating Google’s terms of service. There a couple of exceptions. We will out those that practice negative SEO that affects our friends or clients. We will out agencies that violate the rules without warning their clients of the implications – and then we have to clean up their mess.

After the iAquire debacle, it’s clear that SEO agencies need to be careful not only of how we do our job, but we must know what our clients are doing independently of us. As SEOs, we are frequently asked by a client or acquaintance about some sort of “SEO magic bullet” and if they should try it. My advice is always the same – no. But what happens when the client gets tired of my answer and decides to pull the trigger anyway? If they are a known client of mine and one of my competitors sees what they are doing, can they report both the client AND WrightIMC?

Another frequent scenario when you work with large companies is one hand may not know what the other is doing. One division of a company may fall prey to a slick salesperson, and the team or agency in charge of SEO not even know what’s happening until the spammy links are placed and the reinclusion requests are necessary. It shouldn’t happen, but it does.

Are all of my clients then in danger of being penalized because one of our clients went rogue? Sounds far-fetched, but I would have thought that Google banning an agency for actions they took for a client was far-fetched a couple of months ago. But it happened.

We don’t buy links at WrightIMC. We work hard at trying to stay within the limits of Google’s terms of service. But are we clean? Honestly, I don’t know. Yes, we have bought links in the past. In fact, we spent the last few weeks checking to make sure that some of the links we bought years ago were cleaned up. Some even for clients we no longer work for.

The bottom line is Google wants SEOs to stay clean, and they want you to help them. Google has recruited you to “out” other SEOs. Some have already taken up the call. I keep picturing a Rosie the Riveter poster using Matt Cutts face.

Gotham City is a dangerous place. So is the world of SEO. In Gotham City, a vigilante crime fighter, donning a mask and brandishing some of the coolest weapons known to man roams the streets looking for criminals. When he finds them, he beats them up and leaves them tied up for the real authorities to take care of. In the SEO world, we have vigilantes as well. However, the SEO vigilantes aren’t fighting crime based upon a psyche marred by being the victim of violence as a child. SEO vigilantes are out for self-glory, self-satisfaction or just plain-old self interest.

Changes in the search engine algorithm have recently sent many SEOs reeling (thankfully, WrightIMC clients were minimally affected). The Penguin and Panda updates have made many techniques that some SEOs used as their bread and butter no longer relevant. The common reaction I’ve seen in various SEO forums is as follows –  (amalgamated quotation) “someone else is doing something bad and getting away with it, and our clients want to know why they can do it and we can’t, and well, I’m going to turn into a kindergarten-minded tattle tale, channel my inner Batman and go tell Matt Cutts. “

If you are an SEO, you are not Batman. If you see yourself as a vigilante for SEO justice – enforcing rules that you have no say in – then you are delusional. I can see the rationale for comparing SEO outing to a neighborhood watch. If you see something bad going down in your neighborhood, you call the cops right? But there is a difference. We’re enforcing nebulous rules that have changed over the years -rules that have spawned and destroyed an estimated billion dollar link buying industry with a mathematical switch.

It is my opinion is that it’s not right to “out” a competitor. Judge not lest you be judged. I’m sure my opinion paints a target on my chest for some out there – but if we can’t have an open and honest conversation without fear of repercussion from a search engine, then we’ve got other more Orwellian problems.

But the ethics of outing are irrelevant as my opinion in our decision.

We don’t “out” other SEOs in for selfish reasons, mainly self-preservation. We don’t need to make enemies, and I wouldn’t want someone reporting on my client for going rogue and possible damaging my brand. It’s as simple as the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If we see doing something wrong – we’ll directly approach  the party committing the offense. I don’t want to rely on big bad Google to bring out the hickory stick, especially without knowing the full story. We all need to be fully aware that people’s livelihoods could be at stake.

Not only is our policy the right thing to do – its the best way for us to protect ourselves.


  1. Tony, I’ve got to say I’m sad to see the exceptions you mention in your first paragraph of your post. It seems to undercut any impact the rest of the post would have.

    You will out companies that you believe to be performing negative SEO on your friends or clients, and you’ll out companies that your clients tell you didn’t tell them about the risks.

    I’ve had potential clients tell me they had no idea what they were doing was wrong, but when I talk to their previous SEO they show me emails where they outline the exact risks and potential repercussions.

    Would that person deserve to be outed?

    Setting aside the morality of outing, the lack of proof needed to cause serious problems for a website or at this point an agency is disturbing.

    You might THINK or SUSPECT someone is buying links, playing dirty, doing negative SEO or whatever, but very rarely can you PROVE it. It could just be a competitor trying to make them look bad or using them for cover.

    There is no trial, there is no getting both sides of the story, there’s only the accusation and the punishment. Google can claim they look into these issues and only take action when it is warranted, but the court of public opinion (especially in the SEO industry) doesn’t even offer that much consideration before tarring & feathering.

    • Tony Wright says:

      Ben, if an agency buys links for a client and does not warn them of the repercussions, that is dishonest. If you want to protect yourself, do as we used to and get it in writing. As I stated, I would only do it AFTER I approached the other SEO. And this would need to be a very blatant case.

      I believe in transparency. I will outline every technique we use to both clients, competitors and Google. There is no secret sauce, just hard work. But if you are harming your client for short term gains and not warning them of the risks – you are bad for the industry. Period. And I have no problem tattling. It’s the same philosophy I take with my kids – the only time its appropriate for you to come and “tell” on your brother or sister is if they are doing something that could harm them.

      Getting clients penalized when they don’t understand the risks is harmful to the industry. And since we can’t seem to agree on any kind of industry standard of self-policing – Google is Daddy. And Daddy knows how to spank. Even if he can seem like an abusive drunken stepfather at times.

      As far as negative SEO is concerned, well, I haven’t seen it yet. I don’t know if I ever will. I think it’s kind of a white whale. But if I did find it, and I could prove where it came from – which I wouldn’t imagine would be too hard to do with a little detective work and a wad of cash – I won’t apologize for bringing that public. It’s the right thing to do. Negative SEO is one of those things I think is more of a fun thing to talk about while wearing a tin foil hat, but I’m not sure how real it is.

      Thanks for the comment – and I hope I’ve clarified. I’m happy to discuss those exceptions further. I debated putting them in the piece – but I don’t want to seem like a hypocrite if those items ever come up and I do report. I want to do what I say I will do.

    • Tony Wright says:

      One more thing – the answer to your question in the comment – I would absolutely NOT out that company, as long as the e-mail didn’t read something like “Hey, we are going to buy links, there’s no way you’ll get penalized for this ever.” It’s misleading clients that I take major exceptions too.

  2. Given that sites that are outright cloaking (no doubt in anyone’s mind that that’s ‘google illegal’ rather than an innocent mistake) aren’t getting busted despite what i know to be a constant stream of reports to Google, it’s kind of a red herring.

  3. “If you are an SEO, you are not Batman.”

    It might be true, but it hurts to hear it. Best go put my underpants back inside my jeans. :(

  4. Great write up, Tony. Well done. I’ve had similar problems as both a client and as a consultant and it’s a tough place to be, even before the modern rules were place. I wrote a piece for SEW a year or so ago that equated using paid links to using “Promotmatter in the Genesis Matrix” from the Star Trek movies… it gets the job done, but the side effects are nasty.

  5. Hello,

    I am Gregory Smith, many of you know me from RxSEO. Interesting topic. I will check back from time to time, though while I’m here I’m going to announce to you guys that we try to bring together SEO’s and bloggers, it’s really helpful when you have a team of marketing friends behind you and to have a group who networks together. If you would be interested in networking with us, please leave a comment on RxSEO, letting us know!

    gregory smith


  1. [...] and justify vigilante justice in the name of making a better community. This, I believe, is misguided. That’s, again, a topic for another time. Yet, it is relevant to the topic at [...]

  2. [...] and justify vigilante justice in the name of making a better community. This, I believe, is misguided. That’s, again, a topic for another time. Yet, it is relevant to the topic at [...]

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