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SEO Guerrilla Warfare

Monday, June 9th, 2008

I get a lot of e-mails and questions about trying to SEO against big companies and established websites. A lot of people seem to get stuck in the mindset of “Oh, no MegaCorp(tm) has a $79 billion SEO budget per month, there’s no way we’ll ever beat them!?

The fact is, you can. You can eat them for breakfast, then wipe your month with their over-inflated legalise Terms & Conditions page(s). This can be especially satisfying if you decide to take down a company you’re not particular fond of. While you’re sitting on your balcony at home having breakfast taking in some sun (or rain, if you’re a Brit), you can daydream about them running around their shiny boardroom pointing at the big graph on the wall that’s going down, generally shrieking at each other as their search empire crumbles at their feet.

Let’s get going, comrade.

Digerati Marketing Guerrilla Warfare

Dedication to SEOs everywhere
I would like to dedicate this post to all SEOs who work on their own projects and have tackle big businesses trying to elbow them out of the game at every stage. While you may have the better sites, the better content and more passion that what you’re doing, you’re messages are oppressed by greedy companies who want to fill the Internet with their mediocre content, their brand and of course, their ads. I give no apologies to the companies we will disrupt, but sorry guys, that space belongs to us (and our ads).

General Principles of Guerrilla Warfare
To win a Google war, you must have a detailed understanding of your own strength and weaknesses, as well as your enemy’s. Everyone has their own areas of the web they excel in, whether it’s programming, design, content writing or networking, however to be consistently successful, you will need to develop a wide range of these skills either yourself, or in your guerrilla band. Large enemy armies (err, I mean companies) share many common weaknesses. It is these weaknesses which you will learn to relate to your own skill sets and exploit until the enemy is utterly demoralised, scattered, beleaguered and exhausted.

If you attempt to face your enemy, overtly on the battlefield, you’ll lose. However, there are many advantages to being a small entity, you can operate unseen, you can move quickly and your personal interaction can sow the seeds of descent which will turn the enemy’s own populace against them.

Guerrilla Warfare Strategies

Weakness #1:A Large Army Requires Lots Of Supplies

Large Army

Okay, so MegaCorp has more dozens, or even hundreds of staff and you’re on your own, or it’s only you and a couple of comrades working from your small base in the woods (or whatever you call home). This can actually be an advantage!

Large businesses only want to get involved in projects which are of course, profitable for them. However, for these businesses to make profit, they have to pay for office buildings, web developers, designers, agencies, sales staff, editorial staff, marketing staff, the coffee machine and keep replacing the tea spoons that staff is nicking. This means you can have a better core offering than your enemy.

Have a look at their business model, how are they making money? Are they filling pages with advertising? Are they selling advert space? Perhaps they’re offering a service that other companies are paid to be included in? When it comes to monetization you can; show less adverts, charge the same advertisers less to be advertised on your site, or offer the same service for cheaper or free!

So take the model where companies are being paid to be listed on your enemy’s website. As an individual, you could quite easily make a decent amount of money showing some contextual advertising, or selling some advert space. So collect all the names of your enemy’s allies and e-mail them, offering the same benefits – but for free (or cheaper!).

For instance, “I noticed you are listed on website xxxx and you are paying $250 a month for this service. I am running xxxx website and I am prepared to offer free listings for your company for life, if you will display this badge showing you are listed here.”

Most companies would much rather chuck you a link than pay a monthly subscription, so in this instance, you’ve gained exposure (from the link), a couple of steps forward in terms of SEO (you’ve got some quality links from relevant sites) and you’ve made your enemy look bad by offering the same service for free (or a lot less).

The key here is research. Use the fact you’re small and unknown to research, spy and gain information. Pose as a potential client or advertiser and contact your enemy, asking for rate-cards or prices, ask for visitors stats. Use all of this information to build up a picture of their revenue model. From this you can calculate their revenue, and work on a counter-revenue model, which offers better value to visitors or participating entities.

Whatever money they’re making, you can afford to make less and still be far, far more profitable than them. Use this to your advantage to out-do their offer on all fronts and make your website more appealing.

Weakness #2:The Army Must Control The Populace

Russian Soldiers With megaphone

Big companies have a big brand to protect. Dispute their dominant appearance most companies are absolutely terrified of damaging their brand and will do anything to avoid taking risks. This is war, and risks need to be taken! From talking to hundreds of companies about their websites, one of the most common fears is UGC (User Generated Content), they are terrified to let people speak their minds for fear they might speak against the current regime! The CEO sits quivering in his chair that someone might say “FUCK” on his website and he’ll have angry people writing letters and bashing on the doors of the ivory tower.

You can really press the advantage hard here. It seems common sense to most savvy web developers and entrepreneurs nowadays, but open your site to the masses. Let them submit content, comment on content, talking in forums, whatever way you can allow them to have some interaction and control over their website. That’s right, it’s not your website, it’s the peoples’ website – so let them have some control!

Some more forward-thinking enemy do allow YGC on their sites, but it is typically heavily moderated to give the impression of free speech, when in reality, everyone is suspicious about the 5 out of 5 star user reviews on every product going. I recently saw a keynote, where 2 very similar forums launched at the same time, one moderated and one not. 1 year on, the forum that wasn’t moderated had six times the monthly traffic. People like some freedom when they’re giving you content.

Depending how you’re operating, you can take as many risks as you like, all the way to making black hat versions of your website (suicide sites). Make sure you separate these entities well away from your core troops (different servers and WHOIS) so they are not traceable, but any noise you can make will disrupt and demoralise the enemy. This tactic may not be appropriate in all circumstances, however if you’re competing with an e-commerce site, why not make your genuine article site while working on a few blackhat suicide versions? So what if they get banned after a few months? You’ll have made some money and damaged the enemy.

Weakness #3:Large Armies Are Slow To Manoeuvre

Battle Map

Large companies regularly have this trait in common. It takes them absolutely fucking ages, to do the most simple of things. If the colour of the text is going to be changed you’ll need a pre-meeting, a meeting, a post-meeting debrief, a spec produced, changed, put in a developer queue, tested, have a review meeting, blah blah.

The enemy is likely to be dependent on multiple sources when they need something changed. To have changes done quickly it will likely cost them an arm and leg, infrastructure changes are avoided like trench foot. Exploit this weakness to the fullest.

Take the time to evolve your website, if there are beneficial changes, make them. If there’s something in the news about your niche, respond to it. If there’s breaking news, get it out first. You can move quickly without encumbrance and seize the initiative while they’re still packing their bergens. Carpe Diem, Comrade.

Weakness #4:Lots Of Soldiers = Lots Of Cannon Fodder

Dads Army

While chasing profits and having to maintain a large work force, many companies try to save money by hiring slightly cheaper staff, or “just as good as” guys. That’s right, they’re taking rookie soldiers and putting them on the front line.

As any good General knows, sending untrained troops into battle is no better than herding sheep onto the front line, you’re going to lose. Hard. It may be that the enemy has got a lot of adept people working for them, but there have been communication problems between the ideas guy and the end developer. I have yet to see a website that has been built by a non-web specialist company that is flawless.

Spend time looking around the enemy’s terrain, see what they have done well and do it yourself. Immediately benefit from their expensive end-user research, at no cost to yourself. Find what they’ve done badly and improve it on your site. It seems that coming second carries with it, its own set of advantages.

Large armies tend to be sloppy, assuming victory by sheer size. Take all of their small weaknesses, poor internal linking, non-SEO friendly URLs, no use of “nofollow” tags and stack them so you have a distinctive advantage. The underdog leaves no bone un- scavenged.

Weakness #5:Large Armies Leave Big Tracks

Footprints in Snow

A large army cannot move undetected and thus it is easy to track their movements. Once you have your website battle ready, why not check out the enemy’s backlink profile in Yahoo! Site Explorer? A lovely, juicy list of their entire link building activity. You’ll want to get on that procuring links from every source they received links from, so you’ll very quickly draw even. If they are actively link building, take note of the kind of sites they are targeting.

Pay special attention if there are any “suspicious” links in there. You know the type, site-wide links from ring tone websites, MySpace Layout websites or obvious link networks. If there are, it is your civic duty to report these war crimes under the Google Convention! You’ll find cash-rich companies tend to involve themselves in these tactics quite quickly as it seems the most cost-efficient way for them to operate, so if you catch em, get em in stocks, pronto.

Weakness #6:Large Armies Have Slower Communications

Army Radio Operator

It is likely that a lot of the time, the left hand won’t know what the right is doing. Staff working at large companies won’t be able to communicate their detailed daily operations to each other. Use this along with any skill shortages and your previously gathered intelligence on what sites they link up with.

Set some booby-traps for them to walk right into! Create a few quick websites with some mashed up content that fits the profile of sites they want linking to them. Get in contact and offer a link from your homepage to their website, if they link to an obscure article on your website.

Of course, on your homepage you can use “X-Robots” in your header-delivery to nofollow any links on that page, which will be totally undetectable by nofollow plugins, or even by viewing the source code. The only way they’ll discover it is if they view the header information being sent by the site, which they won’t of course. Once you’ve done your link exchange, you’ve got 2 options:

1) Spring the booby trap! Why not 301 that page they’ve linked to, to a spammy blackhat website. Google will love that, along with their visitors!

2) Use their own resources against them! Or you could 301 that page to your own website, so the enemy is very kindly helping your efforts.

The great thing is that this will work dozens of times. Dealing with different people each time, they enemy won’t know what’s going on until it’s too late and they’ll soon start fearing other websites, not knowing who will help or harm them!

The Ongoing War

These are just a few of the many weaknesses that plague large company websites. I hope I have inspired you to take up arms against your would-be oppressors. When you divide and conquer, you’ll find that you can win a lot of battles against seemingly impervious web-giants and eventually bring them to their knees.

Ernesto Che Guevara
(Just stay out of Bolivia)

Posted in Black Hat, Google, Grey Hat, Marketing Insights, Research & Analytics, Search Engine Optimisation | 18 Comments »

A Great Tool Just For You

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Well, it’s a pretty great end of the week for me. Firstly, I get to go in a few hours and pick my girlfriend up from the airport who’s been travelling for the last 3 months and secondly (close second), I can very proudly annouce the release of a new tool…


I’d like to introduce you to AutoStumble! Which is a reet smart little application. In a nutshell, it is a 100% automated stumble exchange app. That’s right, no more staring at your screen for hours going through endless lists of sites to swap stumbles, only to be banned for reciprocal voting. This baby even camoflagues your activity by voting on random URLs and hot URLs within Stumble.

Let’s have quick overview of the features:

-> As I said – 100% automated. Bung in your details, hit AutoStumble then it minimizes to the tray and works like a dog.

-> With the unique “credit” system and camoflagued random voting, this thing is just about undetectable to reciprocal voting detection algorithms.

-> Making your page go viral on StumbleUpon will draw you thousands of visitors per day

-> All those extra visitors are very likely to mean more links – which means you’ll rank better in Google

-> The program has customisable delay between Stumbles to emulate human behaviour

-> The tool is free to Elite SEO Tools subscribers

During this primary launch I’m selling this tool for the bargain basement price of ?10. This will go up soon! So if you want it cheap, get in now.

How does this work you say?
Basically, you pop your URL into the program and this is put into a “pool” of URLs of other users. The program will grab this list and Stumble other peoples’ sites (with random stumbles between). For every site you Stumble you gain a “credit”, which is applied to your account. Your URL will be made available for other users to Stumble, for as many “credits” as you have earned. This system ensures there is not total reciprocal voting – and everyone is doing different sets of URLs.

There’s loads more information on the site about the tool, so go check it out –

It’s the bee’s fucking knees (:

Posted in Black Hat, Social Marketing | 12 Comments »

Who wants a hand job? A Google one, that is.

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

Does this mean we finally have proof we (the SEOs) have won?

Every SEO this last week or so has been wetting their panties and tonking on about the Google Spam Quality Guidelines being leaked. Whoopie frickin’ do. What an amazing insight into Google we all have now. Or not.

Has anybody actually sat down and read though this crap? Was there anything there that anybody didn’t actually already know or at least, very safely assume? No, not really. However, I think a lot of people missed the one important thing about this document. It’s written for noobs!

Do you realise how serious this is?
I heard rumours over a year ago that Google employs over 5,000 people to “hand review” websites, this document would suggest to me that number has grown considerably. From reading the document, it would seem Google is employing monkeys en masse to trawl the web.

I can see it now….

Welcome to your first day at Google!

Step 1: Sit on this chair

Step 2: Go to the websites that this program tells you to go to.

Step 3: Without using brain, rate these websites based on what this PDF says

Step 4: Goto Step 2

I believe the “Web Quality” room in Google will look similar to this:

Rows upon rows of imprisoned Web Quality rating minds searching a never-ending Internets.

Am I being overly harsh? C’mon, wake up and smell the drool, this document gives you explicit instructions on how to “identify a parked domain”. If you can’t identify a parked domain yourself, you don’t deserve a modem, let alone being allowed to run amok rating websites.

The Big Truth
I’m always having discussions with people about pushing the boundaries of SEO and being told “oh, Google could spot that. They could rate this and look at this, etc.” The fact of the matter is, with newer web technologies (see “multi-variate” testing), more RSS and syndicated content than you could mash with potatoes, Google is having a damn hard time reliably identifying spam and crap content, so they’ve had recruit a manual review army. For just about any “you can’t do this because…” scenario, I can give an example of similar techniques being used for legitimate purposes, which is bad news for Google – they really don’t want to throwing out false positives and automatically booting good sites out their index.

Google’s algorithm is suffering, big time.

Want some proof?
This document only confirms what I have suspected for a while now. Over the last 6 months I’ve seen a large increase in the amount of manual reviews done on my own sites. Algorithmically, they would rank perfectly – even with 100% scraped content – then they’d hit the top 5 in Google for a key term, which obviously ups them in the hand review priority (why manual review a website that doesn’t rank?) and they get punished. Fair enough, they are just pawns in a larger game – and you learn a lot about what you can get away with sending websites to their death.

Even though Google denies it (they hate admitting their algorithm isn’t great), you see all of these Google Bombs being defused manually. I wrote ages ago about how to spot a Google Bomb from an algorithmic point of view, so people just adapted. Last month I saw the Scientology* homepage ranking for “dangerous cult”, pretty smart as they’d chosen words that were already present on page, therefore getting around one of the main Google Bomb filters. So it ranked #1 for quite a while, then magically, “poof!” it’s gone. If that doesn’t reek of a web quality monkey, I don’t know what does.

But Google can, detect, um, it can, uh…
What’s the main reason (most) people don’t go around committing crimes? Generally, it’s fear of punishment. One of the big reasons a lot of people don’t link spam/blackhat/cloak whatever your cup of tea might be, is, you guessed it, fear of punishment. The more Google can get you to believe it can magically detect certain trends, the less likely you are [the content creating mass] to produce spammy/poor content. Which is great for Google (and end user of course), because it makes their job a whole lot easier!

Think of an off-page technique that you’d think would get a site penalised or banned, we’ll say guestbook spamming for our example. That’s a nasty little old-school trick. So, like most people at DigitalPoint, you believe that Google automatically penalises sites for guestbook spamming. Let?s say this is true, Google has admitted it – they can algorithmically spot guestbook spamming no problem and they’ll penalise your site for it. I can guarantee you if Google openly admitted this, guestbook spamming would go up a billion and seven percent. SEOs would be spamming the hell out of their competitors to get them penalised and all Google has done is make its job a hell of a lot harder – they have encouraged people to make more noise to signal.

This holds true to most techniques, if it’s off-page, you can generally do it for a competitor, so Google punishing algorithmically for it would create more spam and a worse search experience. This my friends, is a prime example of “Catch 22″. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t damage other peoples’ rankings, it’s quite possible – especially on newer sites. However, it is a lot more likely that if Google identifies a guestbook that is heavily spammed, it will simply kill link juice going out from that page, not penalising, just reducing the effect of spam, this is how most “low level” spam is treated.

What about the bigger stuff? The algorithm will definitely raise flags. For instance, I [albeit accidently] built 15,000 links to a brand new domain (oops) and it actually started to rank very well. However, checking the logs after it was nuked, it was evident the site has been given a “hand job”, for being a “thin affiliate” page.

Search Disruption
I’ve seen a lot of people, like fellow Brit, Dave Naylor talking about SEOs considering “disruption budgets”. Meaning, dedicating some time and money to rocking your competitor’s boat, rather than fixing your own sails. With Dave’s write ups on buying links I see this as a viable option of late. Google is been swinging damn hard for link buyers and sellers, which is different to how I thought they’d handle it. I assumed they would continue with the “devalue the sold link” avenue, but they’ve been racking up the kills, giving out fatalities easier than Sub Zero’s finishing move (forward, down, forward, punch).

The final tip
Take one this away from all of this: Nowadays, I would be less careful about link building and more careful with presenting your site to look natural to a manual review. Maybe this is a topic we can cover later? How to make your site pass a manual review..

Also, put up to a vote. Should I buy Dave Naylor a VW Camper so his life is nearer to completion?

*For more information on Scientology, see Xenu.Net

Posted in Black Hat, Google, Grey Hat, Search Engine Optimisation | 5 Comments »

SEO Job Vacancies (UK)

Monday, March 17th, 2008

As a lot of you know, apart from doing my own sexy thing, I work as the Online Marketing Manager at Further. To be honest, I’ve never been much of a “career” person and I’ve had a pretty diverse set of jobs from bowling alleys to solicitors to network administrating. In my mere 24 (25 soon!) years on this planet, I’ve discovered some things about work and myself:

1) I get tend to get bored with jobs. Fast.

2) Generally speaking, the people who get “promoted” in jobs aren’t the most talented people. They’re the people that kiss the most arse, sell themselves well and generally fuckwit themselves through life.

3) Office politics makes me sick to guts and the way people are managed normally gives rise to different social groups within a company, much like a school playground.

4) Large companies (generally speaking) = beaucracy = nothing ever gets done, the old is recycled and new ideas have the creativity squeezed out of them.

5) Money doesn’t bother me overly. If I thought I’d be happier working on an Emu farm in Nong Pu, I’d probably give it a go.

6) It doesn’t really matter how much you earn – your lifestyle has a scary way of adjusting and eating up and spare notes you might find yourself in possession. I look at extra money as potential free time, not numbers on a screen.

This all sounds quite hippocritical as I work very hard to make money and I’m always talking about making money on the Internet. The fact is, I think the best thing is the process – taking this vast network of people on the end of screens all around the world, working out what they’re looking for, how they do it and building business models around it. All from your own humble computer, creating something that millions of people can read, use, watch and interact with. The money is a bonus, but it’s the process, which is challenging, ever evolving and infinitely rewarding that keeps me doing it.

All of those rather cynical things I’ve said about employment (which I’m sure a psychologist would put down to underlying personality defects), drove me to learn enough to become financially self-supporting if needs be. However, last year I got interested in Further because of what I’d heard about them from people who worked there. Working from home has its benefits, but long term can be very isolated (especially when all your friends are at work during the day!) and can lead to stagnation as you can get trapped into only learning what you need to, rather than a broader holisitic view of the web.

So, I applied and was quite impressed and after a couple of months of e-mailing, I joined the Further team and never looked back.

Here’s some things I enjoy about working at Further:

-> There’s a really nice “open” office environment, which means there aren’t any “no talking” signs or clock watching. This means we get a healthy flow of ideas around the office and a smattering of interesting conversations/debates.

-> The current team/staff/people are great. Everyone is interested in what everyone else is doing and how they do it. Understanding what everyone else in a company is doing helps things run really smoothly and helps everyone develop their skills naturally.

-> New ideas are encouraged and the company is prepared to invest time/resources into internal projects. So if you think you’ve got the next big thing in your grey matter, Further will help you make it a reality.

-> There’s a brilliant balance of company strategy and flexibility. Everyone knows what we’re trying to achieve and how we’re going to get there, but there’s no reason it can’t be fun.

-> There’s great staff packages and free tea and coffee.

-> I’ve learnt more in the past few months from colleagues than I ever would have on my own. Whether it’s them telling me something, watching how the Further chiefs go about business or I’ve been inspired to close a knowledge gap.

As you hopefully guessed by the post title, we’re looking to expand our family and hire some SEO gurus and SEO juniors. It’s an office based role, so you’ll need to be within commuting distance of Norwich – or be prepared to move. (Our latest new induction, Ryan moved all the way from Wales to come and join us!)

So, if this sound like your bag, here’s what’s on offer:

Search Engine Marketing Specialists £20K+ DOE

Working as part of the fast expanding Search Engine Marketing Team, the successful candidates will be responsible for the execution of internal and client marketing campaigns. They will undertake integrated marketing projects, bringing their skills of organic search engine optimisation to the mix.

Currently 2 positions available.

Key skills required:

* 1yr+ Experience in search engine marketing experience with designing search engine friendly infrastructure
* Excellent knowledge of on and off-site optimisation experience and creativity with link building practises
* Track record of achieving good rankings in major search engines Analytical skills and experience using stat tracking packages
* Good understanding of HTML/CSS

Also any experience in the following would be favourable:

* Paid search platforms
* Monetisation strategies & platforms (CPC, CPA, CPM)
* Client/server-side programming (e.g. JavaScript, PHP, .Net)
* Web copywriting experience
* Marketing experience
* Viral / Social Media Optimisation experience
* Sense of humour

Search Engine Marketing Junior – up to £16K

Further is looking to expand its Search Engine Marketing Team with an entry-level search engine marketer. The successful candidate will receive full training in both paid and organic search practises and “hands on” client experience.

Key skills required:

* Basic knowledge of HTML/CSS
* Excellent English
* Good analytical/organisational skills
* Marketing & Business minded
* Creative thinker
* An interest in web technologies & search engines
* Sense of humour

You can see our full vacancies here or pop me an e-mail to: [email protected]

Posted in Black Hat, Digerati News, Google, Grey Hat, Marketing Insights, Microsoft, Research & Analytics, Search Engine Optimisation, Social Marketing, White Hat, Yahoo | 9 Comments »

Digerati Forums Launched & Competition

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

I’ve been putting together a fairly simple forum, to gather feedback and promote discussion on the SEO Tools. However, it occurred to me, I get a whole bunch of e-mails asking me about SEO, or explaining something specific in one of my posts, so I thought – why not make forums for everyone?

I’m pleased to launch the Digerati SEO Forum

I’m looking to get a whole bunch of you clever SEO people in one place and really push what we can come up with together. I’ll of course, be browsing around on a daily basis, so if you have a question for me, have mercy on my inbox and post it in the forum! (:

If you’re a Digerati Tools Subscriber then PM me on the forums (MarkDigerati) and I’ll add you to the Digerati group, which will give you access to hidden forums for SEO Tools members.

You say something about a competition?
Indeed, competition time! I will giving away a 3 month free subscription to the Digerati SEO Tools for whoever is the most helpful and active poster on the forums between now and the end of February.

Well, why not sign up and introduce yourself? :)

P.S. The signature links are followed, so feel free to get some extra link juice to your sites.

P.P.S Did I mention I posted a thread on how to easily get PR3,4,5 links to your site?

Posted in Black Hat, Digerati News, Grey Hat, Search Engine Optimisation | 11 Comments »