Brands: Beware Of Slimy SEO Middlemen Meddling Through Social Media

If it’s your job to promote and protect your brand reputation, then you should beware of slimy SEO middlemen that meddle in social media and customer relationships.

Most brand managers are aware of the risks of engaging in “black hat” and “gray hat” SEO tactics. These methods attempt to attract search traffic in a deceitful manner that violates search engines’ terms of service. Such tactics include keyword stuffing, hidden text and links, link farming and blog comment spam, among other. They can get you blackballed by the search engines, making you invisible to many of your potential online customers.

But there’s a new threat emerging: SEO middlemen that participate in social media and blogger relations for the sole purpose of boosting search-engine traffic. Many of these efforts are backfiring. Let me share a recent personal example:

An account executive from an established SEO agency contacted me last week on my personal blog. He indicated his agency was representing a major furniture brand, for which I’ll spare public ridicule. I give this account exec credit for fully disclosing his client relationship, but the accolades end there. He did his homework on me, as indicated by his compliments and thoughtful references to my alma mater, various posts on my site, and short family videos I’ve published. But his intimate patronization was nothing more than fake flattery. And the hard pitch that followed made his interaction entirely unpleasant and unwelcome.

I’ll paraphrase this huckster’s pitch: “I noticed one of your posts has a link to our client. In an effort to assist with our online marketing efforts, would it be possible to modify this link to a new URL that will aid our SEO optimization efforts? Please let me know if this is possible. It would be a great help to us. Thank you for considering this request and please continue to provide marketing insight on your blog, as well as comical videos and stories of you and your family’s adventures!”

This request made me uneasy because it was completely tied to a self-serving SEO agenda and nothing else. Instead of spraying untruthful admiration and greedily requesting value beyond my generous public advocacy, this agency exec should’ve recognized me as a brand promoter and let his client know that I’m a potential fan to start a more meaningful relationship with.

But no, the SEO middleman with the narrow agenda had to get in the way of a fruitful customer relationship and potential long-term opportunity. As a result, I probably will never advocate or do business with him or his client again. This sort of of commercial engagement is nothing more than spam.

Brands: beware of slimy SEO middlemen that meddle in social media and customer relationships. Middlemen are not an excuse for bad deeds. Nor are they a buffer from the consequences.

This also was my latest column in MediaPost.

(Photo Credit: freejay3)

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Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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16 Comments

  1. Max,

    As per the last tweet I really do not see the issue they did the right thing by researching you and your blog they understood their target (you) and took the time to look through your blog.

    As for slimy, they made a reasonble request, they did not try and hide the intent or rationale for the change required. The did not feed you any crap about its going to benefit you or you have no choice in doing this!

    They made a simple request and well the last sentance might be a little soppy, it is relevant and not a simple cut and paste mass market email. My clients get dozens of these requests each week, but they are often ignored because they are automated spam requests, this is an actual marketer contacting you with a simple request.

    As for the issue of self-serving the whole point of a marketing agencies job is self serving, doesn't matter if it is offline or online they are paid to serve the client's requests and get the results they client expects. I would think that this is not classed as spam, it maybe unwanted by you, but it is personal, relevant and polite, I fail to see any issue with it.

    As for understanding seo, this is not a black hat request, its a simple change of an existing link to a new URL that will help their client. Maybe the old link is no longer relevant or they are unable to do a 301 redirect so need to change the physical links where possible.

    It would be something closer to so called blackhat if they said we need you to embed this javascript file onto the page so we can automate the placing of backlinks to our clients page. You already have the link, this post makes me wonder about your understanding of online marketing!

    Disclosure: I was not the person or agency that made the request, but I have done this for my clients in the past.

  2. Agree, the SEO guy I described perhaps did not behave unethically, but he certainly was impolite and distasteful. Sleazy schmoozing to seed a selfish request does not make the world a better place. In fact, it makes the other party uncomfortable, and a brand is funding this on its behalf.

    But let's deconstruct this a little more:

    1) He violated the rules of the venue, one of personal, meaningful exchange. It's a bit like going to a dinner party and pitching tupperware in the middle of a conversation.

    2) He entered the venue talking like we were intimate friends and that I should trust him, and that he was genuinely interested in being there. Which he was not.

    3) After attempting to position himself as an admirer and potentially meaningful acquaintance, he lobbed a self-serving pitch. Not even a pitch that would provide any value to me — only value to him.

    And the fact that it was an intermediary, hired to do the dirty work, also was disheartening. Assassination for hire makes two guilty parties — the hitman AND the client.

    For the record, unlike the SEO guy I described, you exhibited etiquette, taste and abided by the rules of this venue. For that, thank you. This is the sort of exchange I do welcome.

  3. Agree, the SEO guy I described perhaps did not behave unethically, but he certainly was impolite and distasteful. Sleazy schmoozing to seed a selfish request does not make the world a better place. In fact, it makes the other party uncomfortable, and a brand is funding this on its behalf.

    But let's deconstruct this a little more:

    1) He violated the rules of the venue, one of personal, meaningful exchange. It's a bit like going to a dinner party and pitching tupperware in the middle of a conversation.

    2) He entered the venue talking like we were intimate friends and that I should trust him, and that he was genuinely interested in being there. Which he was not.

    3) After attempting to position himself as an admirer and potentially meaningful acquaintance, he lobbed a self-serving pitch. Not even a pitch that would provide any value to me — only value to him.

    And the fact that it was an intermediary, hired to do the dirty work, also was disheartening. Assassination for hire makes two guilty parties — the hitman AND the client.

    For the record, unlike the SEO guy I described, you exhibited etiquette, taste and abided by the rules of this venue. For that, thank you. This is the sort of exchange I do welcome.

  4. Max, what would be the “kosher” way to approach with such request or is there one? I am very curious, since I am tempted to sometimes o reach out to some bloggers and ask them to add/modify the link (I don't do fake flattery though…)
    Thanks!

  5. Well, for what I've witness here in China, “Black Hat ops” is spreading and considered as a “common web marketing strategy”. One of my friends alerted me last November (09) and since that time, I've seen plenty of company doing it. My point is, if you want to expand on the Chinese market, be careful with whom you partner.

    Note: as a blog owner, do you usually receive a load of “spam” in the comment including “Bing” and “Microsoft Search Engine” as keywords? I wonder who is doing that and for what purpose. Being a SEO rookie, are blog comment strongly indexed by Google and other search engine?

  6. Hi Nataliya, I'm a student, not an expert, but here are a few guidelines I would follow…
    1. Respect the venue
    2. Be authentic and upfront
    3. Have good intentions
    4. Offer more value than you take
    5. Acknowledge that your behavior is an extension of your client's brand and a customer experience, not an isolated act of SEO
    6. Ensure that your act makes the world a better place

  7. Because of the onslaught of SEO black-hat spammers, hiding your blog comments (i.e., “no follow”) from the search engines is mandatory. I would love to have my comments indexed by the search engines, so more like-minded people can discover the content and discussion on my blog. But indexed comments only attract spammers, the lowest scum of the Internet.

  8. my two cents would be a comprimise of these two statements. i agree that the agency guy (i am an agency guy myself) did the right thing – he was thoughtful and respectful of the author's time by doing his research before making the ask but that the request itself is inherently objectionable. which leads to me to the more important point, how much is too much? once you have the link is it too much to ask the link be precisely formatted?

    personally, i would take any link to a client's Web site or property which was surrounded by positive sentiment. if i want a link to be precisely formatted, i would insert an image badge on the key page and provide embed code (including the key words and alt text) for people who found the page useful to embed on their own site in their own time and by their own volition.

  9. Thank for your reply.
    Knowing the lack of control Microsoft has over his Chinese branch, do you think it's possible that some employees launch on their own initiative a black-hat spam “campaign”? I can't understand the value of spamming about Bing for example.

  10. ah yes, true but thinking back this week, it was more the straw that broke the camels back around people laying it on about seo being overpriced we don't all guarantee work etc…

    social media will get a wakeup call in the next few months as most of the big agencies seem to be sticking their foot into their mouths… such as Rentokil UK….

    http://econsultancy.com/blog/5600-how-not-to-us

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