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The Client's Had A Gutful.....

a story from the real world...

7:29 am on Mar 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I am trying to keep a customer afloat in a scenario where 7 of the top 10 sites are part of a network of same company/cookie cutter pages woven together with hidden links. (Spam report submitted weeks ago)

We had hoped the "scalable algorithmic filters" would finally catch up but their operation is still there, large as life and totally unscathed.

I had a call this morning from a very upset client:

Him: " I'm sick and tired of having my own product offered back to me by a commission agent who spams Google's search results. Your advice to follow the guidelines is not an excercise in semantics for me... it's costing me serious money and impacting on my business"

Me: "Be patient... as I keep saying to you, there are lots of indicators that these hidden link operators' days are numbered. I was hoping they'd be gone this update... but it can't be too much longer now"

Him: "(Expletive deleted) I've been hearing that for months and nothing happens. I'm not prepared to put up with this any longer. I want you to start immediately using the exact same tactic so that I can become competitive"

Me: "Don't do that... its the most blatant form of spam... absolutely in breach of the first Google guideline. I don't do spam and I have a reputaion to consider"

Him: "Based on the results I'm seeing, I'm no longer sure you are giving me good advice. I've made up my mind and if you have a problem with your ethics, live with it because either you or someone else is sure as hell going to help me use the same tactics"

Me: " Let me think about it.... I'll get back to you"

Bottom line is that this is a major client and I can't afford to lose him... please make an extra space over on the dark side.

Thanks Google... thanks a whole bunch.

7:34 am on Mar 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Clients want results - pure and simple.

Some can understand the long term, but some can't.

Sounds to me like he is upset that some of his affiliates are making money "competing" against him.

7:42 am on Mar 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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So, your client believes he/she must "cheat to compete"? Let's say you do decide to do this for them. How long before it's caught? What will the client say then? Can you make enough money in say ... six months, to make the cheating payoff?

I believe this has become, for some, a very real business decision.

8:18 am on Mar 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Wow, that's disturbing. Hope GG's paying attention.

Some customers aren't worth having and in every defeat is an opportunity for something better.

I have taken lots of stupid abuse from a client I lease a site to (for half the cost other sites pay for similar marketing reach).

A shouting match the other day ended with me saying "..lease it, don't lease it, buy it, don't buy it, because I no longer give a s**t what you do. I am just a landlord. If you're not occupying that domain, somebody else will."

He needs me more than I need him which is always an advantageous situation but my message was clear.

My point is that this client is like having a bad girlfriend. You know she cheating on you, you know she's lying to you - but you can't prove any of it. You fight and fight and try to compromise, try to make the best of it, but nothing improves and one day you get to the point where you just don't give a d**n what she does anymore.

That's where I am at with this client. I refuse to answer their useless emails or telephone calls. As long as they pay their lease once a month and I maintain top 5 ranking across many different kws, I have no need or desire to communicate with them.

They have top ranking for their business and I get paid for working a few hours a month to make sure it stays on top.

IMO, SEO professionals should buy and build up their own domains/sites and then offer to lease them out. By owning the domain, you have more control and flexibility.

austrr, I truly empathize with you.

9:33 am on Mar 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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zap.... thanks for the reply. This isn't about client relationships or business models, its about the circumstances that drive a multi-million dollar business to feel they have no option but to "cheat" to get a decent return on their web investment.

<Added> I like your idea for leasing sites.... it may have some legs in my area. I'll be doing some deep thinking about that</added>

12:29 pm on Mar 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Cool. Glad my own methods/idea caused a light bulb to go off in your head. But honestly, I don't know why more SEO/Webmasters don't buy and build up an "industry" specific website/domain and then offer to lease it out. To me, it is such and obvious and advantageous scenario that I can't understand why more SEO pros aren't doing it more. Some industries it may not work but for most I think it can apply.

Break this down further. I work with medical sites/clinics. I recently aquired a domain that is mostimportantkeyword.md (.md is the tld) It's a close second to the holy grail of domain names in my field.

Okay, so then I wasn't sure what to do with it once i had it. I ended up having a search box put on it which can query 8 different medical search engines. A cool little tool.

Right now, this little site is just a hobby. I will build it up with links and getting listed everywhere, encourage it to grow in the SERPs. Feed, water and care for it.

Six months from now when it is up there and doing good with a significant amount of page views, I may start shopping it around to lease out to a clinic. Said clinic can have it's home page beneath the search box.

Or, I might just keep it as a back up domain (insurance) in case one of my commercial domains I lease out get into trouble (not that I do anything to get them in trouble - but life is life and you never know what disasters await us).

But if a SEO has experience in a particular area and can create a leading industry specific site, reach top ranking with page views that make it marketable, why not lease it out to a commercial entity?

You own it, you control it and you can make it as wonderful as you want.

It's like owning a piece of commercial real estate you rent out every month.

This business model is logical to me as the best scenario for any SEO. I just can't believe more people aren't doing it. I make a nice monthly income every month and I only have to work about 10-20 hours a month on it to make sure it stays high in the serps. It took a lot of work to get those domains in the top 10 but now it is easy street.

12:58 pm on Mar 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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When approached with those ultimatums from clients I tell them.

No problem.
No guarantee on how long the site(s) will last.
Cash up front.

No takers so far.


1:21 pm on Mar 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Get them to sign a contract of 'spam acceptance'. Include your standard fee (but payment in advance of any work involved) for inserting spam, 10 times the fee for removing the spam (when they get dropped) and a GIGANTIC fee for re-acceptance into banned search engines (with a timescale of something realistic noted next to it - state 48 months to be on the safe side - this may frighten them slightly - tell them that it is the normal Google spam penalty dropping and there is nothing that can be done about it, but spam sites are generally in there for several months - sometimes up to six months - thus Google has given them plenty of opportunity to mend their broken ways, then they get dropped for years).

Make sure that the responsibilty on the contract is entirely on the client and loss of position or deletion from any search engine indexes are entirely at the clients risk.

2:09 pm on Mar 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Since I've only been doing SEO-for-fee for a short time (lost my day job in telecom recently), I hadn't thought about this issue very much, other than how to refuse spam requests politely. But the ideas presented here have been very useful, and I especially like the idea of getting a signed acknowledgement and payment up front as a way of fully informing the client that they may lose their domain name and all associated brand recognition for months, years, or for good.

I plan to write it up to require a signature at the bottom and initials on each and every warning point. My main interest is to dissuade the client from following this course of action, but another concern is to cover any implied-liability issues.

As far as going over to the dark side, I think if I was forced to do this to retain an important client, I'd go with a throw-away domain name, with the understanding that the fees would include essentially creating an entirely new company unrelated to the "branded" company in any way, with fees commensurate with that scope of work - and payable before going live. Frankly, I hope to never have to play this game.

Thanks for some great ideas.


3:10 pm on Mar 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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The separation that Jim mentions is a useful way to handle the 'client asks for black hat' problem.

When faced with this situation I tell them "feel free to try out the Secret Special Tricks you've heard about, but not on any domain we work with and not on any domain linked from any domain we work with". If it works well for them then fine, but medium to long term the Secret Special Tricks don't always turn out to be such a good idea after all.

austtr, this can work both ways. One of our problems is finding ways to promote a manufacturer in Google without upsetting the resellers or commission agents too much if we are listed ahead of them.

4:09 pm on Mar 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I don't know about what other seo's do, but if a client is paying me to get them rankings, looking at competitors and identifying their spam (if it exists) is one tool in my toolkit.

If you put up spam, expect to have it shot down by someone, most likely by a hired gun/seo.

It seems the only way to beat some of these invisible link spammers is to beef up your PR any which way you can (as long as it is white hat).

Clients are right to expect improvements in traffic but I always, before every handshake, state that I cannot guarantee rankings.

The only SEO's that guarantee rankings are those Scammers who shoot you to the top with uncompetitive untrafficked keywords like "Widget Repair Chimayo New Mexico."

Let's face it, there are a lot of potential clients out there who are begging to get scr-wed because of their greed or ignorance.

My solution to your problem: I wouldn't walk the left hand path for these guys. I would refer them to an expert spammer who will then outline all the spammy things they are going to do, with the caveat of all the harmful things that can befall their web site. If that doesn't wake him up...

Sometimes people won't listen to YOU but put your words in someone elses mouth and watch how they sit up and take notice.

11:53 pm on Mar 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

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austtr, I would tell a client that if they get caught, they could be permanently removed from the index. I would mention that in the same way that the client sees other sites cheating and reports them, your client will also get reported. And when a trick gets shut down, they'll be in worse shape than before. And even if it takes a little while for that trick to be shut down, someone might investigate that spam report manually. Is the client looking for couple weeks or months of rankings, or do they want to be listed long-term?
1:29 am on Mar 9, 2003 (gmt 0)

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gg & others... good responses & much appreciated.

I intend to leave the client to his own thoughts for a day or so... he did not build his business by being a fool and I suspect he will have cooled down by then.

The responses to date focus on how to manage the client relationship factors arising from this scenario and the risks to the client by deciding to also spam... but I'm not seeing any mention at all about removing the root cause that brought about the situation in the first place.

Until that happens, more businesses that play-by-the guidelines start to see Google as "the enemy". The logic is that if Google cannot/will not/does not control even the first of their own guidelines, then by implication, they are not serious about spam removal.

Black hats can operate with impunity while the white hats get flogged.... month after month after month. Not my personal point of view, but easy to understand if its your business that's being impacted.

Managing the client is just a band-aid solution until next update, the permanent cure can only happen when Google use tighter spam controls .... hidden links in this particular case.