I have to hand it to Rand Fishkin, he knows how to bring fury (and controversy and snarky cartoons) upon him like a woman scorned. However in this latest case, it's more like a few webmaster's scorned. So this got me to thinking, is "publicly outing" websites for buying links, cloaking, scraping or hidden text or numerous other "unethical" practices search marketers know that can game the system - ethical in its own right?
Lets face it, we all know of sites that are doing things that cross the guide"lines" of the search engines. We all probably know of at least 1 or 2 major sites that are doing things that could get them tossed from the search engines' indexes if they were not the big time retailer, muti-media conglomerate or news sources that they are. But because these are major sites, probably sites that are actually very relevant for their terms, do we really think the search engines are going to toss their sites from the index? Look at what happened to BMW - isn't that enough to make people think twice?
That's a rhetorical question, of course I don't have any answers, just my own opinions. Will I ever "out" what I know to a search engine rep or in a blog post here on SMG where I know a few people from the search engines come and read? I may pose a hypothetical question in a private email, just to make sure I'm right in my thinking, but, "outing" someone just brings on a heck of a lot more trouble than you may think. Especially a public outing such as what happened with the Google Payola post.
I know a few search marketers who have no problem reporting sites to the search engines for their unethical practices. However, that's blatant, intended unethical tactics. That type of reporting or "outting" is done in a private fashion, not on the public spectrum of a blog. In that way it makes it anonymous in how it's reported, the site in questions likely would never know who "turned them in" and in that case, no clue who to turn their scorn on.
While I like Rand as a person and I believe Rand is a nice guy and I want to believe it wasn't ill-will that he publicly outed these sites (and then retracted the outing), I find myself, once again, questioning the motives. I questioned his motives back in June when he publicly started the rumor about SES and the exclusivity that just wasn't true. We're back in a similar situation now and I find it very hard to believe that Rand did not realize how much in the way of traffic and controversy/drama that these types of posts would bring to SEOMoz. If there's one thing Rand isn't, it's dumb. He's a savvy search marketer and knows what brings links and traffic - humor (comics), information (his lists), and controversy (rumors, outting websites, only telling half the story).
In both cases Rand came back shortly after and apologized and
expected that to resolve everything. It does take a lot to admit one's
mistakes and apologize for them and for that, he should be commended. However, had this just happened just once,
sure, I think it could be plausible he didn't "think" about the full repercussions for everyone involved, before he hit the
publish button. Unfortunately, here we are again, with more controversy and
drama, and another apology that's just suppose to make everything
When it comes down to it this time, I question that proverbial "ethical" line
Rand just crossed with the post, just as many of you are. There's
no doubt he's made a lot more enemies than friends. He's also got a
lot of search marketers scratching there heads and wondering just what
was going on in his mind when he wrote what he did.
Do I think that Rand has daily morning meetings with Matt Cutts? I find that notion ridiculous. Do I think Matt Cutts reads the SEOMoz blog and Rand knows that? Of course. Was it "ethical" for Rand to write what he did knowing Matt comes and reads the blog regularly and after the furor launched, would definitely read it? I don't believe it was "ethical". Does it make me "hate" Rand? No. Does it make me scratch my head a lot in bizarre wonderment? Yes and it just makes me question the amount of respect I had for his savvy marketing abilities.
So, what do you think? I'm curious - is it ethical to "out" websites on a very public and very well subscribed to blog that's read by search engine reps? I'm asking for you opinions on the "ethical" nature of what was done, so lets start a conversation! :)
*10/8 edited: I've updated this post, changed the picture, because although at first I felt the cartoon posted at ToonRefugee would be "OK" to use since Rand commented there, in retrospect, it put too much emphasis on the wrong topic.
Please also note (I originally had this statement up, but deleted, because I thought people would be professional, but it looks like it is needed):