SEOer Does Bad SEO, Twitter Loses Its Shit

So over on Twitter (it will always be Twitter ok!) I tend to be an SEO community lurker rather than an active participant. I made a decision long ago that I didn’t want to be a single issue Tweeter so I just kind of shout into the void about heavy metal music, CrossFit, and the sorry state of UK political discourse. The odd time I’m tempted to stick my oar in on SEO topics I refrain because unless you make the effort to go and check out my LinkedIn you probably aren’t going to care about the digital marketing opinions of a random metalhead.

However, sometimes I see something that I need to comment on. Now is one such time. Dramarama going on and no mistake lads.

So, what has SEO Twitter got its knickers in a twist about this week? Well it all started with a post/tweet/x/whatever from a guy called Jake Ward:

We pulled off an SEO heist that stole 3.6M total traffic from a competitor.

We got 489,509 traffic in October alone.

Here’s how we did it:

He went on to say

We pulled off an SEO heist using AI.

1. Exported a competitor’s sitemap

2. Turned their list of URLs into article titles

3. Created 1,800 articles from those titles at scale using AI

18 months later, we have stolen:

– 3.6M total traffic

– 490K monthly traffic

He went on over a number of tweets explaining the step by step process he used, but honestly if you have even a passing interest in SEO you can probably figure it out from the above screenshot. Ultimately he was creating a shill thread for his own AI copywriting tool and considering his post got 1.3m impressions I’d argue that it was a pretty successful endeavour.

Of course the triggering language he used in the opening tweet got a load of the SEOTwitter names up in arms. “How dare this sketchy bastard make our industry look bad” being the main thrust of the negative comments, with one or two risking the wrath of the gatekeepers by suggesting “He’s just doing SEO, but he’s using AI to do it at scale”.

But where do I sit? If you’ve made it this far you’ve got to be wondering right? Well strap in because here’s what I think:

Good SEO, Shit Marketing

Right, so assuming this dude’s figures are legit (and I’ve got no reason to doubt them right now) then he’s just used AI to do something at scale that a lot of SEO agencies have been doing forever.

Consider an SEO agency that is writing SEO optimised content for you in the days before AI. Strategists would have briefed generalist copywriters on the topics and set them about researching your industry. They would write original copy about it in order to produce content aligned to the defined SEO strategy.

How do you think they researched your industry?

That’s right. From other blogs.

Over time chances are your SEO optimised content is based on other SEO optimised content based on other SEO optimised content with the original thought from the industry expert barely visible through the fog of multiple rewrites.

Don’t believe me? Look at any SEO optimised industry (blogs from Digital Marketing agencies are a good one…content from a guy that rhymes with Steel Kettle for example) and see whether it feels like the person writing the article truly has deep knowledge of the topic. For the record I ensure I don’t fall into this trap because I never look anything up when I’m writing my blog 😉

So effectively you had a load of manual content spinning going on anyway. All this Jake lad has done is scaled that up using AI. Questions about how ethical this is are kind of relevant but only if you look at how ethical the SEO services you’ve been offering your clients for years were in the first place.

So, he’s just hacked a standard SEO process and made it work for him. This is the Good SEO part. I do feel sorry for the site he’s robbed the content from but if the game is purely “Get Organic Traffic” then he’s nailed it.

However that isn’t really the game.

You see it doesn’t take much digging to find the site that was used for the case study. It’s a Financial Modelling platform called Casual. Now you might think “I guess there is some crossover from Financial Modelling to Excel?” and you’d be right, however the content that has been robbed/spun is very entry level and wouldn’t really be relevant to an audience looking for an enterprise level Financial Modelling tool.

The originating (robbed) site is ExcelJet which offers Excel training videos. An audience who are far more likely to benefit from entry level lessons on simple spreadsheet features. You can see why they would feel pretty pissed off but unfortunately that is the game we’re in and the (lack of) rules we signed up to.

Let’s put it another way. When I’m doing SEO I’ll have a list of competitor sites in mind and it will be quite common to say things to clients along the lines of “If we do this we should smash competitor-x in this category. They won’t see us coming the bastards…” and we all high-five when that happens. My SEO activities are around ecommerce and there is a clear commercial gain in convincing someone to buy from my client’s store vs a competitor so maybe this level of competition is baked in.

The problem here, and I think what really grates is the traffic has been intercepted for no commercial benefit at all.

Casual is not a competitor of Exceljet.

Casual will not benefit from intercepting traffic that has a completely different requirement to the service they offer.

If anything Casual give off a negative vibe for allowing themselves to be involved in something so grubby feeling.

So, Good SEO is not the same thing as Good Marketing. SEO should follow a good marketing strategy first and foremost. I just hope Casual didn’t pay too much for what is essentially a load of vanity metrics.

That said there was one good bit of marketing on display in this episode, but it isn’t for Jake’s client. It’s for Jake’s business…

Good Marketing, Shit SEO

At the end of Jake Ward’s thread which gives you step by step instructions on how to download a sitemap and get the topic ideas you finally get to this tweet

Wonder who founded Byword? Oh, one Jake Ward. And look 63,000 people saw that tweet. Not bad.

“Oh but Dan surely people are just going to be put off by all the negativity and sketchyness around the thread?”

Honestly, some might be but enough will think “I need to try that” and will potentially sign up. I don’t have the data but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bywords saw a huge bump in new users this last week. SEOs are curious you see, they’ll want to test it. I bet even some of the most vocally negative tweeters are giving it a go on a side hustle or sacrificial website. Hell I bet even some of them are already trying to sell it into their clients, especially if they are sensing that they need to bring some new ideas to the next monthly meeting to increase client sentiment.

So, although the subject of the case study probably didn’t get much benefit from SEO & the unwilling victim of the drive-by clearly now has a load of SEO work to do in order to rebuild there potentially was one beneficiary. Ironically they’ve not benefitted from SEO at all but from marketing.

Shithead marketing, but I bet it was effective shithead marketing.

Final Thoughts

Although SEO is one of my core skills I position myself as a marketer first and foremost. Generating loads of traffic to a website actually isn’t that hard. Generating loads of traffic that is relevant to the product or service you are offering, now that’s where the skill is, and as we’ve seen (or at least inferred) from this episode there’s a chunk of the SEO industry (both client and agency/consultant side) that doesn’t really understand that. The wider conversation on this topic over on Twitter suggests that this chunk is potentially quite large.

I’m quite often asked to review the online marketing strategies for ecommerce websites and when it comes to SEO I find blog content to be one of the most consistent issues.

I can understand why, you see content production is a tangible service with a monthly deliverable that clients can see so it makes sense for agencies to offer it in order to maintain a certain perception of value for their fees. Clients can literally see what they are getting for their money.

Content can be vital to an SEO strategy in ecommerce but valuable content rarely takes the form of “post n articles each month on topics vaguely related to your customer’s interests” and that’s what I see all too often. It needs to be relevant to your product/service first and foremost. And not just tangentially relevant like the example above, literally relevant in a way that a five year old could understand.

Final words if you’ve made it this far. If you are an ecommerce merchant and are wondering whether SEO or any other part of your online marketing channel is really delivering the goods for you please do get in touch.

And if you happen to like content about heavy metal, CrossFit, or horror movies by all means give me a follow over on Twitter.

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