Transcript: SEOs on The People that Ruined the Internet – DS486

Doug: I asked some of my SEO friends about the Verge article written by Amanda Chicago Lewis. It’s called The People That Ruined The Internet. So I have the responses from Kyle Roof, Spencer Hawes, Alex Cooper, Ricky Kessler, and Jared Bauman. I know I need to get some ladies for the next round up, so it’s on my list.

I love the article and I decided to go straight to the source, Amanda Chicago Lewis, and I have a 30 minute interview with her. Please do check it out. I’m sure you will be surprised, especially based on what the impression was for many people that read the article. Also, this is kind of crazy. Danny Sullivan, that’s the Google search liaison.

He was kind of roasted in the article. He sounded. Maybe a little bit annoyed based on the quotes that were provided. So Danny wrote a response on his blog. That’s his personal blog, not an official Google reply. And that brings home the point that Amanda and I actually talked about, and that’s that everyone is a It’s a person out there.

So Danny felt like he wanted to clear some things up. So he wrote this whole response, which I’ll link to. And you could check that out. Now, one funny thing is the Verge has some affiliate content and some of it’s not that great. It wasn’t covered in the article at all, but Spencer and Jared on the niche pursuits podcast pointed.

One of these out. It’s the best brother laser printer, which is a horribly written article, maybe by some early AI. It’s just very, very bad. And I’ll read just a little bit. The title is Best Printer 2023 just by this brother laser printer everyone has, it’s fine. The subtitle is the brother, whatever it is, will print return labels for online shopping, never run out of toner and generally be a printer instead of the physical instantiation of a business model, which I don’t even know what that means.

It’s credited to Nilay Patel. The editor-in-chief of The Verge, and if you start reading the article, it’s just kind of nonsense.

Check out the links for each of the folks that are in this video, and I’ll put a link for Danny’s response. Skip around if you want to, I put the timestamps down there, so you can move around and check out whatever you want.

Here’s a couple things that I liked. I like the provocative title and the intro to really hook the mainstream reader. I like the journey and the transformation of the impression about search results and how they’ve changed over time. And really, the title It doesn’t say, like, who ruined the internet. We have this situation where the, the initial gut response is, it sounds like it’s referring to SEOs, but then later it sounds like maybe it’s referring to Google and the, the people that are designing the search engine.

Amanda went really deep into the history of SEO, which is required to understand how we ended up where we are. You can’t really talk about the algorithm updates in 2023 and how they churn up the results without talking about the rise of affiliate review websites.

And you can’t really talk about the rise of affiliate sites without talking about how those sites ranked with blog networks. And you can’t talk about blog networks without talking about backlinks and so on. So I think the history matters. And I know a lot of people actually had an issue with going back and digging up that history, but it’s really important to understand how we ended up where we are in 2023.

I like that the article didn’t have a conclusion and it was a cliffhanger. I think people had an issue with that. They want to have a specific. Person to blame or an entity to blame. But the fact is SEOs and Google have perverse incentives that lead to potentially bad behavior or just weird behavior that has unintended consequences.

Overall, I didn’t have anything that. I had a major issue with in the article, but I know many people wanted to see examples about search results that were actually worse. It’s funny that people complained about that part because I’m sure we can come up with some great examples of bad results.

Now, I wanted to give this specific example, something that I personally experienced, something that’s not cherry picked to just demonstrate a bad result.

I experienced this while searching for hair regrowth pills. No, I’m just kidding. I was looking up magnesium supplements and the Reddit result was at the top. Reddit is not my favorite site. I really don’t spend time there, but the thread was fucking nonsense. I would much rather see an affiliate site where someone may be put in a little effort or reference a journal article or a podcast or something like that.

Even better, I would love to see an authoritative source. On the, the top of the SERPs, the thing is when I checked just before recording this video, Reddit was ranked at number six, not as high as it was before, I think it was number one or number two. So Google adjust things along the way and the SERPs change.

So I tried to complain about that specific result, but it’s actually a little better than it was and there were authoritative websites. So on that front, that is good.

Yes, I actually think that search results have declined. It’s harder for me to find the right information or information that’s helpful for me.

Part of it is user experience related, so that is not really search. But I mean, the fact is, when I go to Google and I’m trying to get an answer to a question, I don’t have my SEO hat on. I’m trying to think, how do I get my hair to grow back or whatever it is I’m searching for? So when I search for something like magnesium supplements, And I see a bunch of ads and I have the S G E clogging up the area.

And then people also ask and all these other featured things. There’s all this extra shit blocking the actual results. And I have to go elsewhere to find the information. I’m much more likely to try to go to a podcast or YouTube to get information because there’s all this nonsense out there. The thing is, I don’t have a better solution.

I don’t know how you solve this problem. There’s a flood of content out there already. And AI is helping creators and bloggers write a huge amount, exponentially growing amount of content. And I don’t know how you should deal with that from a search perspective. So I can complain about it, but I don’t have a better solution.

Spencer Haws: Hey, Spencer here with overall, I actually think it was a super interesting article. Kudos to Amanda for writing it. obviously controversial, got a ton of views.

She did her job as a journalist really, really well. I, I think there were some things that were misrepresented. Uh, but I, I do think some cases she hit the nail on the head in terms of who are the people that ruin the internet. Uh, at first it seems like she’s saying, oh it’s the SEOs, but then she sort of leans toward maybe it was Google.

Right, Google has kind of messed up the SERPs and I tend to agree with that. My one other thought or question that I would have for the author is, did she realize that the Verge, Is, participating in a lot of the SEO practices that she sort of tries to call out, right? The verge is writing tons of, affiliate related keyword articles, , doing all these keyword practices, stuffing, ruining the internet, as she alludes to in some cases.

So I just wonder if her, she knows or was aware that her employer actually employs tons of SEOs. And, follows all these things that Google has been training us all on. And that would have been an interesting perspective, for her to share or to see. That, that was just my one question.

Overall, super interesting article. I could go on and on. Um, I’ve, I’ve recorded a podcast, uh, on the subject. People can listen to it. Um, but yeah, a lot of pros and cons, controversies. But overall, I would say the journalist did a good job in terms of getting views, getting people to talk about it, which I’m doing right now.

Thank you.

Doug: Up next we have Kyle Roof from Internet Marketing Gold, that’s IMG, and quick note, I also have a great interview with Kyle on EEAT, but let’s hear about his response to this article.

Kyle Roof: I didn’t quite get the point of the article. Uh, the title is the people who ruined the internet under the premise that recently Google results have gotten worse. The other than it tends to talk to those people. But what I find interesting is that the people interviewed in the article really don’t do SEO.

At least not the SEO the author is complaining about. The first set used to sell porn and male enhancement pills in the 90s and early aughts. I would note three things on that. One, Google started in 2001 and really didn’t hit its stride until 2005 or so, a time which is after when most of these people were doing SEO, according to the article.

The article states that none of these people are doing SEO now, so it’s hard to see the connection of what they did to affect the supposed. Recent downturn in the quality of results to people who sell porn usually aren’t in it for the right reason. And three, no one is forcing you to search for porn porn or male enhancement.

Bill SEO is not ruining the majority of results. For the average people that might be complaining about what’s showing up in the SERPs. In the second group, the majority of those people interviewed also don’t do SEO. Several are mouthpieces for search engines. An SEO journalist was interviewed and two SEO speakers were being interviewed.

Now in fairness to the author, Lily Ray and Bruce Clay do SEO consulting for sure. But they consult with mom and pops, trying to scratch out a living all the way up to huge reputable brands. None of the sites that they work with are doing anything insidious. They’re doing regular marketing in a digital world.

It seems the article missed the mark with the people the author spoke to. If the author wanted to find bad actors causing problems for Google users today, I think a better approach would have been to identify problematic results, explain why they’re problematic, and then reach out to the people doing SEO for those sites.

I think that would have given much more insight into any potential issues going on. Uh, with today’s search results that said, you know, the reason that Google has 104 percent market share of search is that the people who use Google by and large, like the results they get. I found that really the only people that complain about results are SEOs and some people with an ax to grind.

Doug: Next, we have Jared Bauman, and I got to him a little bit late, full disclosure, it’s hard to pull together a roundup over the holidays, but Jared is the host over at the Niche Pursuits podcast, so he did get back to me with a response, but I thought I would get the video clip to insert in here, and this is actually a clip of Spencer and Jared talking about This article, so it’s really, you know, Jared’s pure response and we have Spencer back on again and do check out the full episode, which I’ll link up to and you can check that whole thing out.

But here’s a little snippet about what Jared thought of the article.

Jared Bauman: I think you got more value out of the article than I did. I’ll tell you that much. I think it was a puff. I

Spencer Haws: I was thinking I was looking for a silver lining

Jared Bauman: man. You really dug deep to find it. I think it was 8,000 words of. Tra, no one came, came out, looking good in this. There was just a lot of conversation, a lot of gross exaggerations. It sounds like what someone would say. It sounds like when you, when you speaking of a party, it sounds like what someone would be ranting on and on about at the, in the corner of a party after having too many drinks, you know, it’s like,

And you’re looking around, like, are they ever going to stop talking?

And they just keep going and going like, well, they have had a few drinks, you know, and tell me how you really feel. And it just feels like this big deal out of nothing a lot. This is characatures of SEO from 15 years ago. A lot of this is just even the swing backwards to Lily, which, uh, you know, Lily did shine a little bit of good light on, but she even has gone on Lily to say that much of what she said was mis-characterized.

And a lot of the positive things that she brought to light were left out. It feels like a piece that’s playing on Google’s negative PR right now. Yep. From the antitrust lawsuit and it feels like the verge. Went all in to try to get clicks. And, uh, and buzz that’s. A

Spencer Haws: hundred percent clicks, clicks and eyeballs.

I mean, that’s why it was written. It feels like it was written by somebody that has never understood how search engines work. I

Jared Bauman: feel like this person must’ve worked at Buzzfeed for the previous 10 years.

Spencer Haws: Yeah. Very, very possibly. Um, and so, I mean, it’s a fascinating read.

Jared Bauman: And there’s some truth to a lot of the characatures that are made for sure.

You know, like. There’s, you know, behind every joke. Uh, there’s a little bit of truth, right? That’s what they say. So there’s some, I’m not trying to. Throw the baby out with the bath water, but yeah.

Spencer Haws: Yeah, but, but also you make a good point. Like every example that she gives is from like 15 or 20 years ago of these people that were spamming the internet and producing.

Crappy content and doing black hat strategies, all the stories she cites are really, really old. Um, I don’t think she had any current examples and in fact, She didn’t even try to share any search results that she found terrible.

Right. She’s saying, oh, the internet searches getting worse, but she didn’t share a single example. I don’t believe. No.

Jared Bauman: And this article, you read it. She starts by saying, as people begin, I don’t have the direct quote, but as people now begin to not trust what Google has to say. Let me give you.

All 8,000 words about what it was going on 15 years ago, versus I would say. Um, a piece like this that was equally as explosive, perhaps was last year’s article in the Atlantic, which is very much a here’s exactly what I did.

Here’s exactly what I got his responses. Here’s exactly why that didn’t leave me feeling very satiated and very, like, it was very helpful, right? Like, Man, this is so different than last year scandalous piece from the Atlantic, which I would say is significantly more valuable in terms of. Presenting a well-rounded argument with facts underneath it all.

Spencer Haws: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, this is very much an opinion piece, right. And it’s just a hot button because we’re SEOs and you know, she’s saying, um, essentially there’s a bunch of. SEO charlatans out there, smearing the internet with their, you know, terrible

Jared Bauman: content. You say the same about every salesperson and every industry?

Couldn’t you say the same about. I won’t get into all, you know, I mean, it’s basically this concept of. Hey, here’s a system and there’s always going to be gain. Uh, inside of every system, if you play by certain rules, that’s the world that everyone lives in, even down to like doctors. And I, you know, it’s just kind of these, these are.


Spencer Haws: these are there’s bad.

There’s bad actors in every single industry. Right. Um, but she does, she paints the picture like, okay. It’s the majority of people is like somehow it’s 95% of people publishing content on the internet. Are these bad actors. I got it. There. Just ruining the SERPs or something. I got

Jared Bauman: a text from one of my college roommates who caught wind of this article.

And all it said, all I had was in the text to me all, it has a link and he said, I always knew.

He was being sarcastic. Of course.

Doug: Before I kick it over to Ricky Kessler from Income School, I want to know what you thought of the article. So please leave a response in the comments, or you can shoot me an email feedback at And Ricky Kessler hasn’t been on the channel for quite some time, but I reached out and just to see what was going on and asked him to contribute for this roundup as well.

So hopefully Ricky and I will be able to collaborate some more in the future. So let’s hear it from Ricky.

Ricky Kesler: I just finished reading the whole article. I did read all of it and the thoughts that I had. First of all, I really enjoyed the article. I thought it did a good job of giving an overview of what’s happened with Google with search and with SEOs and the impact that a lot of different things have had on the industry and on the Internet.

And so I liked that there were kind of a lot of different perspectives thrown in. I liked that Amanda came into this with the perspective of, you know, SEO’s bad, doing a bunch of bad stuff, you know, and it’s ruining the internet. And, uh, at least that was kind of the perspective maybe shown from the beginning and seeing how that changed.

Over time. I don’t necessarily agree with all the conclusions. It seemed like in the end SEOs are saying, well, no, we’re Obviously people are gonna try to game the system. That’s what humans do. Google should just make Google better The way that I see it Google has been working to try to make search Better or at least trying to fix a lot of the problems that are caused by people trying to game the system And so I I don’t know that I agree with the idea that You know, search hasn’t changed that much in 20 years, maybe the ranking factors specifically haven’t changed a lot, but the way that they’re being applied, obviously we saw it was covered in the article, huge changes with E E A T over just backlinks.

So there have been a lot of changes made to try to deal with some of these issues created by people trying to game the system. I personally don’t get defensive at all reading this article, mostly because a lot of the things that are talked about the. The gaming that’s happening, right? SEO is trying to find loopholes in the algorithm.

Those are things that I’ve been sort of advocating against from the beginning. People are going to do what people are going to do. That’s fine. But one of the cool things I saw was how many people that have been doing this for a very long time in the end, they’ve kind of come around to my way of thinking that for them personally.

They’re going to go try to take a clean approach to content creation. They’re going to try to create helpful content that makes the internet a better place. It’s what I’ve always been advocating for. In general, it works. One of the frustrations that I have is that because of so many people trying to just game things, because of that, Google’s had to make changes and sometimes those changes can impact heavily these sites that are created by people who are doing exactly what I’ve been teaching them, which is just to create really good helpful content.

And so we often get swept up in that. And in the short term, we suffer as a result, but in the long term, I think that that approach is still going to be approached that I’m going to advocate for and the approach that I’m going to take on my own content. I really love the article. I think Amanda did a fantastic job of interviewing a very wide range of people and getting insights from all those different perspectives.

And I love the way that Um, you painted this picture of the lifestyles of these different people and the things that they’re doing and the things they’ve done and getting sort of this feeling of who they are and maybe how some of those things have impacted the way that they’ve chosen to approach this.

I think if I could ask this journalist anything, I would say after interviewing all of these people and given just the things that they shared with you, I’d love to hear kind of the different perspectives of some of these different SEOs on the approach that. Like I say, we’re taking to content creation, which is to create ultimately helpful content that does follow the rules.

Do they just see that as naive? Or is that something that ultimately a lot of them are sort of coming to the same conclusion themselves? That after they’ve, you know, they’ve made their money kind of gaming things the way that they have and doing the SEO stuff, are they coming to the conclusion that they’d rather live in a world where the internet doesn’t suck?

Doug: And finally, let’s hear from Alex Cooper, WP Eagle, great friend of the show and, uh, you know, personal friend of mine.

Alex Cooper: Hey Doug, Alex here from WPEagle.

It’s a very interesting article, a very long article, um, I managed to read all the way through it with a little bit of skimming here and there, but I ultimately captured what it was trying to say, and that is something that’s probably needed to be said for quite a while, and that is that SEO is having a bit of a negative effect on the way that we find information on the internet.

The article talks about how the search results from Google have changed over the years and this is, is a point. I mean, Google will say that the, the results are getting better, but in my opinion, I find the results are getting worse. If I’m searching for product information or product reviews or anything like that, I, I just don’t trust the Google results anymore.

Maybe because I know a lot of The SEOs out there and what they do and how they manipulate the results. And maybe just because of some of the stuff that I’ve done in the past and the kind of content that I’ve published with the hope to rank well on Google. What I’m talking about is poor quality content, content that is not as authentic or as real as it should be.

So, you know, product reviews where. The author hasn’t actually reviewed the product. I liked the article as a whole and as I say, I think it’s something that needed to be said. I think it was very American focused, which maybe is a slight problem with the article. You know, I’m in Spain and I used to be in the UK and I feel that maybe SEO is not quite as glamorous.

As portrayed in this article, although seeing what people like Kazra Dash, uh, et cetera have been up to recently in, in Thailand, in, you know, massive, um, villas and mansions and pools and that kind of stuff, then maybe I’ve got that slightly wrong. I don’t have anything against people that are making a ton of money out of SEO.

I mean, fair play to them. And if they’re making money by manipulating Google, then, then fair enough. That’s up to them. And, and yeah, all the best to them. But ultimately, that is going to be having a negative effect, probably on all of us as we try and find some actually, you know, decent, authentic information online.

You asked me if I felt defensive about the SEO industry after reading the article, and well, no, not really. I mean, I think people do what they need to do to, to make a living. I think SEO has many different approaches. There are, of course, the people that do whatever they can and manipulate. The algorithms in whatever way they can to, to make money.

And that might mean that their pages rank well on Google and those pages are not the best for that particular query, which is, you know, their prerogative. But there’s also the other angle where people do SEO coming from a content perspective from creating really good content. And I’ve met a number of people that do that and they, they do really well as well, they make a lot of money and they rank well, and they are providing valuable stuff that we can consume.

That you can find on the first page of Google. Ultimately, I think that if we’re going to carry on using search engines to find information, then. They’re going to be manipulated. I think over time maybe search will become less of a factor and we might turn to things like AI to help us find information and find results online.

And that point actually leads me on to the final question that you asked me which is what I would ask the journalist. And my question to her would be how does she see the future of the internet in terms of how we find information and how we consume information. If search Is maybe going to become less relevant because the quality and relevance and authenticity just isn’t there on the content that’s been served by the search engines.

How are we going to find and consume information? Is it going to be through some AI system maybe or? Is it going to be through some social system, which is how I think it probably is going to go. I think we’re going to depend on our connections, our friends, family, associates, and our network in general for recommendations to the best information and the best content online, because I know people can be manipulated to a certain degree, but maybe not so much as an algorithm on a search engine.

Again, thanks for inviting me and I’ll see you all soon.

Doug: I have to have the last word here. Thanks to all the guys that got back to me on this, and don’t forget to leave your comment or shoot me an email to let me know what you thought of the article. I have a final thought here, which is separate from the topic area completely, but it’s something that we should all think about a little bit.

I asked a handful of my friends what they thought of this article. We all read it. And we all had a different impression. Some of us really thought it was an accurate portrayal of the SEO industry. Others thought it was inaccurate. Some people think Google search is improving. Some people think that it’s not as good as it used to be.

the views are just completely all over the map, even though. All of us have a similar sort of background working in SEO. Some people are more like on the agency side and more on the corporate side. Some people are more like niche site focused or side hustle focused or just straight up blogs. the whole point here is. We all read this article, which, you know, maybe you read something, you read a book and like everyone gets the same impression, or you think everyone has the same impression of that book. Turns out, we don’t. We all have our own personal experiences that sort of inform us on how we’re taking this, One article and subjectively judging each little piece.

Maybe we skimmed portions more than others. And then we just kind of have a different impression. So super interesting. And when you’re creating content or when you’re consuming content, keep that in mind, just the next time, just think to yourself, Hey, how would someone else interpret this that has a different background than me, or how would the person that wrote this interpret my impression of it, which, uh, we end up in some sort of weird recursive loop here, but you get the point.

We all read the same article. Everybody thought something a little bit different, and I only got five responses back, and we ended up with a fairly long video, a fairly long episode here. If I would have gotten responses from everyone that I emailed, it would be like an hour and a half long.

It’s like a little movie, a documentary mini series on the topic, which I think there’s enough opinions out there. If someone wanted to put the time in, I think you can get a really good back and forth from just different SEOs and different people in the industry. So thanks a lot for checking out this episode and we’ll catch on the next one.