I’m sure this isn’t going to be popular but I’d ask anyone reading this to hold off making a judgment on this until you read the entire post. In fact, I’ve written three different versions of this post each one less passionate and less direct than I would like. However, I think I need to listen to a bit of my own advice and remove as much of the “personal” aspect from this post as possible.

Over the last few months I’ve observed a disturbing but undeniable pattern of behavior with posts on SEOmoz. Nearly three months ago Rand targeted Aviva in a post “about directories and why so many of them have little to no value.” The post cause quite an uproar amongst the SEO community and probably the loudest detractor was Michael VanDeMar. Michael wrote a scathing post which drew the attention of Rand and many others. During the heated discussion that followed, Rand wrote the following in a response on Michael’s blog:

I think the best way to determine whether Aviva passes value is to buy some links there, point them to some test sites in relatively non-competitive fields and see if the links can help to raise the rankings. If they can, then my arguments are baseless and your points are validated. Frankly, I’m surprised you didn’t go this route to help prove me wrong - no evidence would be more damning.

In any case, I’ve done so tonight - bought a couple links to different pages and we’ll see what the results look like.

Just to be clear on that timeline, Rand singled out Aviva as an example of a directory that had little to no value. Michael called him out on it (his methods are not the issue here) and THEN Rand tested what he had ALREADY stated! I responded with the following comment on Michael’s blog:

Rand, one MAJOR question I have after reading your response here is this: If you believe the best way to determine whether Aviva passes value is to buy links and see if the links help, why in the world wouldn’t you have done so BEFORE blasting Aviva? Wouldn’t that have been the responsible thing to do?

Either Rand did not see it or he chose to ignored it but the question is still very valid in my opinion. Rand has neither updated the post about Aviva nor to my knowledge shared the results of his better-late-than-never experiment. Bottom line, Rand claimed another company’s product had no value without bothering (by his own admission) to test whether it was true or not.

A couple of months later, Michael once again criticized SEOmoz in a post which once again, became popular on Sphinn. The content of the post was certainly controversial, however, the points Michael brought up are not in fact what I found disturbing. What troubled me this time was the behavior of several SEOmoz employees in the discussion that followed on Sphinn. Before we go much further into this, I feel I need to state two things. Michael writes for a blog titled Smackdown, on which he argues his side of the issue rather bluntly. However, the SEOmoz employees are just that, employee’s representing their company. The difference in the positions of the people involved is critical.

Very early on in the discussion, Rebecca, an SEOmoz employee, jumped into the conversation in defense of her boss. Unfortunately, she did so in one of the most unprofessional manners possible. Her second comment in the thread referred to Michael VanDeMar as the “Michael Moore of the SEO sphere” in a sarcasm laced tirade. You can read the entire “discussion” here but suffice it to say, things continued down hill from there. As if one SEOmoz employee acting inappropriately in the thread wasn’t enough, Jane Copeland also weighed in with a much more tame, but still, in my opinion, unprofessional comment. Whether the employees of SEOmoz felt their boss was being unfairly criticized and attacked on a personal level or not, the point remains they acted in a very unprofessional manner. I mean could you imagine a Google employee jumping into a thread about one of my many criticisms of their company and acting like that? Of course not! To this date, no public retraction or apology has been issued. SEOmoz has in fact simply ignored the situation, I’m assuming hoping to act as if it never happened.

The final straw came just yesterday with Rand’s post entitled “The Google Payola Issue Isn’t Going Away Any Time Soon.” The post discusses the topic of paid posts and in it, Rand writes “My point with all this isn’t to “out” sites for selling links - no way”. However, that’s precisely what Rand did! He methodically listed and discussed several sites that he suspected of selling links. What’s more, he even goes so far as to point out some of those sites’ rankings. While this might not seem like a big deal to you, keep in mind that Matt Cutts, a Google engineer, regularly reads and comments on SEOmoz’s blog. In essence, Rand hand picked a list of sites to report to Google for selling links, and then had the audacity to claim that’s not what he was doing! When Donna of SEO-Scoop had the audacity to call him out on this issue, I read a now familiar pattern of posts. Rand responded to Donna’s comment with the following statement:

Donna - I get where you’re coming from, but I think that just staying quiet on the topic or saying “I found a bunch of them but I can’t tell you where” doesn’t make for very good blogging or information. My point here has nothing to do with these specific sites (except Forbes, which Google already “caught”) but with showing how incredibly saturated the Internet is with sites that “violate” Google’s “payola” issue.

As far as the actual damage to the handful of sites above - I’ve “outed” plenty of paid links in the past on SEOmoz and while I suspect that Matt & co. have probably reduced the value of those purchased links, I don’t believe they’ve killed the rankings of traffic to those sites (and I doubt they’ll do it with most of the above sites). Clearly they had already seen the Forbes issue and their content still ranks great - Forbes has a massive amount of search traffic and rankings from Google.

I understand your concern, but I don’t think that staying anonymous and simply saying “they’re out there” provides value.

I almost don’t know where to start on this. First of all, Rand’s overall response to the criticism is the same, “you’re right, I probably should have done things different” response we were given on the directories issue, and several issues before that. Frankly, it’s wearing thin. Also, Rand once again says that his point had nothing to do with the specific sites, and yet he took the time to go into so much detail about the sites. Next, he mentions that he has “outed” plenty of links on SEOmoz in the past and knows, or at least suspects that Google has changed the value of those links. This statement tells me that Rand knowingly reduced the value of someone else’s property. Not only did he harm the person selling the links, he also likely just wasted the money of whoever purchased the links! Let’s continue…

In the same sentence Rand states that he “doubts” Google will kill the rankings with “most of the above sites.” He doesn’t BELIEVE that they won’t do that to MOST? Only most? Not all? So not only did Rand knowingly devalue the links, but he also jeopardized the rankings and traffic of some of the sites he discussed. Now I suspect that Rand’s response would be that I’m just dealing in semantics here but think the point remains, Rand and SEOmoz once again put someone else’s business and livelihood in danger.

Rand and the rest of SEOmoz, it is time you start taking responsibility for your actions. You know by now that your actions carry more weight than most and should also realize that despite the laid back, open nature of your company, you should still conduct yourself in a professional manner. Most of the actions discussed in this post would have cost people their jobs in many companies. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not telling anyone how to run their business nor am I calling for anyone to be fired. I simply think it’s time that SEOmoz start acting in a responsible and respectable fashion befitting their company’s profile in this industry. As I mentioned I’m sure this post won’t be very popular. However, I think these are all issues that need to be addressed. This is not meant as an attack on Rand or anyone in your company as a person, it’s an indictment of some of the actions I’ve discussed.