SEO Automation, Theory and in Practice

by rishil on September 23, 2010


I have explored the theme of Black Hat SEO before. What I haven’t highlighted, is that there are many subdivisions in Blackhat too. Ranging from SERP Spamming to Autogeneration of Content, the field is immense. And there are some serious geniuses in it.

The Art of Automation - Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kuma-kigurumi/

The Art of Automation - Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kuma-kigurumi/

I will point out three key points that should stay in your mind before you complete reading this post.
1. If you are aiming to manipulate the SERPs, then you are at risk of losing that income. So don’t attempt anything unless you know how to hide the inner Shadiness of your Black hat sites

Alrighty. So when it all comes down to it for blackhat, one of the primary goals is simple. Not getting caught.

The most powerful sites out there are ones that can properly ride the line. They can conceal their own motivations and tactics even to the prying eye. For every webmaster violation, there’s a level of obscurity protecting them. For every blackhat link that may get busted, there’s enough that are (and others that just appear) whitehat to call into question their truly blackhat motivations. For all the bickering in the SEO world over blackhat vs. whitehat, it would appear the best are truly a combination. Slightly Shady



2. And if you do venture into blackhat, don’t make it your key source of income. Ignoring the risk is a foolhardy decision.

Please don’t confuse ignorant SEOs with Black Hat SEOs… the ignorant ones are those who execute on Black Hat (evil) tactics without managing the risks (either out of ignorance or folly doesn’t matter to me here).  John Andrews

3. Don’t confuse Ethics with morals. If you do venture into more risqué strategies, it doesn’t mean to you are immoral.

John Andrews is an SEO whose opinions I love to hear, and in fact only recently we had a banter over Jill Whalen’s post (edit: whose opinons I repect – I am not implying that the the arguments for / against ethics with repect to Google guidelines is what Jill is focussing on, I understand that the post linked to is about the quality in SERPs, just avoid that attitude in respect to this post and in learning about automation).

@rishil “ethical” argument will never succeed. Ever. Ethics are culture-based and fluid, proportional to enlightenment. Competition is not.

Although taken out of context (we were discussing the simpler tactics such as paid links and keyword rich domains as highlighted in Jill’s post and the idea of 100% ethical SEO) I think this is an important statement. Googles rules are just THEIR rules, and breaking them necessarily doesn’t make you evil – just makes your livelihood riskier.

I would make a point of  highlighting Sebastian’s tweet yesterday as well (by the way you should also subscribe to Sebastian’s blog he knows more about this stuff than I ever will) :

Calm down. WebSpam breaks rules, not laws. It works if you can handle it. If you can’t, follow the SE guidelines. Decide, don’t preach.

And thats just it. Dont debate on ethics unless you really have to. And in fact John just posted:

That’s a lot like SEO. You win, you get traffic. You don’t win, you don’t get traffic. Simple, really. It doesn’t matter how you play.

Back on Point : The Birth of Automation

Although there are different factions in Blackhat SEO, one of the key points that stand out to me whenever I speak to various Blackhats, is that Automation is one of the pillars of the dark industry of  OSM. (To coin a phrase: Organic Search Manipulation – am fed up of Black/white hat terms so created my own :P ).


Now let’s get this straight – Automation isn’t a revolution, it was an eventuality. If you are a student of Business Management (and I was!), you would have heard of Frederick Winslow Taylor, the father of Scientific Management – the art of breaking down the sum of one activity into smaller more efficient parts. Taylorism along with the principles of Henry Ford gave rise to Mass Production:

“a model of economic expansion and technological progress based on the mass production: the manufacture of standardized products in huge volumes using special purpose machinery and unskilled labour”

Model T - Henry Ford  - Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cstmweb/4901559485/

Model T - Henry Ford - Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cstmweb/4901559485/

Management theories around scientific management led to the assembly line, which later led to high rise in automation in the manufacturing industry. And today, this process is slowly being introduced online. Mass production and replication are easier today than they were a few years back. The rate at which API’s and RSS feeds are being made available from various web properties are only adding to the growth of this industry.

Why Automate?

So what are the arguments in favour of Automation?

In my mind, the biggest one is cost. It costs money to write 1000’s of articles. It costs money to design, host and create 1000’s of sites. It costs money to get 100,000’s of links to these 1000 sites.

The second one is time. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t fast. But if you can create that much “content” and get it ranking, the money is there for the taking. You just have to read my post on Content Farms and Demand Media to understand how much money is available to those who can scale their properties.

Automation for Fun and Profit

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ep_jhu/4063664571/

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ep_jhu/4063664571/

Writing about Automation as far back as 2007, Slightly Shady raises some really valid points when considering the use of automation:

  • How Much Time Will this Take?
  • Is Automating this Within my Abilities?
  • If I Automate this, How Likely are they to Change the Architecture?
  • Do I lose quality in favor of automation?
  • How Many Additional Resources Would this Take?

There are many parts to Automation for OSM, but the key sum of parts as I would advise a beginner to investigate are three:

a) Content Generation / Manipulation

There are many was to generate “new” content, from scraping, to feed integration, to content Spining. Infact it amazes me how many SEO’s don’t know much about the art of Spinning – rearranging content to seem unique – a simple example is dropping English Text into Russian Googl e Translate, then retranslating the Russian output into English. (simples!) However there are more complex techniques out there, such as the mathematical use of the Markov Chain (see explanation here ) Markov Text Generators are interesting entities, and I think this post does the job of describing them better than I. Imagine being able to combine Amazon, youtube, flickr and ebay products per keyword into one useful post? You can withthe WP Robot autoblog plugin.

b) Link Generation

Ooh I can haz automated links? Yes you can. You have seen them in action – you have eve been fooled by some. These range from ping tools to comment spam to forum bots. An elegant comment spammer will have some success. After all, it seems that comment spam works and is cheaper than adwords (New York Times!)…

c) Automated Site Builds

I love wordpress. With the onset of 3.0, you no longer have to fiddle with Wordress MU. You can autogenerate 100’s of sites in a matter of minutes.

And this is another key element of technology today – with the right devs in place you can churn and burn 100’s of sites by the hour. Isn’t that cheaper than outsourcing the builds or even wordpress installs to humans?

Profiting from Automation

OK, I don’t think I can highlight this any better than a full 100 slide full of examples and demonstrations from SEOIdiot (Paul Madden) at Think Visibility earlier this year. So let me pull out a few key points, and you may just have to hound him for the presentation :)
1. Learn to be a Responsible entrepreneur – Measure everything and look for that magic margin to scale around.

  • Test the model
  • Automate
  • When margin is proven, SCALE

2. Find the right niches at the right time. An example of revenue:

  • Grab Big Brother contestants name Full cost of set up etc? £10
  • Site runs for 9 weeks
  • 650,000 uniques
  • £4K + in Adsense revenue

Some Play Material

Disclaimer: The links below are to tools and resources on autoblogging. They are affiliate links where possible. And please use at your own risk! To paraphrase Paul (SEO Preston ):

  • Its not my fault if you get in trouble
  • Its not my fault if you get banned

right arrow

Finally – these are just a handful of the tools out there to test the waters. Subscibe to the blog, because I will be adding reviews on some cool ones soon.

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Rishi Lakhani is an independent Online Marketing Consultant specialising in SEO, PPC, Affiliate Marketing and Social Media. Explicitly.Me is his Blog. Google Profile

{ 4 trackbacks }

SearchCap: The Day In Search, September 23, 2010
September 23, 2010 at 9:19 pm
5 reasons Why SEOs Should attend Affiliate Conferences
October 6, 2010 at 12:50 pm
Spamdexing Tactics - Spamonomics, Spamdexing and Web SpamSpamonomics, Spamdexing and Web Spam
January 14, 2011 at 9:38 am
Guide to Content Spinning! | Dark-Code
April 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous September 23, 2010 at 9:12 pm

You should probably leave ethical philosophy to those with the education and intelligence to handle it.

I have no issue with someone who outright admits, “I’m doing something wrong. I can define precisely what is ‘wrong’ in this context, list the morals I am contravening, and recognize the ill effects on both my society and myself. I’m perfectly aware of doing a ‘bad thing.’ However, I’m going to do it anyway. And continue to do it. Because I am the sort of person for whom profit outweighs ethics. I freely admit to that.”

That person is worth respecting. He’s doing something wrong, but he’s owning up to it. Contrast this with someone who resorts to sophistry and denial to justify his bad behavior. That person is even more untrustworthy. Because that person will be the sort who will be able to talk himself into thinking that anything he wants is A-OK!

Is Blackhat SEO that serious? Of course not! *snort* The undertones are, of course. The culture we live in which values profit above all. In which the pseudo-person of a corporation is held to entirely different standards of moral behavior…even though it’s people who are making the decisions.

But that’s not what you’re talking about anyway, right? You’re talking about SEO and you just threw in your pseudo-intellectual justifications as a lead-in.

Yet, somehow, I don’t really want to read anything you have to say after that. How do I know you don’t lie to yourself about the effectiveness of your SEO tactics because you *want* them to work?

Reply

rishil September 23, 2010 at 9:22 pm

I am not *trying* to justify anything. I am saying that the potential to make money exists. Either way, all I am saying is stop looking at the eithical argument for NOT learning. Learn everything and then use your own judgement.

Anyway “Homes” I wish you would just come out and post without the anon.

Reply

Anonymous September 28, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Your 4 paragraph lead-in is a justification for the potentially shady aspects of automation. And, seriously, as someone who has studied ethical philosophy it’s pretty ridiculous. Those glib statements about ethics and morals!

Really, though. It’s your blog. If you want to introduce your posts with off-the-cuff moral justifications, that’s obviously your prerogative. I’m expressing my opinion that it detracts from your credibility and is unnecessary.

(PS: I don’t necessarily consider automation black hat. Automation can be about efficiency within the boundaries of white hat. It’s the pseudo-intellectualism I object to. And *possibly* the underlying “ethics.”)

Though I guess I shouldn’t say I have “no issue” with the first sort of person. But I can dredge up a sort of respect for them. At least they’re honest! Sort of. Informed, anyway…

Reply

rishil September 28, 2010 at 5:53 pm

I am guessing you are the same Anon as above? I must admit, I agree with your sentiments here – that I did pointlessly discuss the issue of Ethics, as highlighted by other commentors.

To be perfectly honest, you are right in the respect to the comment that *I* probably am least justified to discuss ethics, and that has infact, as you have pointed out, detracted from value of the pot itself.

However, I would still apreciate not leaving Anon comments – why the cloak dagger? It’s needless :)

Personally I think that this conversations has the making of a very decent post…

Reply

paisley September 23, 2010 at 9:34 pm

However, I’m going to do it anyway. And continue to do it. Because I am the sort of person for whom profit outweighs ethics. I freely admit to that.”

i hope google bans those people and causes them to lose their house.
=)

Reply

Tad Chef September 24, 2010 at 8:17 am

I don’t like the notion that automation is per definition black hat. Heck, Google is completely automated! Are they black hat?
IMHO, automation does not have to be a shady practice you have to hide. Automate the right tasks and you should be fine with Google. Just look at some popular projects using RSS or tweets: Alltop! Twitter Times! They all just take content from elsewhere and sort it.

Reply

rishil September 27, 2010 at 10:35 am

Not saying that all Automation is Black Hat :) Just that Automation is one of the key techniques used in industrial Blackhat :)

There are some really really good things about automation that are erfectly valid for SEO, from title tag automation and the content aggregators like you point out.

Reply

Pete Young September 24, 2010 at 8:40 am

Great post Rishi, think its something any budding affiliate entrepreneur will come across whilst developing his empire – perhaps even more so than his commercial SEO brothers

Saying that I think you are going to get people talking here with this post

Reply

Jill Whalen September 24, 2010 at 11:38 am

Since you brought up my “Dear Google” post, I just wanted to clarify that it had nothing to do with ethics or Google Giudelines. I don’t read nor attempt to follow googles arbitrary rules. I simply believe that search engines should be trying to find the best, mist relevant sites, not the most gamed.

While this is a good article it would have been better, IMO if you left the part about ethics at the beginning (and the mention of my article) and just stuck to your original point. You don’t need to apologize about writing about automation.

Reply

rishil September 24, 2010 at 11:52 am

Thanks for dropping by Jill, I guess I didnt put that point across well – mention to your post was not in a negative intent – just as a reference to John’s comment. I will amend accordingly.

Reply

Jill Whalen September 24, 2010 at 11:42 am

PS. I wrote my comment not having seen the first on by anon.

Reply

john andrews September 24, 2010 at 9:45 pm

While you are on the topic of automation, why not think through the likely consequences of automation? Let’s call that issue “A”.

And while you are treading carefully so as not to offend various people you know and respect, why not extend that concept outwards, to consider why you want to be so careful not to offend? We can call that issue “B”.

Both are key to this industry.

To help expedite the analysis, let me go a little hyperbolic with them right from the start.

On Issue “A”: Sometimes I wish the blackhats would execute faster. Go full-bore right away with automation of anything that works. It will break the system sooner, and help maintain a more level playing field for those unwilling to stretch the guidelines. It will also force Google to react right away, not fake the PR/communications while accepting the losses because they are but a small part of the massive profits made off everyone else.

Unfortunately, when I really think about this, I come to the conclusion that Google simply couldn’t exist if that happened. Google profits from everyone’s hesitation… which is the way most business (and government) works. Google “necessary illusions” to learn more.

On issue “B”, if you’re being honest but innocently offend, what’s the harm? Well, if certain people invest heavily (e.g. work tirelessly for free) to maintain positions of influence in your industry, by offending them you risk your own success in that industry. See how that works? That “working for free” is not actually free after all. It’s a barter that may be required to maintain a position of influence, perhaps because one could not be otherwise defended. And, again, extending hyperbole, what is the ultimate solution to that? Transparency. Open, honest discussion.

Reply

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