Google: Stop With The Tin Foil Hat SEO

Jun 28, 2011 • 8:44 am | comments (28) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

cat-with-tin-foil-hatI love it when I see Googlers go off on SEO advice.

A Google Webmaster Help thread has Googler Susan Moskwa replying to one webmaster about them wanting to remove content from their own web site. The webmaster was thinking because they don't have a certain number of words on some of their content, they are better off removing the content because it can hurt the rankings of the rest of the web site. Yes, a lot of this comes from the Panda update and SEO theories around that.

So Susan replied, Dude, it sounds like you've read too many tin foil hat "SEO" articles.

Here is Susan's full response:

Dude, it sounds like you've read too many tin foil hat "SEO" articles. As long as your site has worthwhile, original content on it (i.e. it's not just made to put AdSense on it), there's not a golden "text-to-ads ratio" or a word limit for ranking. I worry that you're just looking at the trees and not seeing the forest. Optimizing your site for search isn't about counting the words on a page, it's about making sure that you have useful, usable content, and then making that content accessible to search engines.

To put this another way: I have never ever seen a site where everything was great and it would have ranked well except its articles were only 200 words long. That's just... not the way the algorithm looks at stuff. If your site isn't ranking well, the cause must be elsewhere.

Got good content? Some thing useful, unique and quality? It doesn't mean it has to be long for it to rank well in Google.

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help

Image credit from Jeff Hall on Flickr.

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Black Seo Guy

06/28/2011 01:19 pm

Sometime we can analysis something too much and start thinking crazy..guess when you start removing content then you really hit the wall. "Black Seo Guy "Signing Off"

Nick Stamoulis

06/28/2011 02:23 pm

Susan hit the nail on the head about losing the forest for the trees. We get so caught up in the minute details that we miss the bigger picture/issue. I'd say counting words is akin to burying your head in the sand. You're doing something, but nothing useful.


06/28/2011 03:47 pm

I always laughed at the guys that used ratios for their content strategies. One thing it did is make it easy for google to track them. People actually paid money to have software coded to check link/text ratios to incredible levels of obsession. I guess time goes by faster when you're obsessing over little things while big bad panda kicks your butt. Keeping things looking natural is way easier that obsessing over some magical number someone pulled out of their arse and there is definitely less risk of being a target.

Terry Van Horne

06/28/2011 04:13 pm

tinfoil hat SEO? ummm the term hardly should be used in this situation. it's generally associated with paranoia... and well how can you be paranoid when the source provides answers like this... If SEO's are uninformed it is because... Google suupplies so much info SEOs have stopped looking for answers and now expect Google to hand it to them in a neat little package... those neat little packages are likely why they needed Panda to begin with!


06/28/2011 04:18 pm

Now, hang on a minute. Before we start throwing around the SEO tinfoil hat accusations, let's back up for a second and consider where this particular tinfoil theory came from. In fact, it began because a Googler, Amit Singhal specifically, said this "One other specific piece of guidance we've offered is that low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings, and thus removing low quality pages, merging or improving the content of individual shallow pages into more useful pages, or moving low quality pages to a different domain could eventually help the rankings of your higher-quality content." on this official Google post: So, while it may be amusing to poke fun at the tinfoil hats out there, don't forget where some of these things begin. In this case, it began with specific advice from a Googler on an official Google post. Now, granted, he didn't mention anything about short content, or number of words, etc., but it's not that far of a stretch to go from "low quality pages" and "shallow pages" to that of short content. Just keep that in mind before giggling at others who are scratching their heads to figure out what "low quality" or "shallow" might consist of.

Barry Schwartz

06/28/2011 04:20 pm

Thanks Donna, was waiting for someone to chime in with this.


06/28/2011 04:23 pm

There are so many theories around Panda... its becomes more frustrating to guys who research on it. That doesnt mean you stop using forums & such....I think the ability to filter all the noise and use information that has solid ground.


06/28/2011 05:23 pm

Analyze the top SERP results for Debt Consolidation, a classic high value term for which there is a massive SEO arms race constantly occurring, and find me something without really long copy.  5 years from now, the average copy size will probably be twice as long due to each site owner adding just a little more text, the keyword, and a few related keywords to try to beat the others.


06/28/2011 05:38 pm

You've obviously given this a lot more thought than most people. Every time I hear the word "ratio" dropped I immediately think one of 2 possibilities 1) the person is obsessed with ratio and can't see the bigger picture 2) they really don't know what's going on and read somewhere that magic ratio is the answer to everything. Either way, they probably have a tinfoil hat laying around not too far away from where they are sitting.


06/28/2011 06:07 pm

I wish more people would put a lot more thought into things before they just blindly make fun of people. 


06/28/2011 07:46 pm

Welcome to Google where the left doesn' t know that the right hand even exists.  I'm willing to bet Susan hasn't got a clue on Panda.


06/28/2011 08:05 pm

 Barry does that. As an almost blind Google supporter he always shoots first and never asks questions. Google is wrong too sometimes, tell that to D Sullivan as well.

Barry Schwartz

06/28/2011 08:09 pm

John, who is being blind now by hiding their full identity. At least you know who to complain to when you don't like what you see. Read into my stories as you like.


06/28/2011 08:13 pm

I actually think Barry mostly just reports, without injecting his own personal feelings into the situation, so I wouldn't really classify him in the category of blindly making fun of people. Instead, he just shares what he sees and hears, and may add a comment about his own experiences, but he usually doesn't make blind judgement calls without putting thought into it - or at least not from my recollection.  There are many, however, who are happy to just nod their heads and agree, or chuckle along, without really considering it from other points of view. Of course, we're all human, and I'm sure I've been guilty of that myself, in the past, but hopefully not too often.

Barry Schwartz

06/28/2011 08:15 pm

Thanks Donna. 99% of my posts are, person X says Y and you can find it there. That is what SER is designed to do. Help people find things deep inside the discussion forums that they wouldn't otherwise find.


06/28/2011 08:47 pm

//Thanks Donna. 99% of my posts are, person X says Y and you can find it there.  // Shallow, in other words. Were you Pandafied by any chance? Why didn't you mention the seemingly conflicting G post-Panda advice in this story? Or the lack of Panda comebacks, minus a very few here and there?  Are you afraid Cutts will not @barry on twitter anymore?

Barry Schwartz

06/28/2011 08:50 pm

Do you read this site often? Obviously not because I have about 30 stories on Panda, here is the latest That being said, in one of them I mentioned that this site should be "pandalized". So don't use my humor against me, I did that already. I discussed the lack of Panda comebacks, see Am I afraid of Cutts, did you read Go ahead, tell me how shallow I am.

Jason Mailley

06/28/2011 09:09 pm

A lot of pseudo-experts are born everyday and share their SEO advices to the world. If you want to take the bad off the good, you'd better be ready to spend a few dollars to go beyond the free advices around !


06/28/2011 09:31 pm

I don't always make fun of people without putting at least a little thought into it. I try and make a valid point no matter how small it may be.


06/28/2011 09:36 pm

Apologies, I wasn't aware that you had something "bad" about Cutts in 2006.  You are a rebel.

Barry Schwartz

06/28/2011 09:45 pm

Again, you don't read this site, so you have no idea what you are talking about. That post is 2011.


06/28/2011 10:17 pm

We get this question a TON in SE Online Support. "How much content on my page must be unique for it to not trip a filter? Is it 51% of the page, 25% of the page, what?" - We just laugh....ALL of your content should be unique. Anyone who says otherwise is just wasting your time. Very good response by Susan. Clearly she reads Search Engine News

Slippery Slope

06/28/2011 10:40 pm

*ALL of your content should be unique.* Ironic, considering that all the words you used are being used in tens of millions of sites out there. The idea is old too, you just rehashed it. So what's unique about what you said?


06/28/2011 11:58 pm

"As long as your site has worthwhile, original content on it (i.e. it's not just made to put AdSense on it)..."  Hey, this sounds like a description of Google: no original content and set up for AdWords :)

eurostar deals

06/29/2011 08:08 am

Interesting!! This Means Google has its own Theory regarding Panda. First They are Saying focus on content and now they are Presenting New Theory!! Agreed with Barry that Qualitative and Unique content does not provides you 100% surety to get good ranking in Google..


06/29/2011 10:31 am

After panda 2.2 its become very interesting!SEO should be more carefully!

Renee Helton

06/29/2011 11:14 am

So what do you do if you own 6 locations throughout the US?  Create 6 different sites for the exact same services?  What if you and 10,000 other places offer Zumba?  Refuse to use the copy supplied by the creator of the program and lose your certification?  Here's an idea - contact Nike and tell them they need to supply thousands of different descriptions for the same pair of sneakers or google says you can no longer appear in their search results?  Sound crazy?  It is - Google went too far this time.


06/29/2011 12:42 pm

Renee, it's not that you CAN'T use the manufacturer supplied content, what Google is saying is that you MUST enhance that with what is called UGC - User Generated Content. That can be anything like the following: - enhanced reviews of the product shared by your customer - ratings of the product provided by your customers - testimonials of the product/service provided by your customers - enhanced info on the product/service added BY YOU to the product pages - more graphics/images/bulleted lists that you add in addition to regular info - etc. The clients we've had who were affected by content-related Google issues (especially the scraper roll-outs in last February) were doing just what you described, serving content as "feeds" directly from the manufacturer and not enhancing that content at their end. Once they "enhanced" their content by the methods above their ranking drops started to reverse and traffic went back up.

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