If you’re an article spinner, you’re a spammer. Man up and admit it!

September 21, 2010 •
Article spinner spammer

Get ready for a rant. (And comment if you think I’m wrong. Or right.)

A good client asked me to write some web copy to promote his SEO service. Fine. No problems. I’ve done that many times.

So I asked for some details:

ME:

“I need more information about your SEO service. At the moment, I have nothing other than your claims that you can do it. To be truly compelling, we need to be able to offer some information that illustrates your credibility and capability in this field. As there are no secrets in SEO, I’d suggest discussing your methods openly. This shows you HAVE methods (which is always a good start), and helps readers to feel comfortable that you’re not doing something underhanded. That you’re a serious provider. I can’t just make stuff up here, ‘cos I don’t actually know what your methods are.”

Turns out my client has no idea what methods he uses, because he actually outsources the whole SEO service to a sub-contractor. He told me he’d ask the question and get back to me. A day or two later, he forwards this from his SEO…

HIM:

“First we will create you some content, a lot of content, and once this is written, we will then place this on various sites as blog posts, blog comments, articles, videos, forum posts, trackbacks and much more. And within these snippets of content will be a link back to your site, containing the keyword terms mentioned earlier, it is these backlinks that really get things moving. We use as many diverse sites as we can and we do this nice and slowly, as this is mimmicking natural growth within a Search Engine – the more people hear about your site, the more they will link to it.”

Now let me draw your attention to one key phrase, here: “mimmicking natural growth.” Hmmmm… That raised some red flags for me. My reply…

ME:

I’m not sure whether it’s a good idea to discuss those tactics. To know for sure, I’d need to see some of the offsite content he’s referring to when he says he’s “mimmicking natural growth.”

I need to establish whether this content is high quality and useful, or if it’s just spammy, low value content. If it’s low value content, I’d probably gloss over it. No-one wants to know that their ranking is based on spam. I’m not saying these tactics don’t work, I’m saying people won’t view them favorably.

Also, as a side-note to you, this raises red flags to me. These tactics may work now, and may continue to work for some time. But I think you need to be aware of the risk inherent in them. IF (and it’s still an “if”) his content is low value (I suspect it is), the risk is that it will become increasingly less effective, the smarter Google gets.

Why do I suspect it’s low value? Because he’s “mimmicking natural growth within a Search Engine”. If it were high value content, he wouldn’t be mimicking anything. He would simply be fostering organic discussion of, and linking to, high value content.

So. The upshot is that I don’t yet know enough to write about your tactics with any detail. It’s your call: do you want me to gloss over it, or wait for more detail?”

Still with me? Good. Now here’s his SEO’s response…

HIM:

“The content is not spam, it is 100% written by 2 Brits, and then it is spun by hand, by 2 Brits. If the conent were to be 100% unique then we’d be charging $5000 and not $300, so I think you need to gloss over that as don’t want you to be giving misleading info.

Plus our content is always around 70% unique, which is 40% higher than Googles terms of Service.

Lastly – ALL SEO is gaming the system, and the mimmicking of “fostering organic discussion of, and linking to, high value content” – as you are making Google believe a site is more popular than it actually is, so in effect any linking to a site that is not natural could be deemed as a red flag…”

Now we’re down to the good stuff. Let me highlight and discuss a few choice quotes from the above…

“spun by hand” — original & spun for $300

Do you know what spinning is? It’s where someone takes an article and ‘rewrites’ it, so that it says exactly the same thing in different words. Same structure, same point, same meaning, just slightly different wording.

Let’s consider that for a second. Good junior SEO copywriters charge upwards of $60/hr. I charge $150/hr. Could a junior SEO copywriter write a helpful, meaningful article, then rewrite it half a dozen times (or more), in just 5 hours? Unlikely. Could I do it in 2 hours? Definitely not. If I were really familiar with the subject matter, I might be able to write a passable original article in 2 hours, but you could forget the rewriting! (This post alone took me 1.5 hours to write, and it’s something I know a lot about, something I’m passionate about. And half of it is quotes from an email thread!)

And even if we could do it for that money, how does re-writing the article in different words help readers? Even if done well?

I asked for links to some of these articles to assess whether they were any good, but surprisingly, haven’t received any… 😉

“our content is always around 70% unique, which is 40% higher than Googles terms of Service”

Take a look at Google’s Terms of Service. No mention of any ratio there… 😉 Pure bullshit.

ALL SEO is gaming the system… you are making Google believe a site is more popular than it actually is

More bullshit. Content based link building isn’t about gaming the system. Ask Garrett French! It’s about working hard to write something truly link-worthy, then letting people know about it, so they can choose to link to it if they like it. It’s not about making Google believe your site is more popular than it actually is, it’s about actually making your site more popular.

My final reply, if you’re interested…

ME:

“Thanks for that. Have to be honest, more red flags for me, mate.

Firstly, I’ve been in SEO a long time, done a lot of research, and talked to a lot of other SEOs. I’ve NEVER heard anything about a specific percentage change required to be considered unique. Of course, there’s always the possibility I’ve just missed it. So I did some digging. I can’t find anything about it in Google’s terms of service. And when you think about it, it’s not a terms of service issue. Terms of service relate to YOUR use of Google, not GOOGLE’S use of you.

I also asked a few SEO gurus, including David Harry and CJ Jenkins, and they knew nothing about it either.

Nor could I find anything about it in the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Interestingly, though, there IS something in the webmaster guidelines that relates to the mimicking issue:

“Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?””

Knowing what you know now about your SEO’s methods, what would your answer to this question be?

On that note, all SEO is NOT gaming the system. Spammers use that defence all the time, and it’s just a smokescreen. I’d advocate an approach whereby you write high quality blog posts that are helpful and informative to your intended audience. Then you simply announce that content to people who care. Those people will then link to your content because IS quality, not because it MIMICS quality.

In your shoes, I’d be asking your SEO:

  • for links to examples of a lot of content generated for a single campaign (enough that you can see the similarities and differences — see the quality of the ‘spin’);
  • a link to the place where Google specifies a particular percentage change required for content to be considered unique (the percentage thing he mentioned exists in Google’s terms of service).

You need to know what your risks are. There’s no way in the world that spun articles are written for readers. And anything that’s not written for readers is on Google’s hit list. Simple as that. If he thinks he can outsmart some of the smartest brains in the world, and continue to game the system, then that’s great. I wish him the best of luck. I say he’s welcome to that approach, and I fully support his right to take it, and to accept the inherent risk.

But you have to ask yourself if YOU want to take that risk. And if you want to expose YOUR CLIENTS to that risk, without their knowledge. If they pay you, in good faith, to get them a ranking, and they lose that ranking because you (yes, they’ll be pointing the finger at you) were doing something that Google told you NOT to do, and you got caught, you could end up in court.

Again, I have absolutely no problem, ethically, with the spinning tactic. I think it makes the web a dirty place, and gives SEOs a bad name as snakeoil salesmen. But I’d still do it myself if I thought it could earn me good money, for long enough. I wouldn’t transfer that risk to my clients, though…

Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. I’d love to see some examples of his content, either way. Just out of curiosity.

I’m sorry I’m taking a bit of a confrontational approach here. It’s not ‘cos I have any interest in proving your guy wrong. I just feel a professional obligation to you. Plus I think you’re a good bloke and a good client, so I wouldn’t want to see you take a hit over this.

Let me know how it goes.”

End rant.

Let me know your thoughts

Do you know of any spun articles that provide value to readers? Is all SEO gaming the system? Please comment…

Feel free to comment...
comment avatar
Kimota wrote on September 21st, 2010

Not only do I agree wholeheartedly with every passionate point, it is a fantastic illustration of one of my major bugbears with the whole SEO industry. These arguments (that all SEO is about deception or gaming the system) seem to be so entrenched in many businesses that it becomes hard to convince clients that there is actually a better way. Once they see that there are shortcuts to be had, it becomes very difficult to convince someone of the merits of putting all the required effort and resources to make a website truly popular. But this is true of everything, not just SEO. Social media marketing is coming up against similar challenges as more and more businesses look for the systematic, cheap and quick ways to apparently game networks - instead of putting in the effort to actually build relationships. Agh - I can feel the need to pull out my own soapbox now... I feel your pain.

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Sarah Mitchell wrote on September 21st, 2010

I agree with you, too. I've had this same conversation with clients myself and more often than I care to think about. As you point out, many of them are so sold on the technique, it can be hard to convince them there's a better, more ethical way. One thing I always ask is why isn't the content being distributed on their own website. If it's good quality and relevant to their business - and therefor relevant to their SEO goals - it should be available for posting on their website, too. I've yet to find an SEO link farm, er service provider, produce the goods. I can almost guarantee the content is awful. Great post. I'm going to forward it to one of my tweeps who is convinced he's on the right path by paying for this sort of service.

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Belinda wrote on September 21st, 2010

And me. I suspect there will be many more! I think when businesses are new to the online world they can be sucked in by the Las Vegas style shinies of these 'so-hot-right-now' services. They are convinced that it's all a black art, and bamboozled with jargon that sounds important. You can get me to number 1?! I’ve heard that’s a good thing. What do I have to do? Nothing? Brill. Where do I sign? Google knoooooows and if people spent their time and money on making their business credible and their content interesting, they’d get there anyway but with their online reputation intact.

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Gina Lofaro aka the wordmistress wrote on September 21st, 2010

I'm all for keyword articles, PROVIDED they deliver genuine, useful, original content. I've written more than a thousand in my time, and in the early days, for way less than what they were worth as I was building my experience and my business. Spinning articles is cheap, nasty and in poor form, and I would never advocate that a client do this to their website readers. The very fact that the guy outsources his SEO work and really doesn't understand it himself, shows that he too has been 'spun'. Nothing good ever comes from a game of Chinese Whispers. The whole integrity of SEO is sullied when people believe what they hear, then misconstrue it, churn it up into something barely recognisable, and peddle it on to other unsuspecting suckers. I'm all for authenticity, in so many areas of business. I would be far less kind to someone who asked me to write about their business which promotes their, at best, dim understanding of SEO. Good for you, Glenn! And good for you for posting about it. Blasted snake oil salesmen!

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Julie Sweet wrote on September 21st, 2010

i agree - such an interesting and great post. be genuine, be honest, be authentic, be transparent - it's that simple and basic.

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Brusca wrote on September 21st, 2010

I am experimenting with some colleagues on the subject of articles and spinning for the purpose of SEO gains. I have only just recently learnt about this and will be purely an experiment and carrying this out on a personal project and wouldn't use it on client projects. I'm very interested to see the results first hand and the articles (as well as videos and podcasts) I am writing are on a niche that I am very passionate about so the content is well written and not outsourced, and I have a very good understanding of the subject matter. I am not sure if I would associate the word "spam" with article spinning. Perhaps it needs a new phrase to define this.

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Stacy Ranta wrote on September 21st, 2010

Personally, I don't like article spinning as a practice. 9 times out of 10, the source article is PLR crap or something that they don't own the rights to (which means anything resulting from it is plagiarized). It's like eating food someone else has chewed first. Because the writer is getting paid so little, most of them don't bother to spend the time to do any kind of fact checking. So if there's wrong information in the original article, it will get passed down. I've seen some atrociously wrong information out there. Ever seen what happens when you record a few generations of a VHS tape? Writing is the same way, IMHO.

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Paige Jeffrey wrote on September 21st, 2010

Just to throw out this thought - doesn't the word "optimization" imply that it's improving upon something that's already there? Somehow, the idea of article spinning doesn't strike me as improving upon anything. Stacy - that VHS tape analogy was dead on! :) When you're so worried about "not copying" what you're trying to copy, you're missing the underlying context, and chances are, it's going to get watered down. And if you're getting paid diddly-squat to churn out some words, you're probably not going to bother doing the research either.

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Prepaid Plans wrote on September 21st, 2010

Nice article and a very interesting topic. Running a website that relies on google traffic (90+% of traffic) inevitably leads you to consider 'mimicking' so that you can speed up the process and make more or some money. I don't think it is right and I don't think a good web site nor a good service sold via the web should rely on search engine traffic alone. It needs real, paid for marketing. I write all of my articles myself and I do do link building. Whenever I write on blogs like this one I always write something relevant so that I add to the conversation. I am selective about my conversations. When I had comments open on my own blog, it would frustrate the hell out of me when comments that would come in from largish companies where spammy, not adding to the conversation at all. I would reply telling them that they could advertise on the site if they liked, otherwise I would simply remove any links and edit the copy myself. In the end I removed the comments service all together.

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Glenn Murray wrote on September 22nd, 2010

Wow! Thanks guys. Good to see I'm not alone on this issue. @Brusca, what would you call it? I say if it looks like spam, smells like spam and tastes like spam, it's spam... @Prepaid Plans, your approach to link building is right on target IMHO. Note however that most blogs use nofollow links in their comments. I do. This is the code of your link above: Prepaid Plans. That nofollow bit means the link doesn't pass link juice from my site to yours. Also, blogs without comments are far less effective, generally. I always recommend my clients allow comments, but make links nofollow as discussed above, and that they also install the Akismet spam plugin for WordPress.

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Anthony Milner wrote on September 22nd, 2010

What a timely piece Glenn. I've spent the last fortnight trying to convince "business" people to avoid article spinning for all the reasons you mention. I eventually won the debate but wish Google provided more clarity and enforced their guidelines because their soft approach to spun content has fuelled its growth. There are countless SEOs both large and small that use this tecnique with reckless abandon. I'll be quietly forwarding this link to the team with a big "see, I told ya so...even Glenn says so!" :-)

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Paul Mackenzie Ross wrote on September 23rd, 2010

Concurring with pretty much everything that's been mentioned thus far I can only add that I'm almost embarrassed to hear your friend said the content was "written" by "2 Brits" as if that gave my nation a monopoly on ethical SEO. At USD300 (about GBP190, at the time of writing) that's not even 4 hours work so it makes me wonder if these "2 Brits" in turn are outsourcing the job to yet another country. I read in a forum post the other day a rant from someone who paid a ridiculously small amount for "quality" SEO'd copy with the source being quoted as British and yet native-English speaking (Red flag!) - the client received some really poor quality copy and couldn't believe it was written by someone with English as their native language. It just goes to show - you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

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Blair Keen wrote on September 26th, 2010

I agree entirely with Paul's response above - "you pay peanuts you get monkeys." SEO is simply a supply and demand driven commodity like any other. Business owners want to be on page 1 of Google, and they don't really care how it happens. What they do care about though, is how much it will cost them. Unfortunately, SMEs seem to be well aware of the out-sourcing that occurs in this industry, and are unwilling (or unable) to pay the hourly rate for a true-blue British product when they know how cheaply that could get it done offshore! This problem is made worse by the fact that direct marketing by Indian based SEO companies is at an all time high (at least it is here in the UK), and these guys will literally promise the world on a platter for loose change. So what's the solution?

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Glenn Murray wrote on October 2nd, 2010

Great comments, guys. What's the solution? I'm confident Google, itself, will provide the solution. It's not in their interest to return crap results in the SERPs. Sure, they earn quite a bit of ad revenue from people who click through to crap sites, see some Google ads, and click on one, but they'd never rely on that. Searchers are looking for quality results in Google's SERPs; if they find they're getting rubbish, they'll find another way. And if that happens, even the Google ads on crap sites will stop returning $. So Google will stamp out spun articles eventually. I have some theories on how that will happen. I'm convinced Google's already developing smarts to identify the ACTUAL quality of content, just by reading it (i.e. not by relying on third party validation -- i.e. links, etc.). I've spoken with information retrieval / SEO / advertising brain CJ Jenkins about this, too, and like me, she suspects it's already in development. Also, eventually, clients themselves will begin to recognise the value (or lack thereof) in cheap spun SEO. Perhaps from the quality of the content, or perhaps from just the price. Just as no-one, these days, would expect a quality TVC for USD$300. In the meantime, we just need to keep delivering quality for the (increasing number of) clients who recognise it and are prepared to pay for it. It's a much better job, after all...

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Stefan Carey wrote on October 7th, 2010

I think there is a point at which SEO optimisation becomes obfuscation. I have always railed against synthesising content and manipulation of social media, which I believe is little more than paid gossip, for the benefit of a piece of software instead of creating something useful for a human reader. Sure, there's a good reason to analyse your SEO if your site can't be found; but maybe that means your content was weak in the first place, or you don't really understand your own business. I have seen another influence at work. It's the PR/comms department who in 2010 still think marketing-brochure hype makes good web content. When the content fails, SEO is used more heavily. Quality content, that is, quality writing that really communicates, is seen as a luxury. I think it is basic need for the reader, like oxygen. Keep me awake with concrete information and less spiel. Communicate something useful interesting. Use a good argument to convince me to buy. Don't drag me down into a coma with hype.

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Ultimate Copywriters’ Roll Call: 100 Top International Copywriters and Content Bloggers | MarketCopywriter Blog wrote on October 26th, 2010

[...] copywriting – and quite a bit about SEO from Australian copywriter Glenn Murray Great post: If you’re an article spinner, you’re a spammer. Man up and admit it! Twitter: [...]

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Julie wrote on November 18th, 2010

Thanks for this article. I was trying to find a honest perspective on article spinning, but almost everything that comes up on Google is trying to sell you an article spinner. I am not going to lie, I thought about it just because sometimes I really need better words. But, then when I realized all the tweaking I'd have to do anyway to make it good.... anyhow, I think some things I will "outsource" but writing isn't one of them - since that is something I am fairly good at! :) I think I will reference this article in my next blog! Thanks!!

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Glenn Murray wrote on November 18th, 2010

Thanks Julie. You're right. Re-purposing content is never a case of just tweaking. Not if you want the re-purposed content to add an new or different value anyway.

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Devin Miller wrote on January 27th, 2011

Hi Glenn - Great, and important, post. I think it's funny that Article Spinners would try to convince anyone that content made merely to trick search and not to inform readers, is anything other than "spam". It seems so black-and-white to me. And article spinning sure makes my life a lot harder; I'm constantly explaining to clients why I don't write "$12" SEO articles. Just by the very name "SEO Article", they're assuming that it's a copy and pasted mess of keyphrase stuffing (and crazy enough, they're ok with that!). When I explain that I charge the same price for an SEO article as an editorial article (because the skill, time and research that goes into them is exactly the same, except that SEO articles may take even longer - because I'm weaving important keyphrases skillfully throughout the copy) they run for the hills....or to the next article spinner. It's certainly an important - and frustrating - topic that it seems we're all dealing with too regularly. Signing a client who DOES understand the value of quality writing has become all the more gratifying. If only we didn't have to convince the rest that organic search techniques are as good for a website as organic food is for the bod.

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Glenn (Owner) wrote on January 30th, 2011

Hi Devin. Thanks for your considered comment. I agree wholeheartedly (no surprises there!). I don't think it's something we'll have to worry about for that long, though. Maybe another couple of years, and it'll all fizzle out.

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SEO Writing Service, Website Copywriter, Travel SEO – Word Refuge wrote on January 31st, 2011

[...] (To read more article spinning, and why to stay away from it, checkout this great blog post written by Divine Write’s renowned SEO copywriter, Glenn Murray, If you’re an article spinner, you’re a spammer. Man up and admit it!). [...]

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Oana wrote on March 30th, 2011

This post is right at the point. Google has such a complex SEO algorithm that it is silly for someone to think he could full it. I totally agree that one should search to come with new info and content that is really useful to readers. This is the best way to improve SEO. There are lots of freelance websites with providers looking for hundreds of posts on blogs in few hors up to a day or two. To get quality posts on varied topics in such a tight timeline makes it "almost" impossible. Nothing more to say as you Glenn covered it all :) Thanks!

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Garrett wrote on April 18th, 2012

Awesome post! That's why I linked to it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, MySpace, and a few other places as well. This article is a perfect example on how you get high quality, Google-approved back links; writing great, insightful, user-friendly content that people will take a second glance at and share with their network.

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Glenn (Owner) wrote on April 18th, 2012

Thanks Garrett. You're right. It all comes down to content quality...

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Richa Varma wrote on August 3rd, 2014

>>What’s the solution? I’m confident Google, itself, will provide the solution.<< It took them (Google) a while to catch up with your crystal ball... but finally, catch up they did, with panda, penguin, hummingbird etc. :-)

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