Webmaster The person who usually maintains the content and operational status of a Web server. Most Webmasters are involved with design and development issues for new content and also with business and marketing issues, network topology design, and any other issue related to the development and maintenance of the Web server. [Definition via]
The first time I referred to myself as a Webmaster I’d been taken to the NEC in Birmingham (West Midlands, UK, not Alabama) by the brothers Butler, who I was Webmastering for, to attend a sheet metal machinery trade show. On signing up I was asked to give my role within the company, and rather than have ‘technical buffoon dragged along for the ride’ that wouldn’t read legibly on my name tag, I offered Webmaster. Matt and John found this highly amusing, and for the next twelve months they’d refer to me as ‘The Webmaster’ in a quizzical Darth Vader tone.
A Webmaster is not only the single point of joy for businesses that entertain them, but they generally serve as the one administrative contact for all things mentioned in the definition above. One of the more common emails you receive that contain the term Webmaster are those requesting a link from your site. Yesterday I received one such email:
Dear Web Master
Apologise (sic) if I have already been in contact with you about this before. I was merely enquiring whether you offer any advertising on your Butler Sheetmetal site.
I have a client/s that would be willing to pay you an annual charge for a text link (advert) on your site. My client/s website are either in the Home Improvement industry or related to Home Improvement, also the websites are well indexed with quality content and I think your site is suitable for a link partnership.
Please let me know if you are interested as you have a really suitable site.
I thought I’d tag him along a bit as I was interested in his offer, especially as he’d sent me an identical email for their sister site Tinpot Alley. I’d once been offered $500 for an annual link on The Tinbasher, and I’m not ashamed to say that the thought of at least doubling that had me tempted as it’d free up a new laptop purchase.
However, I originally turned down the $500 link and really had no intention of taking this guy up on his offer either. It was nothing more than professional curiosity. You see, the whole link buying and selling thing along with the guy’s lame email pitch and his company’s odd reputation left me positively stone cold. Any one of the three would have been sufficient for me to turn heel, but put them all together and we’re talking the mother of all moonwalks.
Anyway, let’s break this this thing down.
Why Buying and Selling Links is Wrong
I’ve never bought a link and I’ve never sold one. This is because (to paraphrase some old chap who invented the Blackberry) the fundamentals of ‘teh Google’ are strong. When you search for something you want the results of that search to return you an answer as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Google and the other search engines know this and we, as searchers, demand it. Now before I go off on some tautological ramble, Google does this by factoring in over 100 elements within its algorithm, with the glue being that of links between sites. A link from one site to another vouches for that site and, dependent on how important and relevant the link and the site giving the link are seen as being by Google, will in some way determine where you rank for a given keyword. While it may seem to all concerned that there are search engine fairies that arbitrarily assign ranking positions, that isn’t the case. Google wants this to happen naturally out of the goodness of our hearts. Great, amazing, worthwhile information will get linked to and poor, redundant filth won’t. It’s beautifully simple until you throw a cash spanner in the works. If you pay for these links and artificially increase your rankings by doing so you game the system. Search engines then return nothing but sites that have the largest link buying budgets. Then the search engine is dead. Oh, and if you get caught by Google selling links your offending site will be dead to them.
You can read everything you ever wanted to know and more about buying and selling links that pass pagerank in this post on the Google Webmaster Blog.
Time for Tools: The Dreaded Impersonal Email Pitch
As much as I am entertained by my brother-in-law calling me ‘The Webmaster’ it’s darned lazy to pump off an email with that as a salutation. They don’t even know if there is a Webmaster, just an assumption. The time it took to find an email address couldn’t have been too long and it would only have taken an extra 8.4 seconds to find a name. Blimey, it should only take half an hour to craft a reasonable email tuned to the sender and less than a minute to run a spell check so you don’t look like an illiterate doofus when you start your email with apologise as opposed to apologies. And then you lie. Why say the sites are home improvement related when they’re home insurance sites? I’d have been all over a link to Tim Allen.
How Shifty an SEO Company Were They?
Now because I’m not as lazy as the bunch who’d just emailed me, or perhaps I can just multitask, it took me all of a couple of minutes to click on their company link. After all, the home insurance links they were asking for were big UK brands. One look at their client list and they were responsible for the SEO accounts of some very big UK companies indeed. Was this their general modus operandi? Do their link building efforts consist of buying links from whoever they can get them from? Can they string a coherent email together? Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised after this week’s financial escapades, but I do wonder how hapless and haphazard certain companies become. I could have forgiven myself for thinking they were some small fly-by-night outfit operating out of some illustrious part of West Virginia < ./sarcasm >. But we don’t buy and sell links against Google guidelines and we’d be appalled at the thought of firing off a thoughtless email such as the one above. We may make a mistake or two, but it isn’t because we’re shifty or unprofessional. They’re of the ‘honest’ variety – not because we’re short term blackhat SEO impresarios. I’d heard of this bunch before, but I couldn’t quite remember where. I’m also no snitch. But, if you read this post about shifty insurance SEO practices, they’re spoken of fondly along with a couple of sites that I was asked to link to.
And the clincher? The reason I’m tentatively outing these SEO shysters?
They only offered me $100 a year for each link. 😉