Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Doug Pierce & Byrne Hobart do Digital Due Diligence

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A Spammy Start Up

Recently TechCrunch posted an article outing [link nofollowed] the Sequoia-backed start up Milanoo for ranking using paid links:

Here’s what Digital Due Diligence found: For a number of very valuable keywords in Google search,, Here’s how Milanoo ranks for “cheap dresses” (position 2), “evening gown” (1), “cheap wedding dresses” (1), and “summer dresses” (2). Digital Due Diligence partner Doug Pierce (who also served as an expert in the New York Times J.C. Penney expose), writes that those four keywords alone have an equivalent cost of nearly $200,000 per month in Google AdWords.

It’s a red flag, explains Pierce’s fellow partner Byrne Hobart

The article left a fairly foul stench in the air which is hard to get over.

Risk Analysis vs Risk Creation

These folks claim to do due diligence for investors, which essentially means “risk analysis” and “risk management.” But then to market themselves, they throw active investments under the bus for self promotion. And now they have done so repeatedly. It is not an isolated incident, but rather a pattern of conduct.

To be frank, that form of marketing from an outfit claiming to do SEO risk analysis can be described using no other word than this: sleazy.

Just Another Form of Competitive Sabotage

An outing like the above is typically driven (at some level) by a competitor looking to take down a competitor. And such a high profile outing literally can destroy lives. It is a high stakes game of public relations. The media outlet gets a story, the expert gets quoted, and the competitor gets torched.

If I was an investment firm I would never spend a single Dollar with Digital Due Diligence. Why? Well they may do a valuable service on some project you are funding them for, BUT if you fund them at all you are encouraging more outing in the future and more risk for your own future investments.

Outing is Anti-Innovation

Eric Schmidt has stated that lobbyists write the laws. Markets are rigged to favor established interests. If you are an investor you are betting that you can take smart calculable risks & disrupt markets. But SEO outing is yet another layer of unknown risk which harms all start ups while rewarding existing market leaders: the exact opposite of innovation.

Even if you encourage your own investments to be ultra-conservative you still have no protection from this sort of activity.

A competitor could easily buy a bunch of links for one of your sites (they could even pay cash for a gift card while traveling & use that to buy links from a clean browser with cookies cleared on a public wifi connection, making themselves untraceable). After throwing a few hundred or few thousand Dollars at setting up the site, they can then leak a tip to Digital Due Diligence, who will then leak it to TechCrunch or the NYT.

Why This Sort of Outing is Horrible for SEO Professionals

The core issue here is professionalism. Should we let people who screw other people over get ahead while trying to paint themselves as the good guy? I don’t see how there is any hope left for the industry if that becomes the new normal. Every time there is a high profile outing SEO investments become perceived as being more risky and the whole of the industry looks less professional.

Double fail+++

An Example of Two Interpretations of Google’s Guidelines

The last time I had any significant experience on this front the SEO police asked who Google should “come down on” for our affiliate program passing link juice. That made our affiliate links no longer pass link juice. Shortly after a Google search engineer publicly stated that affiliate links should count and the same SEO firm that threw us under the bus mentioned they were thinking about bringing their affiliate program in-house so they could do the same thing they outed us for. A few years later it was highlighted that Google has an active investment in a start up that builds a scaled paid link network.

In other words, Google claims their guidelines to be black and white, but a particular technique can be fine for some, spam for others, and worth funding on an industrial scale if Google gets a piece of the action. Is it any surprise that the FTC is looking into Google’s business practices?

Just Say No!

The above sort of activity is just like Google and Microsoft leaking each other’s security flaws publicly to try to screw each other over. Out of such exchanges nobody wins, but everyone looks a bit more like a used car salesman, as we further create a market for lemons.

With the rise of such SEO diligence projects, how long until the primary business model & main form of diligence being done is funded “research” to take down competitors? Is this market even worth participating in if we let it devolve to that point?

These sort of folks who throw the whole of the SEO industry under a bus for self-promotion should be shunned by the industry. If our industry is to have any sense of fair, just, and reasonable meritocracy to it then this behavior can not be condoned.

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Related posts:

  1. Is Outing is a Sleazy Black Hat Marketing Strategy?
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  3. The Exodus In Digital Age: Google Your Way
  4. Business.com and PM Digital Car Giveaway at SES New York 2010
  5. After Mostly Skipping TV Fad, Radio Flyer Moves Into Digital

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