Dear Moz, Anything Can Violate Google’s Quality Guidelines


Before I get started, I want to make it clear that I am an avid fan of Rand Fishkin and the Moz community; their ethical approach to SEO and the TAGFEE ethos is both highly commendable and genuinely enriching for the wider Internet community. This article does not set out to belittle or condemn any of the valuable journalistic and research-led work that Moz produces.

With that said, it is becoming increasingly frustrating to read updates on Fishkin’s shock when Google penalizes his/related sites. Take his latest Tweet and Moz blog post, for example.


Unfortunately, Moz, Fishkin and many of their followers seem to assume that Google, one of the world’s largest and most powerful corporations, will hold the same TAGFEE values (transparent, authentic, generous, fun, empathetic, exceptional) they do.

You see, Google’s “quality guidelines” are nothing more than a PR document set out to create a certain image. Yes, Google want you to think they are transparent and ethical and completely “focused exclusively on solving search problems“, but in reality they are 100% committed to increasing the bottom line.

Google will never follow TAGFEE, nor will they ever be “fair”; anything can and will violate Google’s Quality Guidelines. And here’s why.

Nice Guys Finish Last

In Q2 of 2014, Google published a 22% rise in revenue, bringing the gross figure to $15.96 billion. You can read the complete breakdown here. At the end of January 2014, Moz released a detailed financial breakdown of the company, reporting an overall $5.7 million loss. It’s clear to see that we’re talking about two very different companies here and the one that is genuinely committed to user experience doesn’t make any money. In fact, they lose a ton of it. The company that pretends to care about UX, on the other hand, is raking it in.

As part of their company philosophy, Google makes many dramatic statements, such as “You can make money without doing evil” and “great just isn’t good enough”, and holds wild fanasies about their intentions:

Whether we’re designing a new Internet browser or a new tweak to the look of the homepage, we take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line. Our homepage interface is clear and simple and pages load instantly. Placement in search results is never sold to anyone and advertising is not only clearly marked as such, it offers relevant content and is not distracting.

By using micro-text saying “advertisement” or “sponsored result”, Google purports to be an ethical pioneer, making the world a better place. To be honest, I (and 67% of other online searchers) agree that Google is the most user-friendly, attractive and fruitful search engine in existence. It’s easy to forget, therefore, that this product is just that, a product. Google know their market – searchers want a clean and reliable service and that’s what they provide. Google is dedicated to providing the best search results to its users because it helps them retain and grow market share. In fact, it’s a vital part of their business model.

Profiting From Chaos

Does Google care about Webmasters and SEOs getting a fair shot at Page 1 results? Hell no! And why would they? AdWords, launched in 2000, is Google’s primary revenue source. Despite the numerous “help” documents and best practice guidelines Google produce, their sole aim, when it comes to dealing with Webmasters, is to sell more AdWord campaigns. All the training, tools (especially Analytics and Webmaster Tools) and resources are there to aid the process along. Moz, on the other hand, produces a wealth of what I’d call “stand-alone resources”. Yes, they promote their analytics tools and pro accounts, but their blog, Whiteboard Friday series and learning guides are accessible to everyone.

Now I’m not privy to any of the inner workings of Google and its Web Spam Team, but the more unstable and unpredictable the numerous animal-ed search algorithms become, the more money is spent on AdWords. This trend has continued for years. Let’s put it another way: the less genuinely useful Google’s Webmaster documents become, the more money the company makes. Does this sound like a company dedicated to helping people?

Let’s get back to the matter in hand – why does Moz and Rand continue to praise, cooperate with and pander to Google’s sketchy demands guidelines?

There’s One Rule In Google Club…

There’s only one rule in Google Club – don’t talk about the rules. Instead, let’s use ambiguous and generic terminology like “guidelines” and “best practices”. Instead of “must”, we hear “should”; in place of “definitely”, we get “recommended”. The bottom line is, there is not (nor will there ever be) a clear, direct, fool-proof, one-fits-all document to getting ranked on Google (or any search engine for that matter).

If SEO was like Fight Club, Rand Fishkin would be Edward Norton, engaged in a hopeless battle against Google’s Tyler Durden. Let’s forget the film’s ending for a minute – can Norton ever overcome Durden’s hold on him? No! Why? Because he’s fictional. Tyler Durden, in the SEO world, is Google’s Quality Guidelines. You think you know what they are, but they keep evolving just out of reach. BECAUSE THEY DON’T REALLY EXIST.

Links From YouMoz Can Violate Google’s Quality Guidelines

In a Moz blog post today, Rand Fishkin wrote an open letter to Google titled: Dear Google, Links from YouMoz Don’t Violate Your Quality Guidelines. In the piece, he gets offended by a Google guideline violation notice that Moz contributer Scott Wyden received in WMT. Wyden’s personal blog, received a notice about inorganic links, with 3 examples given (posted below, the red text was added by Scott himself).

Rand took particular issue with the third link,, from the YouMoz section of the site. In response, he posts:

As founder, board member, and majority shareholder of Moz, which owns (of which YouMoz is a part), I’m here to tell Google that Scott’s link from the YouMoz post was absolutely editorial. Our content team reviews every YouMoz submission. We reject the vast majority of them. We publish only those that are of value and interest to our community. And we check every frickin’ link.

Despite the protest, it’s easy to see how (and why) Google might see YouMoz post links as guest post spam. Here’s a breakdown of the Scott Wyden example:

  • YouMoz is exclusively for guest posts.

This fact is made clear the by the disclaimer placed below each post (” This entry was written by one of our members and submitted to our YouMoz section.The author’s views below are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Moz.”). The YouMoz url is also under the “ugc” directory, otherwise known as User Generated Content, aka not editorial.

Guest posting as an SEO practice has recently been condemned by Google, and widely reported. According to those infamous Quality Guidelines, guest posting is one example of a link scheme, especially if it uses “keyword-rich anchor text links“.


  • Scott used a “keyword-rich anchor text link” in his guest post

Although the link has now been removed, Google’s cache (posted above) shows us that Scott used the exact-match keyword anchor “best business books for photographers”, with a link to “”. As you can see, the linked page is optimised for that exact longtail keyword so Google understandably spotted it as “unnatural”. What’s more, the content of the page is completely off-topic and is only loosely linked to the article, under the guise of an “example”.

The text “Photographers SEO Community” was also used as the anchor for Scott’s link to his site Aside from using an partial-match domain (and forgetting the apostrophe in photographer’s), the link could be seen an spammy because it’s neither contextual nor related to the article topic. Yes, his the site is about SEO, but that’s a pretty generic connection.

[highlight color=”eg. yellow”]UPDATE: Scott confirmed in the comments section that he does not own nor manage[/highlight]

  • The guest post links are dofollow

As YouMoz has its nice little disclaimer about not being responsible for the views of its authors, why does it insist on giving dofollow links? Yes, Rand might check every frickin’ link, but doing so does not make the content any less of a guest post and, as such, Google’s guidelines don’t need to be analysed in much detail to see the problem here.

It’s interesting to note that Scott’s offending YouMoz post went live way back in October 2012. Perhaps, at the time, these practices were harder for Google to take down. In mid-2014, that’s obviously not the case.

Some Advice For YouMoz

YouMoz makes up a significant portion of Moz’s overall output. What’s more, it brings a lot of SEO professionals to the site for one, sneaky, reason. Yup – FREE LINKIES! We can pretend all we want about “enriching communities” and “sharing our knowledge” but at the end of the day, I’d hazard a guess that 100% of all YouMoz posts are written for self-promotional purposes. Some of that promotion comes from SEO (in the form of a nice link or 2 from an authority site), but the rest comes from community outreach, building reputation and engaging with peers. It’s the latter that YouMoz needs to focus on.

I believe that Moz made a conscious decision to allow dofollow links on YouMoz to encourage SEOs to write good quality content (for free, duh). The link is the payment. Yes, Moz polices the content to ensure it’s of high-enough quality to avoid diluting their brand presence and SEO efforts. Nofollow link attributes should have been a no-brainer but would have undoubtedly discouraged writers, especially several years ago.


As you can see above, Moz comments are nofollow as standard; it is my opinion that all YouMoz links should be nofollow too, in order to avoid guest post penalties in the future and preserve the importance of the blog as a outpost for knowledgeable professionals.

Will people still write for YouMoz? Of course they will. Moz has earned itself a position as knowledge leader in a competitive field. Part of that status came from being early to the game, but has since been sustained thanks to its genuine dedication to TAGFEE. Guest blogging on Moz will always carry a badge of honour.

In summary, let us never forget Google’s real code of ethics: ROE – Revenue Over Everything. The Quality Guidelines will always remain just out-of-reach enough to get all site owners to up their AdWords spend. What you think is acceptable today might bite you in the SEO ass 2 years from now. Even if you are Rand Fishkin.




42 thoughts on “Dear Moz, Anything Can Violate Google’s Quality Guidelines”

  1. Hi Tom,

    I appreciate you writing this, but just like Rand got it wrong, the Photographer’s SEO Community is not one that I own and is not connected to my webmaster tools account, and was not sent by Google to me. As you can see in the screenshot, the link in question is only the one to my personal site.

    • Hi Scott,

      I mentioned “Photographers SEO Community” as another example of exact-match anchor links on the page in question. Thanks for confirming that you do not own the site (I’ll add a note to the post).

      The penalised (and now removed) link I was referring to linked to, with the exact anchor “business books for photographers”.

      • No problem at all. Just want to make sure the facts are straight so people trying to learn from this don’t get the wrong idea.

        I definitely appreciate both your side and Rand’s side, but I have to admit I side with Rand on this one because Moz doesn’t just accept any content to YouMoz. Whether the anchor text is keyword rich or not, Google should know better.

        • Of course; on a sliding scale of all the “guest blogs” out there, YouMoz has to be one of the most stringent. Unfortunately, it seems that Google doesn’t care to make that distinction.

          • I find it a little interesting that “Google Should Know Better” Does that mean we need to be arrogant enough to think that a human made the decision not an algo?

            Still the person / article / links were not exactly top shelf stuff, if he was a client would you not be adjusting the brand?

            I think it is more knee jerk than stepping back and looking at it, if YouMoz had a free rein would that also be fair?

            In some ways is this not proof that quality is sometimes the question (based on algo assumptions)

            Not sure but to me nothing about the example screamed credibility, there were questions, that in some ways should it have passed muster.

          • Who knows whether it was a manual or algorithmic review that picked up the bad link – either way, it’s not helpful to be indignant about its consequences.

            It wouldn’t be fair if spammy YouMoz links were permitted just because the site is large.

            In a way, I think Google’s moving in the right direction with this, but, as I wanted to make clear in this piece, their guidelines are so purposefully vague there’s really no telling what will constitute a “good link” or a “bad link” in the future.

          • I know many would choke on their coffee but I do believe they have a ux philosophy somewhere, and really you have to be pretty unlucky to be hit unless you either have a popular hub i.e YouMoz, have not been all that careful with your ‘organic links’ 🙂 – or you have a profile, that may also be a little more common than many may think, any why not it makes perfect sense.

            Also why would Moz in some ways not be on a watch list, over the years the data they have released and the techniques discussed have allowed real constant manipulation of the results. Every marketer manipulates, either minds, perception, visibility – That’s what we do, craft a message and have that message seen, a marketers job is to manipulate to a certain degree.

            With the puritanical standpoint that G portray, you cannot have a carrot without a stick and now and then they wield that stick across specific targets that create the greatest “shock and ore” This of course shows we mean business, while the other hand of course does everything possible to keep the adwords juggernaut steaming along.

            There is a whole undercurrent of business on the web that use anything but white old hat to get anywhere and 9 out of 10 will never be caught. It is easy to have knowledge and use it, although it is very difficult to stick your big brand head up in the clouds and constantly have a dig without the occasional retaliation landing. For a horrible analogy it is easier to kill someone you don’t know and get away with it, compared to someone you do know. If I was in certain circles and in charge of certain projects I would have a database full and several thousand individuals, with resources such as Moz, Inbound, and many sites I will not name here, that job is all the more easier.

            Do you not practise competitor intelligence, competitor infiltration, and to a degree espionage, maybe too strong a word but on the right path. I am not a big conspiracy theory fan, although logic has to play a part.

            Just rambling thoughts anyway


  2. Well put! As always.

    I really don’t think it’s too complicated a situation. As you said, Moz has already built themselves up to be a huge knowledge leader. If you write a decent YouMoz article, then the true reward for it should be the referral traffic anyway from readers enthusiastic to consume even more of your writing.

    Backlinks are nice. Traffic is better.

    • Exactly (one of) my point(s)! That’s the way I think YouMoz should position itself: a guest blog for pushing high-quality, targeted traffic. No links required.

  3. Moz is very strict about getting content published. It is easier to write for Forbes than Moz. I think Rand is right on this one. That link went through strict editorial oversight.

    Moreover, Moz does nofollow links in Youmoz posts when it feels they might violate the guidelines. They have nofollowed multiple of mine, always letting me know there reasons and they have always been fair.

    • I confirm the high standard of the reviews done, as I am part of the editorial team for YouMoz posts.

      When people submit a YouMoz, it is read by more than one reviewer:

      1) for reviewing the quality itself of the information shared in the post;
      2) for reviewing every link present in the post (and eventually make them corrected with a nofollow or changing anchor text or both);
      3) for assessing the overall readability and fluency of the content and for helping the writer in creating a more effective post with better images et al;
      4) for seeing if the content is original and not a re-chewed version of already published posts by the author;
      5) for detecting potential plagiarism issues;
      6) for checking out the credits links for the not original images used.

      Usually it is quite easy to discard the most crappy posts in just one read. What remain in the plate are then discussed by the editorial team and – ultimately – it’s the Moz Staff deciding what steps the post must follow (i.e.: accepted but to be rewritten in few parts, accepted but to be corrected in its linking out et al).

      When people submit a post for YouMoz can see it published about 2/3 weeks later the submission because of all the reviewing process (and the huge amount of posts submitted).

      • A guest post is still a guest post by any other name. I love reading YouMoz and think it’s a very valuable resource, but being highly vetted and approved by staff doesn’t make it editorial.

        It’s my understanding that posts by authors not on the “author’s page” or “staff” part of any magazine or blog will always count as guest posts, whatever the quality of written content may be.

        And if a guest author adds a self-serving link without good reason, it looks like spam to Google and readers.

  4. Great article Tom. You managed to accurately represent Google’s intentions without once referring to Not Provided. It’s that easy these days.

  5. Damn Tom, that was legit. The articles that get published there have always had that self-promoted stink to them IMO.

  6. Should Moz nofollow links on YouMoz and not their main blog? Where do we draw the line? The links are well vetted and I venture that bigger news publishers will not receive similar warnings. I suspect that Google is specifically looking within the SEO and marketing industries.

    • The links might be well-vetted at the time, but retrospectively who’s to say they won’t qualify as “spam” in the future? The YouMoz disclaimer clearly states that Moz doesn’t approve the content, though, so it’s pretty clear the links should be nofollow.

      • The message is “The author’s views below are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Moz”, which to me has a very different meaning than they don’t approve the content, but it does beg the question of how much they value their UGC.

        • I totally agree with your point Paul. Also, Moz has experienced exponential growth and has made, and is making plenty of money. I know 2013 they did not experience the kind of growth and numbers they wanted, and I believe was part of the reason Rand wanted to leave his position. However, that does not mean they are not a successful business.

          You would have to look at the financial statement in detail and each line item to get a true measure of the loss, and why it exists.

          I would venture to guess it is more due to investing in the core of their business so they could meet the demand for their product and services. Also you need to spend money to make money.It is the nature of the beast.

          The loss is most likely on paper, and may only exist due to the quality work of their accounting team. Again, I would have to take a hard look at the numbers.

          Also, your blanket statement that companies who care about UX, do not make money, is absurd to say the least. I get your point, but that is quite an exaggeration.

          The same could hold true about someone writing an article for any quality news or magazine site. In your world, links would not exist at all, which by the way I am fine with. It would level the playing field. However, links are still a valuable commodity, and getting published on sites like Moz, should certainly be valid for a follow link. Though that should not be the only reason to publish.

          The disclaimer is for liability protection and nothing more. I am sure it was required or at the very least was recommended by their counsel.

          As Rand mentioned, it is very hard to get an article published on YouMoz. The do not accept all comers. That should be enough to get a relevant dofollow link. Moz is still given a vote to the article and the link as a relevant contribution, and we can all agree that Moz is a relevant site and business in our space.

          I did enjoy reading your post though. You made some very interesting points. I will look forward to following what you have to say in the future. Cheers!

          • Fair point about revenues – I have not seen any detailed financial breakdowns from Moz (or Google), only the overall revenue/profit figures both companies chose to publish.

            I never actually stated that Moz loses money because of its UX focus; I just wanted to juxtapose those two sides of the SEO coin to show how different Moz and Google really are.

            You mention a world without links…. now that would be very interesting indeed!

  7. Nice post Tom 🙂

    Yeh, Moz and the rest of the Internet should just NoFollow everything, and conform to G’s needs even more 😉 NoFollow was created by ’em afterall..

  8. I’d just like to point out that citing the fact that one UX focused company loses money and one profit-focused company makes money does not mean that genuinely focusing on UX loses money for all companies.

    That said, companies will generally achieve what they measure. If you hand out bonuses and promotions based on UX, you’ll get great UX and you might generate great profits. If you do it based on profits, you’ll get great profits and you might get great UX.

    UX and profits are not mutually exclusive but you ignore one of them, you probably won’t achieve it.

  9. Thought provoking and eye opening article, my Google fan boy status has been successfully eroded a tad!

  10. Good argument. There really are good points being made on both sides. But my question, Tom, is about your view of Google not caring about “Webmasters and SEOs getting a fair shot at Page 1 results”. It seems like to me, in order to make money, you would have to care about this. In order to sell ads, Google needs to remain popular. To accomplish popularity, they give the best search results by giving Webmasters and SEOs a fair shot. With a level playing field, the best wins.

    • Valid point, but would agree with @internetfolks:disqus, it isn’t about fairness or sportsmanship for Google – it is purely about getting the best results for their for their users. To do this they know that a few eggs will get cracked – and that is fine as long as the results justify the means.

      • I’m not saying it’s about fairness or sponsorship. I’m saying, like you, it is purely about getting the best results for their users. For the most part, the cracked eggs are sites that are less liked by users. To show users the best results, they give Webmasters and SEOs a fair shot. This makes it so the best wins. In other words, on a level playing field, the result users want to see will surface to the top.

        I’m not saying they are being far to be fair. I’m saying they are being fair to make Search better so they can make more money.

        • I can appreciate both sides of the argument in that, as Webmaster and SEOs, we’re also Google users. To me, though, AdWords campaigns are sold on the back of one predominant statistic: Google has a massive market share.

          Is Google search better because it’s ‘fair’ to Webmasters? It doesn’t appear so to me. As long as the top results are not spammy, I doubt it matters to Google whether they are from Company A or Company B.

          • Well, I hope it doesn’t matter to Google whether the top results are Company A or Company B. But I do think it matters to them that the results are the best. I doubt that they are intentionally mediocre when it comes to their search results so they can focus on Adwords. There’s too much risk. I believe they are not holding back on their efforts to make search great, and a big part of that is to make things fair so the best sites can win. Anyway, I know we kind of veerd off your main topic a little. As far as your main topic goes, I think you have a really good argument about the link in Moz. Anything can be a violation and they certainly don’t have an ideal situation, being that it’s a guest post and all.

          • Go off-topic all you like, you raise some excellent points!

            I think the issue of “best results” will always be a controversial one, since the meaning of the word “best” is so subjective.

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