Running with Code Like with scissors, only more dangerous

18Feb/140

When SEO goes way too far

Posted by Rob Paveza

Please remember that my comments are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a technique in online marketing that deals with driving traffic to your site via search engine rankings. There are two main channels, active and passive, which differ primarily via ad spend (specifically, active SEO involves spending money on ads and passive does not). From there, there are a bunch of different ways to improve your credibility with customers: have a targeted domain name (e.g., MyBusiness.com), have meaningful paths within your domain name (e.g., MyBusiness.com/BusinessUnit/WorkingGroup), ensuring that the words on your site are relevant to your topic, or having other sites about your topic linking to your site (for example, a site about puppies being linked-to by a site about Beagles), which is referred to as organic traffic. I learned a lot about SEO when I worked at Terralever, where as a developer I did a lot of work to implement the SEO designs our marketing team put together. SEO in and of itself isn't a problem; in fact, it's important to allow sites to be found by search engines.

But SEO can be abused. Search engines have rules that detect when website operators are trying to break into their heuristics, and if these rules are violated it can lead to a black-listing of your site or business. One of the most famous occurrences of these was JC Penney in 2010-2011, where Penney had hired an SEO firm to optimize their inbound traffic. The SEO firm in question created thousands of other sites, linking to Penney's main site, and driving the site to the top of Google's rankings. When search engines' crawlers detect inbound links to a site from other sites about the same topic, that's termed an organic link, and it substantially boosts the credibility of the site. Google famously (at least in marketing circles) punished Penney by substantially reducing its ranking (one example was from #1 to #68).

I know a lot about SEO from my old days working in that field. And yet, I was still fooled by this one.

Dylan, our new puppy

Dylan, our new puppy

My wife and I have been talking about adopting a puppy for about a year and a half. I've never raised a puppy, and our other dog, Samson, recently turned four years old. With us hoping to have a human child soon, Meredith thought that if I ever wanted to raise a puppy (for it to still be my dog), we should do it soon. I've wanted to get a Beagle for a long while, and after having been watching local shelters for a Beagle puppy for a long while and rarely if ever seeing one come available, we concluded that we'd need to find a breeder. I'm not generally a huge fan of breeders, but I also don't necessarily feel bad going to one if I think the arrangement will be good. We did some searching, found a site called Washington Beagle Breeders, and found a pup we thought would be a good fit for us. We chatted to one of the reps for a bit, and Dylan sounded like he'd be a good pup for us. And the arrangement with the people from the website seemed pretty cool - a way for breeders to just go through an internet presence and not have to worry about managing a website and all of that on their own. I thought, hey, if I was a breeder, that's a service I'd probably like!

When we were making our final decision, we were missing one crucial piece of information. One piece that was explicitly deceptive about the website.

Dylan wasn't from a breeder in Washington. Dylan was from a breeder outside of St. Louis, Missouri.

By now we were emotionally invested in going forward with Dylan. The breeder's rep informed us that there would be an additional travel fee on top of the base price of the dog, that we wouldn't be able to meet Dylan before the adoption, and that we'd be on the hook for a return fee and a service fee if we decided not to move forward with the adoption. I couldn't imagine we'd want to return the dog, but that put me off. But by now, like I said, we were pretty emotionally invested, and decided that would be okay. I figured it was within the same general measure of distance of flights we usually take - 3-4 hours - and that wouldn't be too bad. We arranged the travel and planned all of the timing, etc. Dylan was scheduled to arrive this afternoon.

This morning, checking the flight status, I found out:

  • Dylan wasn't on a direct flight from STL to SEA, but instead had a connection in Salt Lake City.
  • Although he was scheduled to arrive at SEA at 12:20pm local time, he was dropped off at 10pm the night before in St. Louis for a 6:45am flight out.

If you read up on raising puppies, you'll find out that puppies generally need to go to the restroom every 4-5 hours. You might be lucky enough to have a dog who can sleep through the night at 13 weeks, but you need to let him out. But by my calculations, he was in his crate for at least 15 hours. That meant he slept in his pee and poop for a long while. He's got a lot of energy and can't get out of his crate.

Keeping the dog confined for that long, I'd understand. I think it'd suck, but I get it. But since the dog is unable to control his bowel and bladder for that long, I think it's just rotten.

Never again will I go through an online breeder. We'll only ever go through a local rescue or a local breeder.

I want to show you the specifics. Check out these sites:

washingtonbeaglebreeders.com and beagle.washingtonpuppiesforsale.com

washingtonbeaglebreeders.com and beagle.washingtonpuppiesforsale.com

californiabeaglebreeders.com

californiabeaglebreeders.com

newyorkbeaglebreeders.com

newyorkbeaglebreeders.com

Will I ever do business again with a breeder? Maybe. I don't think breeders themselves are the problem. And I even think a middleman isn't necessarily bad -- like I said, I probably would have been excited to find a broker like this if I were a breeder. If Purebred Breeders (the company really behind all of these sites) was actually based in Washington, I wouldn't have had a problem with them. But the fact that these dogs aren't actually in Washington, or California, or Arizona, or New York - and the fact that the sites work so hard to make it feel like they are (Washington Beagle Breeders' site uses a Washington-based phone number - area code 206) - it just disgusts me.

And I'm disappointed with myself for not having realized that I was being played.

All of that being said, happily, my puppy and our current dog seem to be getting along just splendidly now that they've settled in:

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