Matthew Woodward Embraces White Hat SEO (Almost…)

Matthew Woodward’s blog has received a lot of attention in the internet marketing world over the past year or so and deservedly so.

He writes excellent, high quality tutorials, answers questions/comments, publishes regularly and has built strong relations in the SEO community. He’s also a very helpful, approachable, genuinely nice guy. All the good stuff!

Unfortunately, there has been one big problem with Matt’s blog…

Many of those high quality tutorials have been primarily focused on black hat SEO and in particular automated/tiered link building.

So while Matt’s blog itself is a great example of how to do things the right way, a lot of the content has been contrary to my white hat principals.

Matt is clearly a very knowledgeable, experienced SEO and an excellent marketer, so I have found myself wondering if he really still believes in those (outdated) techniques or whether he is simply giving his audience what they want. After all, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you and, judging by his income reports, Matt has been eating very well recently…

The thing is, his tutorials, really demonstrate exceptionally well how to do black hat link building, it just… eh… doesn’t work anymore.

Well on Saturday, I was a little surprised to see Matt’s email popping into my inbox (I am a subscriber and you should be too!) with the title ‘Evolve Or Die – Why SEO Is Not SEO Anymore’. I clicked the link and sure enough, the post focused on why the tiered link building method he had previously advocated didn’t work anymore and why to succeed in 2014, his readers would have to change tactics.

It is an excellent article (although I don’t agree with it all as I will explain) and one that you should definitely read. You will find it here.

Having taking a few days to digest it, I have gone through it have prepared my own thoughts on what Matt has said.

So… here they are!

Tiered Link Building

A big cornerstone of Matt’s site has been his series on tiered link building. This was originally written 14 months ago and in Matt’s own words ‘a lot has changed’ since then.

Matt recognises that the model of tiered link building outlined in his original tutorials is no longer effective. This is good to see and doesn’t reflect negatively on his initial series (although I disagree with the methods) – 14 months is a hell of a long time on the web!

Unfortunately in my opinion, he doesn’t go quite far enough and still maintains that there is a place for tiered link building in your SEO strategy.

There is actually, but not the way Matt proposes.

There is a white hat way to do it which I will explain shortly.

What Matt Says Is Wrong With The Current Tiered Link Building Model

Matt states that there are 3 main problems with the way people are currently implementing the tiered link building model, these are: –

  • Poor content
  • Poor target site list
  • Focusing purely on tiered link building

Poor Content

Matt explains that in order to implement an effective tiered link building campaign you have to take time to spin your content properly.

The first one is poorly spun content. I know that spinning content properly takes time and is tedious, but it is essential for success.

If you take short cuts here you are going to waste all of your time.

Let me be clear on my position on this. Spinning content is wasting your time full stop.

Spun content is not unique content and with google increasingly able to infer meaning from content (see Hummingbird) and starting to look beyond just keywords, spinning content for your own site, or for link building is going to get you penalised/banned.

Poor Target Site List

Matt states that you should spend time scraping your own targeted list of sites for your tiered link building campaign.

Well, maintaining a list of target sites for your link building is a good idea, but certainly not for automated link blasts.

Focusing On Tiered Link Building

Matt explains that you shouldn’t focus all your SEO efforts in one area and must vary your link building.

This I certainly agree with, but obviously not the black hat way of building tiered links!

A White Hat Way To Build Tiered Links

The theory of tiered link building is sound (in principal).

If you have a page (B) that links to your money page/site (A), then boosting the power of that page (B), will give it more power to pass to your money page (A).

But you don’t have to resort to spam to do this!

Let’s take guest posting as an example.

A Guest Post

So, you publish a quality guest post on a related blog. When implemented correctly, guest blogging is an effective, white hat SEO tactic.

However, if we apply a little tiered link building theory we can get even more out of our guest posts.

If your money site is your first tier, then your guest post is effectively a tier 2 link. Here are some ways you can give that guest post more authority.

Social Media

The first thing to do is share/promote your guest post on your social media, just as you would an article on your own site. This is going to have 2 benefits: –

1) It should result in further retweets/shares from your followers
2) It’s going to build your relationship with the host site, who will be more likely to let you guest post in the future

Make sure you also submit the post to social voting sites like Reddit, etc.

Link To Your Guest Posts From Other Guest Posts!

Guest posts are not the place to build contextual links to your money site, they should be about building authority, which you do through the link in your author box (with authorship claimed through google+).

But why not link to your other guest posts where relevant?

If you have written a post on another site that adds to, or gives more information on the topic you are writing about, then include a contextual link to it.

The host site shouldn’t have a problem with this (as all your articles are top quality right?) and you will be boosting the power/authority of your other guest post.

Outreach For Your Guest Posts

When you publish a high quality guest post, you should think of it as an opportunity for outreach – just like an article on your own site.

Drop an email to webmasters who might be interested in sharing/linking to your post. You might even find you get a better response as you are not promoting your own site directly.

Other White Hat Link Building Methods

You can technically use any white hat link building method to build links to your guest post (tier 2 links) – building their authority and thereby boosting the power of your money site.

Of course, this will also boost the search rankings of your guest post, which will lead to more referral traffic!

See my post on white hat link building for some more tips.

Tiered Link Building Takeaway

You can use the theory of tiered link building to get more out of your SEO efforts without having to resort to black hat techniques!


  • No scraping
  • No link blasts
  • No content spinning


  • Make sure everything you post is excellent quality
  • Cite your other tier 2 links where relevant
  • Share on your social media
  • Use other white hat link building techniques

So, that’s tiered link building, here are some other points from Matt’s post, which I think are worth further comment…

Obsession With Ranking Number 1

Matt asks why people are obsessed with ranking number 1 for certain keywords. He states that: –

by purely focusing on trying to rank #1 for a specific keyword you are holding yourself back.

This is something I completely agree with and have written about a lot over the past few months.

For more on this see my article on why the real traffic is in the long tail and why, instead of asking how your website can get to number 1, you should ask yourself if your website deserves to be number 1.

Ranking Factors Have Changed

Matt states that: –

One of the bigger changes that has happened over the past 18 months is the fundamental way in which Google ranks websites.

He argues that social signals are in fact now more important than backlinks when it comes to ranking webpages.

Matt specifically cites this article from searchmetrics, which puts google +1s as the number 1 ranking factor and backlinks at number 3.

My Take

In my opinion, while social signals are indeed a key ranking factor, we are not quite there yet and (all things being equal) quality, authority building backlinks are still the most important factor in rankings.

This is not clear cut and is up for debate, but the best study I have seen so far is Eric Enge’s from back in September.

You should take the time to read the full article here, but Eric’s conclusion was that Google Plus Shares did not drive any material rankings changes (of non-personalized results).

Matt Cutts has said the same.

But The Word Yet…

I bolded the word yet for a reason.

I believe (and most SEOs would agree) that social signals will become an increasingly important ranking factor through 2014 and that plus shares will definitely impact rankings at some stage in the near future.

Certainly, if you are not active on google plus, then you should make it one of your main priorities for 2014.

And ignoring rankings…

Social drives huge direct traffic, so it should be a big part of your strategy!

Focus On Offering Value

Well, this is of course a drum that I bang constantly, so I won’t go into too much detail (just read any other article on my site!), but nice to see that Matt is advocating focusing your efforts on creating a quality website which offers a point of difference and real value to your users.

His examples of affiliate sites which do this well (Money Saving Expert, Compare The Market and Hot UK Deals) are also good.

SEO Is Now Internet Marketing

The latter part of Matt’s article focuses on why you should forget about many aspects of traditional SEO and concentrate on more traditional forms of marketing.

Well, here is how sales/marketing has worked for the past couple of thousand years…

  • Identify a problem
  • Create a product/service that solves that problem
  • Create a demand for that service

I have been involved in online marketing for 15 years and that is how I have worked since day one.

Sure there were a few tricks that used to work for traffic, but fundamentally, making money all comes down to having something valuable to offer and getting that in front of people who will be interested in it.

You can drive all the traffic under the sun, but ultimately if you have nothing to offer/say then it won’t convert. This is why your number 1 focus should always be on the quality of your site/content.

There was a comment on Matt’s article that said that this was boring and that it was all the white hat SEO guys bang on about in article after article. Well, there are good reasons for this:-

1) It’s true!
2) The message still isn’t getting through to everyone

You can’t spin, copy/paste and automate your way to success.

Making a living in internet marketing takes dedication, knowledge, patience and hard work. The internet is not some magical place where money grows on tress and creating a business online is much the same as creating a business offline.

But get it right and…

You can make a great living online.

Matt’s Problem

Matt recognises that admitting that things have to change puts him in a tricky position. People want a quick fix and a lot of his traffic/following has been built on telling his visitors that ranking sites is easy and can be automated. It’s what people want to hear.

He has also made a lot of money through promoting the tools which facilitate this automation… (sorry guys, they don’t work anymore)

It looks like for 2014, the focus of his blog will change to teaching his users to build a quality site and market it through cleaner methods.

Well, funnily enough, they only have to look at his own site and his zero backlink experiment as a shining example of how to do things the right way.

Or of course, they could follow my white hat SEO experiment….

What Do You Think?

Matt has developed a strong influence in the internet marketing community. For him to come out and say strongly that things have to change (and that his previous methods are now outdated) has taken a lot of balls and I admire him for that.

I think that 2014 is going to see more big changes from google and the final nail in the coffin for a lot of spammers. Matt says when summing up his article (and I agree with him) that this is an opportunity, a chance for the cream to rise to the top.

So, do you agree that SEO has changed? Do you agree that black hat SEO no longer works? Will you be focusing your efforts in 2014 on creating quality content and strong, targeted marketing? What do you think of Matt’s article? What do you think of my response? Let me know by dropping a comment below.

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