De omnibus dubitandum
11 May 2010
Back in late 2008 a new blog about search engine marketing was launched – Searchcowboys.com. It was a spin-off from the popular Dutch marketing blog Dutchcowboys and it would be an English-language blog focused on the European search engine industry.
When a call came for new bloggers for Searchcowboys, I applied. The editor of the blog, Bas van den Beld, took a chance and gave me, an unproven and relative newcomer to the SEO blogging scene, the opportunity to write for SC. I was grateful for the chance and I did my best to regularly deliver good content.
Under Bas’s guidance and through his efforts as editor in chief SC became one of the most popular search engine blogs. He managed to gather a team of great SEO bloggers, among them some well-known names in the industry, and he got a number of great guest bloggers to write posts for SC now and then. Yet Bas himself was by far the most active writer, with a couple of posts a day. The second-most active writer turned out to be me, and I managed just about one post every two weeks. So the success of SC could really only be attributed to Bas.
But SC was a part of the Dutchcowboys network controlled by Henk de Hooge, and so Bas never really owned the blog. He ran it, but he was constrained by its limitations. Additionally, the blog had developed a certain style, one that focused on quick & dirty SEO news.
So I wasn’t too surprised when Bas announced he would be leaving Searchcowboys and pursue a somewhat different path. I was disappointed at first, because I knew that Bas was the engine that powered SC and it would take a strong person to replace Bas and keep SC going. But at the same time I was excited, because change can be a good thing and I was eager to see what direction the DC owners of the blog would take things in.
What I expected to happen was that the owners behind SC, Henk or someone else, would contact the bloggers and explain what would happen next. Maybe they would ask for one of the established bloggers to take Bas’s position, or maybe they would appoint a new editor in chief and let us all know about it.
But nothing happened. We heard nothing. Absolute silence. Bas left and immediately the number of posts appearing on SC dropped to almost nothing. At the same time comment spam started appearing on the blog, as apparently no one was filtering this out any more. It was a bit embarrassing really.
We did get one post from Henk de Hooge, in which he thanked Bas for all his hard work and explained that SC would start to focus more on social media. But that was all. One public thank-you post, but no email to the contributing bloggers. No call for a new editor. Just silence.
The only change we saw at first was the addition of a handful of new bloggers, and some new content going up on the site. Nowhere near the amount of content that the site produced under Bas, but at least it was something. We didn’t see a welcome post for the new bloggers, which had been customary under Bas, but this was probably just an oversight. One of the new bloggers corrected this and wrote a post introducing himself to the SC audience.
I ended up talking on IM with one of the other new bloggers at length, and he explained to me what Henk had also said in his post on SC – that the people behind SC wanted to focus the blog a bit more on social media. That sounded fine to me – search and social media are becoming entwined to a degree, and it makes sense to talk about both. Yet the fact that we had to hear this from a blog post on the site instead of a personal email to the bloggers still sat wrong with me. Throughout all this Henk, the owner of the site, had never taken the time to talk to the bloggers directly.
Bas went on to start a new blog called State of Search. While also focusing on search engine marketing, Bas positioned this new blog very differently. It wasn’t to be a quick & dirty SEO news blog, but a blog for analysis, background information, and much more in-depth content. I thought this was a great idea, as this new SoS blog would complement SC perfectly: SC for the fast-moving news, SoS for the in-depth analysis.
I almost begged Bas to let me write for State of Search as well, because I felt it was going to be a great platform for me to write the sort of thing I couldn’t necessarily write for SC. I’d done a few in-depth articles for SC about SEO migration projects, but somehow these didn’t really fit in well with the other SC articles. SC was a news blog and other types of content didn’t really work on there.
At this stage I was fully expecting to be writing for SC and for SoS simultaneously. I’d post the occasional SEO news story on SC, and would publish my in-depth articles on SoS. Things muddled along like this for a short while. The new bloggers wrote some articles, I wrote a blog post for SC, and I also started writing for SoS.
But then suddenly things changed again. More new bloggers were added to SC, again without any introduction, and the content these guys produced was mediocre at best. Worse, the articles they put up were crammed with links back to their own sites.
Now you have to understand that SC was never a platform for self-promotion. We had a sort of gentleman’s agreement – you write good content for SC, you don’t promote yourself too obviously, and in return you’ll get some visibility and a few links on your blogger profile page. Once in a while you can drop a link to your own site in a blog post, but only if it was relevant.
But these new bloggers had no restraint when it came to self-promotion. Links to their own sites were put in every single post they wrote, using the juiciest anchor text possible. These links added no value, did not apply to the content of the articles, and so existed purely for promotional reason.
I felt this was unacceptable. This was so shameless, so vulgar, it felt like people were spamming the SC blog. I wrote an email to the generic webmaster email address at SC objecting to this, and I did get a reply from a guy called Jeroen. He said he’d talk to Henk about it.
At this stage I still had some confidence in SC. I hoped Henk would realise the site needed a strong guiding hand to keep it going strong.
But no such thing materialised. The spammers continued, more mediocre posts appeared on the site containing spammy irrelevant links. Comment spam ran wild for days on end until someone behind the scenes could be bothered deleting it. SC was quickly turning in to a very unpleasant, low-quality blog.
Like many SEOs I’d rather not be associated with spammy blogs. So I stopped writing for SC. I felt that if I continued to be posting on SC, I’d be associated with the spammers that had taken over the blog. Instead I chose to wait, hoping that someone would step in and take back the site from the spammers and start producing quality content again.
But that never happened. Months went by and SC turned in to a vulgar spam blog.
Then one of the old-guard SC bloggers wrote a post on the site to say goodbye to SC and explaining why he was leaving. I wholeheartedly agreed with him. Another blogger followed, and I too chimed in with my 2 cents in my usual unsubtle, sarcastic way. The mess that SC had become was now on public display for the world to see.
You’d expect that someone behind the scenes would come out and try to fix things. Maybe even admit that yes, they let SC slip, they handed it over to spammers, and the site went down the drain. Sorry, we made a mistake, let’s try to fix it.
But no. That didn’t happen. Again, total silence. All we got was one tweet from Henk in which he not-so-subtly blames the departed editor Bas for the whole mess, implying Bas set us bloggers up to ruin SC.
I think that pissed me off most of all. The only thing Bas ever did that harmed SC was leave it. Henk had every chance to keep SC going strong. All he needed to do was put a new, strong editor in charge. But Henk fucked up. Henk didn’t communicate with anyone. Henk just handed the SC blog over to lame spammers, and now Henk doesn’t want to take responsibility for the mess he has created. Instead Henk immediately starts finger-pointing at others, shifting the blame away from himself.
Well, sorry to say this Henk, but you fucked up. It’s because of your total lack of leadership that Searchcowboys is now in such total disarray. Bas built a great blog and left a strong legacy, and all you did with it was piss on it.
I deeply regret what happened to SC. It was a great blog that for a time produced great content. But it was destroyed by a total lack of leadership and a couple of really bad decisions from its Dutchcowboys owners.
I doubt SC can recover from this, but one thing is sure: whatever happens to SC, I won’t be part of it any longer.