The Great Ghost Posting Scandal

I recently had an experience here on {grow} that sickened me.  I feel betrayed and I think it illustrates another example of the whacked-out SEO ethical approaches in our business as Google juicers  search for the Almighty Backlink.

Earlier this year I was approached by a guy named David Murton to do a guest post for {grow}.  I would say I get at least 2-3 requests like this every day.  The ones from obvious spammers or people trying to get product placements are typically easy to spot but David seemed sincere in his request to get exposure for his writing.

I didn’t know him and responded that guest posts are reserved for people who are active in the community. If somebody is active in the comment section or makes a reasonable attempt to connect with me on Twitter, I’ll certainly support community members in any way I can, including a guest post opportunity if appropriate.

David started showing up in my conversation stream so when I received a list of possible blog post ideas from him I was receptive. The ideas seemed unexceptional and I challenged him to dig deep and come up with a post that only he could write … the advice I give to every blogger, in fact.

Forsooth, the post arrives

A few days later, I received a finished post with a note explaining that he took my advice and “took a risk” with his writing. The post was highly original — in the form of a Shakespearean play. I thought it was too long so I challenged him to tighten it up a bit. He was a little defensive, wanting to protect the integrity of his writing, but did a good job on the final product.

I ran the post, “A Classic Take on Social Media,” April 8 with his requested backlink to his online business cleverly embedded in the copy. The post received several nice compliments from readers. His response in the comment section: “Glad you liked the post, it was a real pleasure preparing this one!”

That was the last I thought about it until last week when I received a cryptic comment on this now four-month-old post.  “I’m glad most of you liked the post.  I’m the guy who really wrote it.  My name is William Harwood and I was paid $50 for it.”

I contacted Mr. Harwood and said that if he was claiming that David Murton was fraudulent, he better back it up.  He folllowed with more than 20 emails, proving the authenticity of his piece and exposing at least six other examples where David Murton had claimed authorship of a post that was not his own work on various blogs. He also presented an example where David’s business partner seemed to have similarly duped Ari Herzog, a frequent commenter on {grow} and a blogger I admire.

Ultimate douche-baggery?

As I pieced together the facts, here is what appeared to have occurred. William had been employed as a freelancer to provide content to Skyvision Enterprises, a company involved in a number of SEO services including building backlinks through well-placed content. Mr. Murton purchased content from this company but presented it to me, and apparently other bloggers, as his original material.

When William Harwood googled his writing to see if it had been used anywhere, he found David taking credit for the ghost-written work, which he characterized as the ultimate “douche baggery.”  Although he had been paid for his work, he understood it was to be used anonymously in corporate blogs and publications.

I spoke to one of the owners of Skyvision, Greg Asseff, and he seemed sensitive to the situation and apologetic. His job, he explained, was to match business needs with content but what happened after that was out of his control.

I also reached out to David Murton, and after several days, I received an email explaining “I don’t try to mislead anyone, especially people that I work with. As you can see in William’s comment, he freely offers that he was paid for writing this article – I never tried to deceive or take advantage of anyone.”

I responded, with this request:  “Here is all I need to know. Why is it Ok for you to present this to me as your original writing — and take credit for it as your original writing — when it clearly was not? Do you think this is an honest business practice? Is it worth deceiving me — and apparently many others — to get a link?”

I have not received a reply.

The ghost blogging debate

I’m actually OK with ghost blogging under certain circumstances. I think it fills an important role for busy executives (especially those who are not good writers) and the community explored that topic in the post Can you out-source authenticity?  I also had a lively debate with Mitch Joel about it.

The community feedback from these dialogues helped create an outstanding list of best practices for ghost blogging .

So I’m not saying ghost blogging in our world of content marketing is wrong per se, especially with the guidelines around transparency provided in these posts.

But here’s the one principle that can’t be compromised in business. You. Can’t. Lie.

In this case, I was deceived. You were deceived. And here’s the message I would like to send to everyone in the business of chasing backlinks.  Please, look at what you’re doing.  If your primary business objective is to create SEO gold through deception, just think about what kind of a business environment you are creating. Is this something you are proud of?

The world of blogging and SEO seems to be in its own little world where the rules of business integrity often don’t apply. We seem to have an attiitude of “well, that’s just the way it’s done” without considering the moral, legal and ethical ramifications of our daily business practices.

Are we disconnected from ethics?

I’ve been employed in business for nearly 30 years. I’ve worked in Fortune 100 companies, start-ups and everything in between. I have faced gut-wrenching ethical situations with vast legal and financial consequences.  In other words, I’m not naive.

But when I see the daily trove of SEO bullshit that comes across my desk I just think WTF? What is this blogging business about?  What are we allowing — encouraging — as SEO professionals and marketers?

In this specific case, I am going to delete the Shakespeare post.  I thought about various options but that just seems to be the cleanest option.  I’ll leave it up until the end of July because it is relevant to this article. It’s kind of like looking at the wreck before it is moved to the side of the rode.

I’m not going to stop trusting people, but I guess I have to be more careful accepting content from people I don’t know well. I will also be able to link to this post as a cautionary tale to future guest bloggers.

Does this re-open the whole ghost blogging debate?  What’s your take on this situation?  Would you have handled it differently?

Addendum: Based on the feedback in the comment section, I decided to not delete the original post, but amend it to acknowledge William Harwood as the author.

All posts

  • Thanks for writing this, Mark. David has guest posted on Social Media Explorer before as well. Like your experience, I had some back and forth with him to get his first post in shape. It was fairly well done and received. I didn’t do extensive research to see if it had been written by someone else, though now I’m leery as to whether or not it was.

    He has since pitched me again, but with a post that was a bit more promotional that I cared for, so I declined. But I’m glad you’ve reported the experience you’ve had with him. It certainly defines how I will respond, and how I will be skeptical of new guest post pitchers in the future.

  • Wow. NOT COOL.

    There should be some kind of blacklist for people who try to pull stuff like this – I don’t understand why anyone would think that honesty and integrity are optional…

  • Nope, I agree with you.  Unethical is unethical in every realm. 

  • “Ack!” to quote Bill the Cat, “Hairball!” I’ve had my work co-opted once a few times and it just makes me nuts. In one case I contacted a lawyer. Response: “Unless you’re Malcolm Forbes, your chances of winning a lawsuit are nil. Move on.” I did but it still rankles.
     
    Your response and actions were considered and correct. And I agree with Danny: honesty and integrity are not optional. While a blacklist is tempting, however, getting the word out and exposing such dishonest behavior should put a significant wrench in this operators operations.
     
    Keep the faith, Mark, don’t let the creeps colour your world.

  • Mark, I’m glad you wrote about this.  I’m appalled by the number of SEO charlatans prowling cyberspace.  Most, as you say, are easy to spot, but occasionally they sneak in their deception.  Caveat emptor.

  • Annette Penney

    I recently declined an offer for social media marketing work with a celebrity, citing “ethics” (it’s a component of how I run my business). The silence on the other end was disconcerting. Probably because this potential client rarely hears about ethics anymore. How in the world did this guy think that the original author wouldn’t find his own work online? We all Google ourselves and our publications/writings/posts once in a while. 

    Idiot.

  • P.S. — I just deleted 14 spam comments from “SEO gurus” from my blog, a daily activity.  I get 15- 20 spam comments per day.  Unbelievable!

  • So, he paid for the content, but not the actual ghost writing service? Is that correct? If so, shady and not cool. Search is 99% driven by text. How did he think he wasn’t going to get caught?

    If he had just paid for a ghost writer, I would think the only hurdle would be whether or not you allowed ghost writing (or any sort of ghost contribution) to posts, but not paying for that right and then passing it off as your own is unethical.

    I feel like I’ve seen other guest posts, and even posts from you, on here that have attributed ideas and contributions to people other than the person being largely credited. I know I did that in a guest post on {grow}. And, how hard is it really to say something like “I’d like to thank X [maybe with a link?] for helping me clean up my writing” or facts or whatever else?

  • Mark, I commend anyone in this space who is willing to make what may seem like tough choices, and do the right thing. This issue isn’t unique to our time, or our exalted social media halls. But by gosh it does seem to be so pervasive at times. As you probably know, I have a small company of two people, hence the Two Bananas name. We don’t make our living by blogging, ghost blogging, or the like. We don’t (or at least haven’t yet) write books, do the speaking circuit, or do events for our pay. But we put much thought and stock in the advice folks like you and others in this realm provide. People like you, Jay Baer, Jason Falls, and many others. 
    As much as we might like to think otherwise at times, we are part of an industry that is overwhelming  consumers with a tsunami of information, increasingly tailored with what is thought to be the unique attributes of the individual. But it misses the mark, quite simply because it is by nature intrusive, and driven by advertising. My mantra for some time now has been that we as marketers need to rethink how and what we do, and start by putting the consumer in control of their own destiny. That is the real promise of this whole social media enchilada. 
    But getting there as a practitioner has some fundamental requirements. And probably the most fundamental of these is reputation. Not influence, not number of followers, not place on the NYT Best Seller list. Reputation will be the key for everything as this shift in marketing occurs, and trust me, it will and is. Reputation is earned, and it is dynamic. I tried to make this a rallying point a couple of months ago when I interviewed Kara Swisher at All Things Digital. That post on our blog was an exception to our aversion to chasing the limelight. 
    I had a similar conversation the other day when discussing how many companies go about fine tuning content, essentially to move the dial into the green. And the point I tried to make was that when content drifts away from being helpful, honest, and caring, even though it may move the dial, it suffers ultimately. And reputation is slowly damaged, like water carving out the Grand Canyon.
    So thanks for doing the right thing, somehow I would never doubt that you wouldn’t. Because your reputation is stainless. 
     

  • Erica Allison

    That’s extremely disappointing, Mark.  I can only imagine how infuriated and “duped” you must have felt.  I always want to believe the best in people until they give me a reason not to; unfortunately, this guy gave you a really good reason.

  • Mark,
    Great post – and one I relate to. David Murton submitted a post for a blog I edit as well. I had a number of questions/suggestion for his post to clarify points and make it more applicable for our audience, but I never heard back on the edits and so I never ran the post. Interesting that so many of us have run into him. 

    As you say, it’s typically pretty easy to spot a spammer, but sometimes it’s tough to tell. As someone who accepts guest posts, I wonder what my responsibility is to to make sure the content is indeed original?  I don’t have a formal process to validate the originality of every post. If I have doubts, I would look into it, but I often rely on my gut and the writer’s word. I wonder what other editors do? It makes me queasy to think I’d run content from someone who hasn’t authored it. 

    Michele 

  • That’s really a sad story. You gave the guy a chance, and he tricked you.

    The lower costs of entry feed this fly-by-night mentality. When will these types get that you make so much more money building honest value.

    Anyway, the more we all spread that message, the more of these guys can be saved from their spammy ways…

  • What really sucks about stuff like this is that hardworking stiffs like me wind up not getting a break because now people don’t want guest posts because they are rightfully afraid of being burned.  Some people ruin things for everyone else. What a waste. The only good thing is that he got exposed for what he was – a liar.

  • Wow – I didn’t see that coming. It’s shocking and utterly sad. Yes, there is a time and a place for ghost blogging – especially in the corporate arena. But that is entirely different – there you are writing as a brand, not as you. This, is just down-right deceit.

    I think this is why it’s important to know who you are dealing with first. But man, how could you have known in this instance? He engaged in your blog and edited the post as you requested. I would have fallen for it too.

    The sad part of this is it will undoubtedly hurt those with legitimate pitches and guest post offers as I’m sure we’ll all be a little more careful who we allow on our blogs. It’s just too bad.

  • I’m curious why you are choosing to delete the entire post rather than simply replace the URL in his links there with a # and add a disclaimer to the top of that post which points back here?

  • Mark, as you point out, the standards seem to be different in blogging and SEO. That said, I have to wonder if the standards really are different or if SEO and blogging are more democratized and therefore more people are actually exposed to the underbelly of the industry. 

    I’ve seen bribes and kickbacks as standard business practices in some markets, they are intended to buy something you could not rightfully earn. Does blogging just expose slimy people and businesses to the rest of us? 

    It may be a merely intellectual question, but it is an important one as new platforms, and new opportunities for shady peddlers, emerge. [My answer is Yes, it just exposes and provides more opportunity for these behaviors.]

    @JasonFalls:disqus , @cminstitute:disqus , Mark (and others), you referenced potentially doing background research on guest post submissions. For something like the David Murton case here, how would you find that it isn’t original? What tip-offs can you look for beyond consistent writing style from the author when the content has not been published before? 

  • Oh man this reeks. WTF indeed! I really despise people who behave like this and boy, how angry you must have felt being tricked by this character. I would have been outraged. It’s like you’ve exposed the seedy underbelly of the blogosphere with this post. Well I’m sure there is much worse, but this unethical behavior not only reeks, it now makes bloggers like you have to go through extra steps to scrutinize every guest poster you don’t know. Maybe popular bloggers like you need a fixed set of guidelines to go through, or as Danny suggested finding some way to blacklist these people, purge them from the system 🙂

  • Does that mean, a link in your blog is worth only 50$…
     
    J
     
    No, I am just kidding.
     
    But it seems (at least for me) a new way of getting links. And as I learned from a conference some weeks ago, this price is definitely not on the high range. As Eric said, SEO is not a purely ethical game…
     
    In my blog so far I accept only guest posts from people I know, but my blog is not as popular as yours (so far) and I do not receive daily calls for guest blogging. It is more the other way round…
     
    I think you handled it excellent and it is again a sign of your ethic behavior, that you dislike such things and that is one of the reasons I followed your social activities: You are straight in what you are saying!
     
    So keep on!
     
    Kind regards from Germany
     
    Hansjörg

  • Incidents like this make it more difficult for legitimate writers to get guest-blogging opportunities. (You, Jason Falls, and others have already commented that you will now view guest bloggers with a more skeptical eye.) David Murton’s assertion that he did nothing wrong because he paid for the work is ridiculous. Excusing for a moment the paltry sum involved (especially for a truly “ghost-written” piece that includes a by-line for the client), David apparently never told William Harwood his true intentions for the piece. Misleading your writer (strike one), misleading your publisher (strike two), and then acting like you’ve done nothing wrong when you get caught (strike three). Seems like blog publishers and writers alike should steer clear of this guy. Thanks for the heads-up, Mark.

  • Mark,

    I’ve always felt really strongly that you can outsource strategy, but you shouldn’t be outsourcing content creation for your business. Anytime I talk to a client who wants me to run their blog for them, I have to tell them it makes no sense. I have a friend who is an MDPHD student at UCSF, arguably the best med school in the world. He wanted to start a podcast to interview admissions officers and he wanted me to do the interviews. I had to explain to him what a bad idea that was since I don’t know anything about med school and I wouldn’t know where to begin.Nobody can write about their own business like the person who owns it because they live and breathe it on a daily basis. Yet, there’s a bunch of people who want to outsource the actual content creation part of things. Can you have an authentic ghostwriter? Maybe. But I think you’d be better off admitting that people who are writing for your company have their own blogs. Anytime I get requests from people who want to write for my blog and have a site like onlinedegrees I tend to delete them because I don’t want those kinds of writers on my site. So I’d say, yes you can have ghostwriters, but you need to make sure that they’re of high quality and credible. 

  • Thanks Jason. Always an honor to have you drop by the {grow} community.

  • It’s a tough call.  I see a lot of people being swept up in this backlink frenzy without thinking about what they are doing. I’m sincerely willing to forgive anybody who makes a mistake and tries to do better. I don’t like the idea of a black list for that reason. We all make mistakes. Thanks so much for commenting Danny!

  • Thanks, Julie.

  • Thanks for this very wise and supportinve comment, Nancy. And I especially love the Bill the Cat reference.  Have not thought about that favorite character for a long time! : )

  • Hi Eric,
    I mostly use writers I know and trust just as Mark and Jason do. But, like them, I get submissions from people I do not know. Blatent spam is easy to spot, but as you say, what do you do when you don’t know the source and the person appears to check out? 
      
    I found this article with some resources on how to spot plagerism that may help: http://www.plagiarismtoday.com/stopping-internet-plagiarism/1-how-to-find-plagiarism/

    Michele 

  • Blogger emptor too I suppose : )

  • Ann M Augustine

    I have to say, this bad usage of ghostwriting spells foul play. I’m glad you exposed this unethical strategy, Mark. Thanks for the heads up and deleting a post that you really don’t want your valuable readership exposed to either. Let’s encourage ghostwriters to obtain better contracts and be more aware of a sound business approach.

  • It’s been interesting following your story Annette. Like so many, your celebrity friend seems to be addicted to this mentality of free. I’m glad you stood up for yourself. 

    I don;t really know David. He’s probably not an idiot but I think he got lost along the way. I hope this post will be a wake up call for those in our field trying to game the system.  There are many, many people who get links and other benefits from my blog and many other blogs by being honest business people.

  • If you’re using WordPress, there are plug-ins that will help you. It catches about 95% of the spam for me.

  • Well said.  We should be lifting up other people as much as we can. It’s a big world. We can all prosper.  Thanks Eric!

  • I am sitting at my desk applauding.  I’m not kidding. Spectacular comment, Marty.

  • The sick thing about many aspects of marketing these days is that MOST people are trying to dupe you, if you judge by assessing the email pitches I receive!  Thank you for your gift today Erica.

  • Anonymous

    What a depressing post! Sometimes I think SEO stands for “Screw Ethics Outright.” 

    One point of clarification: Did this Murton guy have a trail of posts on his own blog? In his biographical note, he claims to be “a professional writer and blogger,” but when I followed the link, I found exactly zero blogging. Wouldn’t that ring alarm bells? I mean, I can see that guest bloggers should be active in your community, Mark, but I’d certainly be suspicious of any writer who hasn’t bothered to build a community of his own. To me, that would have SEO written all over it.

  • Hey Mark, that’s a good point, and I didn’t mean an “eternal damnation” kind of blacklist – just a place that we can go to look up people, so there’s a record. 🙂

  • First may I say that it is an aboslute delight to see my dear friend Michele back in the comment section!  I hope you and your family are enjoying your summer!

    I do trust people but where I feel down a little is that I probably invited this guy to game me. I didn’t know him.  If you look at the people in the comment section today so far — @jasonfalls @ericaallison:twitter @ericpratum:disqus and @lauraclick  — I have known you now for years in some cases. I would go to the ends of the earth for you and we have all done wonderful collaboration together.  THAT is the spirit of a blog community. Everyone wins in so many ways.  So I let this guy take a bit of a shortcut and it didn;t work out but my faith in my community is undiminished.

  • Amen.  If we all uphold to decent standards where will these people go? I am enjoying your great comments Peter. Thank you!

  • I disagree.  You do things right Nancy. You are a real, caring person. That comes through on every post and comment that you compose.  Your light shines through and people will be drawn to that. We need more Nancys. : )

  • Yeah, this stung but I’ll just have to be more careful. It makes me appreciate folks like you all the more Laura!  I trust you completely!!

  • That was the first thing I thought about Chris. Do you think that is a better option?  I was going to give credit to the orginal writer and put some kind of disclaimer. With all the comments etc. this just seemed the easiest way to go but I’m kind of neutral on it but am open to feedback and other options.

  • Hi Mark – as the owner of a firm that provides SEO services for clients (along with others) to me it’s another example of why SEO companies have horrible reputations. I agree 100% – you can’t lie. You shouldn’t lie. The method of getting that backlink is super shady. From a technical standpoint it’s an interesting tactic, however it’s unethical as it is, in fact, lying.

    Ghost blogging for a business is one thing – we do that – however ghost guest blogging is another. The fact that David said this was his own work when it wasn’t makes it unethical and uber shady.

    I think you handled it as it should be handled. And thank you for outing this person so that others are not coned as you and Ari have been.

    Sad state of affairs. There are many other ways to get good backlinks…

  • I have been fortunate to work with ethical companies and ethical customers for the most part. There are always individuals who have to rely on unethical behaviors because they are ill-equipped to compete any other other way but in my experience they generally get flushed out eventually.  The issue of bribes is a serious one. I recognize that is how business gets done in certain parts of the world. It has become a cultural more as much as an ethical one.

    But I really do think there is an underlying current of dishonesty in the blog/internet marketing  world. Nearly every day I think to myself “Where did these people come from? Do they not realize this is an unacceptable business practice?”

    Here is the root business case for SEO: Trick Google. I know there is more to it than that, but if they didn’t have to trick Google, there would be no industry, right?  So basically a multi-billion-dollar industry is built on tricking another company and it descends from there. There is white-hot competition to be the trickiest trickster. At its core, that is what led to this debacle. We will trick Mark in order to trick Google (with a backlink) in order to trick consumers into thinking my company is creating extraordinary value.

    I do think this is a different animal Eric.  This is not business as usual.

  • I’m feeling so sad and sorry for you Mark as I read about your “great ghost post scandal” 
     
    While my “post scandal” is not the same as what you are experiencing now; when found I’ve deleted, replaced the original and requested removal of several of my articles copied and posted on other web sites without permission.  Some owners of these web sites comply with my requests for removal, and others pay no mind to the breach made in our relationship.
     
    Your honesty and integrity is a welcome “breath of fresh air” that flows through this anemic social media world we currently find ourselves.
     
    “Keep on truckin” Mark sharing how what was done made you feel…

  • Anonymous

    Hi Mark,

    Totally understand how you feel. Playing these kind of games for SEO is really shortsighted.
    This is something I touched on today in a post.

    “Google can’t optimise the best of you. It can’t optimise what makes you
    and your work unique. And most important of all, Google can’t really
    optimise for what the non-average, exceptional, client wants to invest
    in.
    Google can’t optimise your purpose, your heart or your soul, your art or your judgement, your professionalism and enthusiasm.”
     
    You can buy traffic but you can’t meaningfully convert that without integrity.

  • A good point. I actually do have a set of guidelines for guest posts but I never considered that I needed to add “this has to be your own writing.” Never even occurred to me. But yes, that line will be added as of today. Thanks, Craig!

  • Thanks for this very kind comment Hansjörg.  This is a pretty common ruse here in the U.S. generally it is easy to spot because the email pitch goes like this:

    Dear Michael:

    I really enjoy your blog, especially (name of last blog post).  And I also liked (second to last blog post). I’m wondering if I can write a blog post on behalf of my company …

  • Thank you very much for taking the time to add your opinion to the discussion today Carl. Much appreciated!

  • One time I was working with a CEO who was facing a crisis. He was trying his best to write his own blog to address the crisis but it was coming out all legalistic.  Finally, I said, let me take a crack at it. I basically used his own words, added a little heart, and cut out the “heretofor’s”

    In my mind, this was an excellent example of the power of a ghost writer. I was helping my friend better articulate what was in his heart and mind — and in his own words. Some people suck at writing but they still have to represent their companies and brands in a professional way.  This was a one-off but if there is a pattern of ghost-writing, some place on the blog the other writers need to be acknowledged.

    Thanks Srini!

  • Well said, Ann.  Thanks for commenting!

  • Nathan Dube

    Seriously! That is so incredibly lame. Absolutely disgusting display of deception. Thanks for this post though Mark, a valuable lesson indeed…

    This of course will come back to this man and his business. Whether you call it karma, the law of threes or reaping what you sew he will get his.

  • I’m not naive. I knew this was an SEO play and I don’t mind helping people out because I know that backlinks help. But he threw me a curve because he was able to point to other posts he had published but as far as I can see, none of it was his own work.   

  • Thanks for the voice of reason today, Robert!

  • That whole issue is another whole scam Dr. Rae. Don’t even get me started on that. People rip off my stuff all the time. I have bascially given up. I can’t stop them. Just don’t have the time, which is exactly what they hope for : (

  • wow, that’s crazy! taking seo ethics to a whole new level. I’m glad you brought light to this as I can now educate my clients better on the potential risks of guests posts on their blogs.

    Thanks Mark!

  • Thanks Bernadette. I would invite you to leave the link to your post. We would love to see it. Thanks!

  • I like that idea Chris

  • Thanks for caring enough to comment Nathan.

  • Thanks for adding to the discussion Bradley. I’m glad this was helpful.

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  • I accept your choice Mark and apologize for “touching a raw nerve” with my comment : ( 

  • I’d keep the post up, give proper credit to the author, remove links to the D-bag’s site, update your guest post rules, and finally send a Dos (Denial of Service) attack to his servers. You might want to keep the last suggestion on the down low..

  • I’d keep the post up, give proper credit to the author, remove links to the D-bag’s site, update your guest post rules, and finally send a Dos (Denial of Service) attack to his servers. You might want to keep the last suggestion on the down low..

  • That’s not my style, but thanks for the “aggressive” option : )

  • Thanks, Mark. The feeling is mutual!

  • Karen Bice

    FWIW, Mark, I think the post should remain with credit being given to the actual writer. William Harwood wrote a great post. I saw his comment via email after he posted it and was wondering what was going on. The other guy just lost himself any credibility.

  • Mark, thanks for the response. The great currency of Google seems to be bringing out the worst in people then. Disheartening, but thanks for sharing your experience openly.

    You make me count my limited blog exposure as a blessing (momentarily at least).

  • Debra Mastaler

    Mark, when you spoke with Greg at Skyvision, did you ask him if they told all their writers the content they produced would be used “anonymously”?   And in reading the emails William H shared with you, did any of them show David M saying the content would be used “anonymously”?  

  • Hi Mark,

    Thank for writing this post.  It is always disappointing to see people using shady seo methods, but you certainly handled the situation with class and I applaud that.  I am actually pretty new to blogging myself.  I have not built up a strong community yet, so when I received my first couple guest blog requests, I was just excited that someone found me and wanted to use my platform to get their message out.  But after reading this, I will definitely be taking a long hard look at any potential guest bloggers.   

  • Thanks Michele. It sounds like relationships are part of your key. Sadly, in this case, it seems David understood that as well, and took the time to create the first bit of relationship, or at least familiarity.

    I like Mark’s comment above, the new goal is to be the trickiest trickster. I guess that just means the rest of us need to be smarter about their tricks as well.

    Thank you both for sharing and educating.

  • For some reason, the idea of ghost blogging doesn’t resonate with me.  The blogging world is much more intimate to me than the book world.  I know a lot of authors use ghost writers.  Gary V. openly admits this.  But he doesn’t do that when it comes to his video blog and never would, because that is his space to be him.  If you have great content to share, there are many ways to share it these days.  I feel that blogs should be reserved for original, organic content by an authentic author.  And I agree with the tribe that William should get his props and the post should stay.

  • I still consider myself a newbie blogger and I’m just starting to dip my toes into the guest posting arena. It’s frustrating that people like this try to game the system. Invariably, they make it more difficult for honest bloggers who simply want to share their work. I can’t imagine getting approval to do a guest post, and then not writing it myself. It defeats the purpose of exposing your ideas to a new community.

    I would like to see, as Danny Iny suggested, a “blacklist” that would prevent these serial guest posting frauds from getting a single post published anywhere.

  • It would be impossible for you to hit a raw nerve with me!  It’s just dialogue among friends : )

  • I thought the same thing, Nancy.  “Jerks like this make it so much harder for those of us who are ethical to do our jobs.”  Thanks to Mark for naming names.  Hopefully potential clients will steer clear of the company in the future.

  • This: “You. Can’t. Lie.” However, I think you’re right to ask whether some segments have become so disconnected from ethics, they no longer see a problem with unethical behavior. I believe some people truly don’t know where the line is anymore, and perhaps aren’t even aware that they’re lying. Very sad.

  • Most things like this are because SEO companies are using guest blogging as link building.  I’d guess Mr. Murton had a backlink to a business, yes?  

    What SEO companies generally do is build up the rep of a pseudonym (or maybe a real person at the company being linked to), and they do so with purchased articles from freelance writers.  The freelance writers usually are informed that they are selling their rights to that content to the company purchasing it which means they will not be receiving credit for it.  If they are being told otherwise, I see the original writer’s point.  But for the most part in these situations, they know their content is not going to be credited to them.  

    Best way to hit them where it hurts is not to remove the post from your site (which only hurts your site as that link has probably been shared, bookmarked, and commented upon by your readers) but  simply remove the backlink from the bio as that was the main goal in the first place.  

    This is the reason I created the guest post policy that guest bloggers have to reply to their comments.  SEOs generally won’t take the time, and if they don’t, I pull their backlink.  For those who guest blog for links and don’t plan on committing to their guest post, they generally keep moving when I point that guideline out to them.

  • I cannot BELIEVE Murton did this. I remember that post well; it was so good that I linked to it in one of my weekly roundups. I occasionally get inquiries from people to guest post on my blog (nowhere near as many as you), and now this really has me worried as to whether or not they’re legit. I’ve tried to do my due diligence to check them out if I don’t know them, but if one is really determined to do so, the wool is easily pulled over the eyes, isn’t it?

    I really like your response to @CraigMcBreen:disqus about adding a line to your guest post specs about it being original. I recently added those specs to my blog and hope you don’t mind if I do that as well?

  • Sarah K

    Technically, I believe that would be “Caveat Bloggor.” (sorry, feeling pedantic)

    Good post and classy handling.  I agree with others about leaving the post and crediting the actual author.

  • I didn’t get into that much detail in the conversations. William was clearly led to believe it would be anonymous only. Greg pretty much has a hands-off attitude once the content is out the door.

  • Thanks for adding your comment Adam. 

  • Well we have some pretty strong votes in that direction!!!  There are a lot of interesting issues embedded in this. One you are hinting at is the source of power on the social web. There is high value placed on honesty and transparency and that can be ruined in an instant. Thanks Nate.

  • You bring up some good points. As i mentioned below I would not be supportive of a “black list” because I am in no position to judge any body. I have my opinions but I’m not going to start making lists : )   I think in the long run this stuff will sort out the right way, don;t you?

  • Boy I see that too Kellye.  Things that seem so clear from an ethics perspective just seem to be commonly accepted.  I really hate that. 

  • Very sound advice for both beginners and experienced folks. Thanks Kristi! 

  • I think that is a good learning for all of us, isn’t it?  You can see some of the collateral damage here, can’t you?  You enjoyed the post and linked to it, now that just tarnishes blogs even beyond {grow}.  Very unfortunate. Thanks for this important perspective Shonali!

  • Yes, exactly. It’s like a virus. How horrid.

  • I’ve also heard of a few instances where guest posters recycled old content and marketed it as new and original. Some even submit the same content to multiple blogs. I certainly hope this stuff will sort out the right way–sooner better than later.

  • Douche-baggery is right! Geesh! At my last company we used some copywriters to write blog posts for us. It was primarily during a time which we were talking a lot of mobile technology and it wasn’t something I knew too much about so I went to an expert to research it and write some things up. I asked our content consulting firm at the time what to do with these posts. Put them under my name? Another person in our company’s name? I didnt want to just say anonymous. They advised me to ensure the language sounded like me and put my name on it. Now, I didnt submit it to another or try to pose it as my own work other than to add my user name under the title of the article. I did this probably 5 times total out of 100s of posts. Now I feel dirty…

  • Anonymous

    David Murton is definitly missing style and is acting unethically. Glad you brought this up Mark!

  • I’m too much of a lurker these days – it’s great to get in on the conversation! Your community is one of the best out there.  

    Besides the blatant spammers, I see the good in most people. But, this has been a good wake up for me to do more due diligence with unfamiliar writers. Your post also made me feel a bit better as I wasn’t the only one who didn’t see what was going on with this guy! 

    Hope you are having a great summer as well!

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  • You know I thought about that right after I pushed the button.  You are welcome to correct me at any time Sarah. : )

  • Two quick comments:

    1) I would leave the post up but adjust the link. That way you don’t create a “hole” in your blog but they don’t gain the benefit of the link.

    2) I have helped a doctor rewrite several posts for his blog. My understanding is that he might try to submit one or more of them for publication elsewhere. I did it because I got paid and frankly his writing was appropriate for a medical journal but not a blog.

    I would be furious if I found out that he was engaged in some of duplicitous action with those posts.

  • I like this idea the best – because the post itself is really good, and Harwood deserves to have it up there still (with credit!). Just remove the backlink so the scumbag doesn’t get backlink traffic.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Mark,

    Here’s the link complete with Google icing on the cake 🙂

    http://thestoryoftelling.com/waiting-for-google/

  • The guy is clearly a BS’er….

    I think the remark ”Glad you liked the post, it was a real pleasure preparing this one!” clearly shows that!

  • Sure, I’ll play Fox Mulder.

    Trust no one!

    Sad world we live in though, isn’t it?

  •  I agree with Kristi and Chris about not taking down the content and your idea of giving credit to the original writer, I think, is right. You don’t have to put a link because the writer might not have a blog of his own and the company he’s working for doesn’t deserve the link – in this case.

    The other night I was checking on our Guest Blogging requests and saw a lot of requests from people who clearly don’t know much about our community in the first place.

  • Like you I get a lot of requests for guest posts and in the early days put up a few I wished I hadn’t. Chalk it down to inexperience. After a while I had to state I wasn’t taking guest posts any more as they became a management nightmare and my role was changing from creative writer to nit picking editor. Not fun. Especially if you have to turn down guest posts people have written.

    It looks like he wasn’t straight with anyone. If he had been William
    would have understood that his post would be used and attributed to
    someone else. If he had been you would never have taken the post in the
    first place.

    Another lesson in the importance of transparency and authenticity!

  • PS. And looking on the bright side at least it made an interesting blog post for you and some healthy debate and suggestions in the comments;)

  • I see. I expect this to happen here too in maybe 1-2 years, when our companies became aware of the impact of blogs. So far there are only some agencies and a very very small list of banks (shich is my aerea of expertise).

  • Manish Chauhan

    Poor David..:( He would have never imagined that you can be so harsh for his doings that everyone of his domain do on a very regular basis and that has been manipulated as an ethical practice in SEO.

  • Everything has already been said; I don’t have an original point of view to offer but wanted to say thanks for this post. I want to say “I don’t believe it!” but of course, I do and it’s so disappointing.

  • Thanks for the honest assessment.  I think there are lots of applications and opportunities for ghost blogging.  I always think it is best to give credit where credit is due. Nothing shameful in that : )  Thanks Christina.

  • Thanks for offering your opinion Claude.

  • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jack!

  • Yeah, that was kind of disappointing.

  • I’ll still trust people.  But I think it is a lesson for all to be more careful with guest posts in this desperate race for backlinks.

  • This was not an easy one to publish.  I never know how the community might react. I honestly thought more people would try to justify the lin-building practices in the comment section. You never know! : )

  • I don’t consider this harsh but I appreciate your dissenting opinion.  I gave David plenty of chances to respond with an explanation or an apology and told him I was probably writing a post.  While an article like this seems unusual, I wish more people would call out the unethical practices that seem to be an underlying theme in our business.

  • Thanks for caring enough to comment Ryah!

  • I agree that guest posts can be an editing challenge but it is a very good thing to do to give exposure to worthy people.  There are so many great people out there who deserve to be read. Thanks for the insightful comment Annabel!

  • Hi Mark, I appreciate that. You really were brave. I fear controversy but you published something new and took a risk. It’s great to see the blogosphere is standing behind you now. You have a fabulous community here and you should be proud of that and the discussion you’ve created. Thank you:)

  • Hi Mark, I appreciate that. You really were brave. I fear controversy but you published something new and took a risk. It’s great to see the blogosphere is standing behind you now. You have a fabulous community here and you should be proud of that and the discussion you’ve created. Thank you:)

  • OK — The community has spoken!  I will leave the post but amend it to take out the link and provide proper attribution.  Thanks for the input everyone.

  • Based on the feedback here in the comment section, I decided that I would not delete the post. I’ll let it stand but amended it to acknowledge William Harwood as the author. Thanks very much for the feedback on this issue.

  • I am late to this, but glad you chose this route, Mark.  I think maybe Mr. Harwood could provide an additional piece here on Grow as well!

  • It’s a great lesson. Thanks for sharing!

  • I think these problems are caused by a chronic short term mindset – anything for links and profit NOW. And think your policy of only accepting guest posts from people in your community is a sound one. 

    After all if someone hasn’t been reading your blog for a while, and hasn’t bothered to engage with you in the comments, then why are they offering a guest post? We all know the benefits of guest posting – but surely those writing guest posts should at least be giving some thought the fact that their post should offer something to the blog owner – a different perspective on a running theme for the blog for example.

    If there is no evidence of this then the guest poster is clearly only doing it for their own ends which is generally a short term and poor reason to do anything.

    Glad you caught this idiot – I’ll add him to my little list of people to avoid on evernote.

  • Thank you for taking the time to point out –more than once –that there is a place for legitimate ghostwriting.

  • Thank you for taking the time to point out –more than once –that there is a place for legitimate ghostwriting.

  • Thanks for the support Jennifer.

  • Great post Mark!  I feel for ya!  When the emphasis is “ratings and rankings” only, this is what happens, unfortunately. But, as Bernadette said, traffic is only attention, but doesn’t necessarily mean conversion to anything meaningful. Eventually people will understand that but in the meantime, it’s like the old “junk mail” days when we sent out millions and millions of pieces of mail and a 1% response was the target. The same attitude is creeping into Social as well.

  • Hi Mark, I missed this earlier – was talking with our buddy @soulati:disqus  who mentioned it to me. I’m really sorry this happened to you.

    Yesterday I attended a Google Analytics seminar given by someone from Google. Someone asked him about SEO and he said, in effect, Google believes in its algorithm, so they don’t really advocate for SEO (he also said he wasn’t the best person to speak to it because he is an ad words account manager, not a search guy). But I found this pretty telling about the whole SEO game. I admit I also have the prejudice that when someone on Twitter follows me, and they have SEO in their bio…I block. More often than not they want to DM a link! No thanks.

  • Alice Ackerman, MD,

    OK, I am a newbie here, and shocked at what this guy did, but I see something VERY positive about what has happened. This is a perfect example of a community coming together to police itself. If charlatans and cheaters learn they will ALWAYS be exposed as what they are, eventually they will cease to exist. The blogosphere and all of social media is a universe in which the rules are still being written, and there are no formal police to monitor and defend them, protecting the innocent and naive.
    Mark, I applaud your forthrightness at addressing the issue, and I support everyone here who has committed to helping to protect us all from fraudulent, unethical behaviors.
    Thanks for letting me join the conversation. 

  • OK, I am a newbie here, and shocked at what this guy did, but I see something VERY positive about what has happened. This is a perfect example of a community coming together to police itself. If charlatans and cheaters learn they will ALWAYS be exposed as what they are, eventually they will cease to exist. The blogosphere and all of social media is a universe in which the rules are still being written, and there are no formal police to monitor and defend them, protecting the innocent and naive.Mark, I applaud your forthrightness at addressing the issue, and I support everyone here who has committed to helping to protect us all from fraudulent, unethical behaviors.Thanks for letting me join the conversation.

  • I do like a few guest posts because it offers some diversity in thinking, gives me a bit of a break (I usually schedule guest posts on days I am with clients!) and it provided exposure to worthy people. So I will definitely keep doing it!  Thanks, Simon.

  • The last few weeks I have really been a little disheartened at how creepy the social web is becoming. You often don’t even have a choice. It is foisted on you. Thanks for commenting Steve! 

  • I do think there are viable and important activities for SEO professionals and I don’t think it is fair to give them ALL a bad name. But the fact is, in order to compete, they are faced with some tough decisions.  All we can do is affect our own little part of the world, right? Thanks for the support! 

  • Alice this is really an outstanding point. I think it also goes to show that you can go a long ways toward creating your own experience on the social web.  To a large extent, you can choose who you associate with and support each with shared values.  Thank you very much for sharing your wisdom with the community! 

  • I do the same thing Kristi suggested. I make it clear that if something is wrong, I will be keeping the post and removing the links. 

    I agree with you that the guy shouldn’t have lied, but for what ever reason, Mark, I find the author to be a bit on the wrong side. He was paid and ghost writers/freelancers are usually aware that they are selling the rights to their writing. It doesn’t matter where it is published, it is n’t yours anymore. 

    I just think he should have contacted the “author” first, tell him what he thought about it and not just slam it like that in the comments. 

    I am definitely not taking sides here cause I had my share of crazy guest post situations, but I am a bit more tickled with what he did than the fact that the guy sent the article as his own, considering he is working for a SEO company, if I got it right. Most of the time, if you buy the article — it is yours…

  • I just like that fact that you published the name so we can be on the lookout 🙂

  • I am with you all on this one, but will the original author give back the money to the guy that sent the post?

  • OK, I am totally against this but all in all, I am not surprised one bit! The stuff I get in my inbox, the offers for services and “cooperation”…nothing can surprise me… 

    I had a guy that writes guest posts on several blogs I visit, offer me a guest post. He followed the rules, I posted the post and he was no where to be found. I told him that the most important thing is to reply to comments. Two days later (after a few warning e-mails) I told him I am taking his links off and keeping the post. 

    He replied straight away and said, I forgot, I am going to reply to them now. Too late, buddy…

  • Alice this is really an outstanding point. I think it also goes to show that you can go a long ways toward creating your own experience on the social web. To a large extent, you can choose who you associate with and support each with shared values. Thank you very much for sharing your wisdom with the community!

  • Late to the conversation here after my summer hiatus; nevertheless, I wanted to throw my two kronors’ worth into the mix. 

    Like @srinirao:disqus I firmly believe: “you can outsource strategy, but you shouldn’t be outsourcing content creation for your business”.

    When it comes to guest posts, I really try to limit them to very few and usually from people I already know. But this case was so clearly deceptive that you were spot on to out David Murton (who didn’t show up here to defend himself!). 

    SEO is important, but I’m increasingly coming to the belief that social optimization is actually more important when it comes to business blogging. Word of mouth is always going to have more effect than a ranking in google. At least, that’s why my own data seems to suggest. The bounce time on a SEO-d post is often much shorter than a post that is RT-d or shared. 

    This is an important post Mark and one that should definitely be included in your end of 2011 “Best Of Posts” Ebook! :=)

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  • As a ghost writer of blogs and op-ed pieces for corporate clients, I am saddened by what happened to you. Those who use my writing services aren’t looking for link-building copy, but for authentic info for thought leadership. I’ve been fortunate so far that no one has tried to do to me what this “writer” did to you and to the original author. Way to stand up and blow the whistle.

  • Thanks for your kind words Amy. Much appreciated!

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  • While I really don’t agree with what the guest poster did, it was equally unfair (unethical I must say) that a person who was hired for a job where he was supposed to write content for others anonymously, should come out and claim he did the job. For this reason, I am not in favor of crediting the [unethical] ghost writer.

  • Mario

    Omg, do you mean someone actually bought content from a freelance writer and used it? I don’t see what the big deal is here. People buy and sell content all the time. God forbid you don’t want to post your real name all over the internet.

    If you like the article, what is the problem exactly? The freelance writer should’ve known that when he sells his work, he’s selling all rights to it. That’s how you get started in the game. Eventually you make connections and can stop selling your writing to the highest bidder.

    That’s how I got started as a freelancer. I wrote articles with the full understanding that those articles were those people’s do with as they pleased. I was happy to get paid. Eventually I was able to branch out into my own things.

    That’s the trade-off working as a freelancer. You get immediate pay for your work but you don’t benefit from the work long term. That’s why most freelancers make it a goal to get their own websites running profitably asap.

  • Respectfully, you completely missed the point. I didn;t buy anything. I was misled.

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