Jeff Deutsch made bank spamming Google
Working ten hours a week, banking $50K a month and making it rain like a monsoon. For most of us it sounds like a ridiculous dream. For Jeff Deutsch, such ridiculousness was reality. Beginning in 2009, Deutsch used his self-made SEO tool to push sites to the top of Google’s search results through aggressive link building. The practice netted him millions until Google came down hard on spamming. Deutsch recently shed light on life as a black hat, and the excess and debauchery on which SEO millionaires blew their sudden earnings.
“I hadn’t originally wanted to go down this path. Ironically, I had applied to work for Google’s webspam team in 2010,” Deutsch wrote on inbound.org, a well-known portal for marketing topics. By “this path” Deutsch means his work as a black hat SEO, i.e. circumventing Google’s guidelines to achieve a higher website ranking. Deutsch and his partner programmed a software tool, called “ALN Service” that embedded thousands of backlinks in pages on forums, which were, and continue to be, an important factor for improving a website’s Google rank. The sale of links and all links received unnaturally are in breach of Google’s guidelines. To use “ALN Service” software, Deutsch and his associate charged a pretty penny and generated a monthly revenue upwards of €150,000. It was quite the payday for two people, considering the nearly non-existent overhead and profit margins hovering around 70-80%.
Five minutes to the top
The tool derives its name from Authority Link Network (ALN), which was one of the largest link networks in the world until 2012. It was this network that Deutsch and his partner used for their boost service. It was so successful because “our SEO service worked. Most of our users were ranking high for big affiliate keywords. I could literally rank first page for any keyword I wanted to with about 5 minutes of effort,” Deutsch recalls. DThey only operated two sales threads, one on warriorforum.com and another on wickedfire.com, both major US-based portals for SEO, affiliate marketing, etc. Deutsch describes his life at the time as one full of luxury and void of any real worry, and the duo outsourced almost the entirety of the daily business activities to a customer support rep and virtual assistants.
He had two huge apartments in China and the concept of work was nearly foreign to him. His daily routine rivaled that of someone on vacation—wake up, exercise, watch highlights of the previous night’s NBA action over breakfast, spend time with son, hit the gym and then either go to the pool or the beach. In truth, he only dealt with anything remotely business related when the odd Skype call pops up, where he talks shop with other black hats.
Easy money with weight-loss pills, bath salts and virtual Gold in World of Warcraft
His clients use the “ALN Service” for a range of curious business models that all take place in a legal gray area. For example, one entrepreneur sold $100K worth of weight-loss pills in a week and one woman used her SEO-hacked site to sell bath salts and sage (both of which, when used improperly, can be a surrogate drug), as well as guides on how to have an affair and get away with it. One business associate even sold digital gold for the online RPG “World of Warcraft.” That sounds legitimate enough until you find out that the seller used his connections to the Chinese penal system and had a guard on the inside to force inmates to mine WoW’s currency.
The private proclivities of Deutsch’s associates also kept right in line with their dubious business practices. “They spent their earnings like spoiled little kids, bought luxury cars and $5000 bottles of champagne to spray their spammer buddies at conventions. They ate ADHD medication like candy, trying to stay awake and focused to work as long as possible,” he writes. But it didn’t end there, as spammer hobbies included bodybuilding using steroids, snorting cocaine and spending money on prostitutes.” He says it was a crazy scene that was “merciless and ultra secretive. If you expose an SEO loophole that made your buddy money, and you’re excommunicated.”
Google comes down hard on ALN—and black hat SEOs
Deutsch describes this period as very lonely with the only events of note happening when a change to Google’s algorithm closed a loophole, forcing him and his partner to rescue the business model. It kept working until the shoe finally dropped, when Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam Team, sent out a fateful tweet on March 15, 2012:
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) 15. März 2012
From one day to the next, Google de-indexed 5000 domains in ALN, crushing traffic and the income source for a slew of SEOs. Deutsch knew immediately that that could just be the beginning and that Google could de-index more networks at any time. With the threat of being shut down looming and with significant questions about the business model being raised, Deutsch and his partner flew to the Link Love Conference 2012 in London. “I felt like an outcast and wanted to operate a serious business more than ever. If someone actually spoke about link building, it was never positive,” he remembers. But the worst was yet to come.
Content is king
When Rand Fishkin, SEO legend and founder of inbound.org, held his presentation “F#$%! Link Building,” his mood really soured. In the ensuing months, Deutsch swore to he would do everything to make sure that Google wouldn’t “make us stop hustlin’.” He invested $100,000 to offset the losses caused by Google’s de-indexing. But it was all in vain. “I felt discouraged and depressed. I bought myself some fancy clothes to feel better, but I could only sleep 2-3 hours a night. But I knew that Fishkin was right,” Deutsch says. He spent an additional 18 months trying to save his black-hat business, until he finally gave up and began searching for a serious marketing job. Today, he works at “Ptengine,” a conversion rate tool provider. Deutsch has now come full circle and admits that “Google won. Content is king.” And he’s got a message to all those up-and-coming spammers, too—“never, never, ever, follow in my footsteps.”