Bob Massa Interview

Stepping up to the ochy we have a long serving member of the SEO crowd. And whilst a lot of people say they have no problems going after Google in the SERPs, well if you didn’t know this man chose to go after them in the courts! So for more of Massa….Read on.


I can’t possibly ask you questions about search without asking about SearchKing, so apologies if you have gone over this 20 time previously. With that in mind, come on, did you really think that you had a serious case against the Big G? Or was it a rather sly way of getting some good PR from a pretty shitty experience?

I absolutely thought I had a serious case against Google. Restraint of trade is serious. Using power and reach to create an unfair marketplace is serious. It was serious all right. At least to me.

That is not the same as saying I thought I would win but what they did was waaayyyy over the top and it was a great example of shooting a gnat with an elephant gun. Extreme actions can have extreme consequences and they did not look at the resources in the line of fire when all they looked at was altering public perception. There were hundreds of people, (not SEO”s, not even webmasters really, just people. Regular, everyday, guy down the street kind of people), actually taking time out of their lives to review websites and categorize them by relevancy. These people weren’t trying to get on top, trying to make a deal or trying to java script, redirect, hide the text anything. They really gave a damn about what they were doing. Some of them were nice people and some weren’t. Some were young and some were old. Some of them got along together, some didn’t. But there is nothing wrong with that. That is just what people do and both Google and I should have shown them the respect to keep letting them do it. If nothing else, there was value just in the research data we could have gathered.

As to was it a sly way of getting some PR. One thing is for sure, want some link bait? Sue Google in 2002. Yowza!

Ok, here is the deal. Traffic and revenue generation were always at the top of my list of priorities. Countless hours of discussion and research went into possible promotion strategies. In 1999 I had an “in” with a major search engine. Directory actually. That “in” involved a person who had a personal relationship with something who had the authority to get sites placed into the directory. That was money in the bank. It so happens that I had paid for this “special review process” with a check which I ended up with the hard copy of the cashed check. That relationship and my “in” evaporated long ago but my guess is that the person who cashed the check still regrets that little paper trail.

Anyway, I knew, without question, argument or debate, that there were people being given unfair advantage. I had the cashed checks for goodness sake. I also knew that this could be news. So on more than one occasion there were meetings with staff and trusted advisor’s discussing the possibility of suing this major engine, (not Google), for the purpose of getting traditional press and making the general public more aware of our network. Discussions to the point that I had written a couple of different strategic plans based on that scenario. Because of the research and discussions, I knew this was not a strategy to be taken lightly. I knew once it was acted upon, Pandora’s box would be flung open and there would be no putting it back shut.

So, when I honestly felt Google had intentionally and manually, (which they later admitted to in court documents btw), adjusted the results for the sole purpose of causing me and SearchKing to lose business, I was pissed! Not only did I feel treated unfairly and that our customers and partners were being treated unfairly , I felt I was being pushed into a corner and even a mouse will stand up and fight you if you back into a corner. I had to do something as I wouldn’t have felt like much of a man had I not stood up for myself and the people who had put their faith in me.

Our customer base and income started dropping fast. What took almost 3 years to build took about 3 weeks to destroy. I had well over a million dollars invested in SK and knew if I did not act quickly I would lose every portal partner and I would soon be looking for opportunities in the lawn care industry. As it turned out I lost all the portal partners anyway, (actually not all. I believe we still have a couple hundred or so), but the point is at the time I knew I had to do something to show my customers and partners that I had the intestinal fortitude to stand in the face of adversity and to generate enough income to continue being able to pay the bills.

I’m not the first guy to allow a legal action and public relations to go hand-in-hand and I already had the strategy outlined and all I had to do was everywhere the name of the other engines was, change that to Google and it was pretty much done. It was a decision borne by passion and fear coupled with convenience.

All of that could have have been said with a simple, yes, it was a rather sly way of getting some good PR from a pretty shitty experience? I guess I’m still a little passionate about it even after all these cyber-decades. My apologies to your readers. I’ll move on.

Should Google and the others be able to do what the hell they like with their algo, after all they are theirs? To put a comparison in before you answer, you don’t have any say in getting listings in the DMOZ or being deleted, so how is that any different?

Should Google and the others be able to do what the hell they like with their algo,

ABSOLUTELY NOT! What if an algorithm was so powerful as to change the world’s mind? What if the power of that algo could then be used as a weapon to manipulate the thoughts and actions of the public against a perceived foe or a competitor? What if you had an algo but then went in to that program and turned a few knobs to give yourself an unfair advantage? I said back then and I’m saying now, that I believe we all have the right to run our businesses any legal way we like, but none of us, from the smallest to the largest, has the right to use our resources to trample on the rights and freedoms of others.

If you think about the question and the way it is worded, it is easy to see how the entire perception of the question is altered. You did not qualify the question with something like; “within their own database”. In that light, a similar question could be, “do you believe Brett Tabke should be able to do whatever the hell he likes with his gun, after all it is his gun?” What would your answer to that question be?

So, do I believe any search engine can place any site they want at any position they want for any reason they want ? I say no, not if that reason does not respect the rights of other people and the laws of the land. Let’s see how this plays out if China thinks Google is treating them unfairly. In the grand scheme of things, I play a very small role, but if China were Google and Google were me, and China forced Google into something to satisfies China’s agenda —- oh wait, they just did.

You asked >in the DMOZ or being deleted, so how is that any different?

It’s not. Remember those canceled checks I mentioned? {SIDENOTE} I am NOT referring specifically to DMOZ or any other search engine or editor. Like most of us, I’ve read the circular debates in forums about DMOZ corruption back and forth going on for like 5 years now. Everyone is free to believe what they want to believe but to me there is no debate, no questions. Editors at DMOZ have and do take actions based on personal motivations to the detriment of others. Some have, and continue to, use their power and influence for personal gain and specifically to restrict trade and give themselves, or their friends and clients an unfair advantage. It is wrong. It is illegal and it needs to stop or they should be sued.

What lessons did you learn from the SK / Google time in your life, on both a practical and business level that you can share with us?

If you sue someone, you can expect to win or lose but do not expect vindication. That is not what American legal systems are about. If you decide to sue someone outside of small claims, hire the best PR firm you can afford BEFORE filing any legal documents If you sue someone, maybe you’ll win, maybe your won’t but either way, YOU WILL PAY THE ATTORNEYS AND COURT COSTS. If you hire a PR firm — take their advice. If you sue a tech company, do not allow their lawyers to baffle the court with techno bullshit. Always remember you are talking to lawyers and judges and assume they know nothing of technology. They can learn but that education is excruciatingly expensive. If who you are suing brings up the constitution or the Bill of Rights, look for better lawyers fast!

Finally I learned even a greater respect for Google than I had before the suit. They are very smart, very business savvy and very focused. I like to think of myself as a good salesman, but I’m nowhere close to being in Google’s league. Now those guys are salesman. They are my idol!

Enough lawsuit stuff, what has Bob Massa been up to since then and what you up to 2006 and beyond?

You know, I may hold the world’s record for being accused of being an idiot on the internet. What I’m about to tell you may prove those accusations have some merit.

Of course I’ve been doing what I’ve done since 1996. Building successful commercial web presences on the net for my clients. Through it all, I’m a pretty good search engine marketer and I have focused on building a company that can service and support a wide range of clients. While most of the industry seems to want to be shed of the hassles of dealing with clients, that is what we are actually best at. But my passion still remains in building a scalable human review system. I am still putting money into that passion.

I have moved servers, built custom scripts, revised strategies adjusted budgets and hired back some of the people that were instrumental in SearchKing going back to 1999. (Still looking for others. Mike if you see this give me a call if you are interested). We are only days away from launching the network again including hosted portals and free portals. I still believe there is value in providing individuals and companies with the tools to build informational resources for a topic specific market. All they need is the tools and the support.

I want to make it very clear that I am not re-launching SearchKing because of anything to do with Google or the lawsuit. I want to re-launch a portal service because I still believe there is a way to make a human review system scalable and I think it has value on a lot of levels not the least of which is a viable business model.

Ethics in SEO/SEM. Load of bollocks and a case of all is fair in love and search or do you align yourself with the IHY type crowd?

Ethics in any business is never bollocks, (I should mention here that I am not sure what a bollock is but I think it has something to do with bullshit and I’m responding under that assumption). PEOPLE can be a load of bollocks but ethics can not. Truth, honesty, respecting the rights of others and being able to identify and ignore idiots is all that really matters.

As far as IHY crowd, I’m not familiar with anything of any importance to me by that name. I read a lot of internet marketing stuff online from a huge list of sources. If there is a crowd out there that has anything to say about that topic that isn’t just spouting off crap to draw attention to itself, I’m pretty sure I would be aware of it.

Buying links is surely a blatant attempt to manipulate the engines, so by that rationale, do you agree that you should not be surprised if you end up getting a good hiding if you engage in link buying/selling?

No, I do not agree. You /should/ be surprised if anyone gives anyone else a good hiding for doing anything that is not illegal !! You should be surprised. You should be deeply offended and you should demand your personal rights to operate a legal business anyway you choose.

None of us should have to fear a hiding, (again, a little bit of a language barrier of the across the pond persuasion here. Not sure exactly what a hiding is but I’m responding based on my assumption it is something bad), for engaging in any legal activity. If search engines don’t like sites that they believe are doing something they don’t like, they have the right to do what they want to do about it in regards to their own assets. As business people interested in increasing the value of our own enterprises, we have the right to evaluate risk, capitalize on our own assets and enjoy the same opportunities as the ones in a position to deliver a hiding. No hidings. No fear. Just doing business.

The Basic Concepts of SEO you wrote, do you still stand by it all. If not what bits don’t follow any more?

Wow, that hasn’t been brought up for quite a while. I’m pretty sure you must be referring to the one that has been hosted at for the last three years or so.

Keeping in mind I wrote that in like 98 or 99, naturally some things have changed. I stand by it all in the respect that I still believe it is more about figuring out the concepts than the actual procedures. I also stand by the fact that you have to learn enough about what ever field of endeavor you choose to pursue to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff and then make your own decisions. That article was not about the hows. It was about the whys and the point of the whole thing was to show people how I approached SEO based on what I could see and then figuring out the motivation.

I believe there are still a lot of valid concepts such as

#2 The stupidest human, given the time and motivation, will win out over the smartest computer every time. and

#4 SEO’s do NOT manipluate search engines. The search engines alone control what goes in and what goes where.

#5 There is no such thing as search engine spam and why. And especially

#8 CYA, (it stands for Cover Your Ass)

I still unequivocally stand by those. But the thing that is most dated about that article is the shift from focus on on site content to off site, and now to the end user’s behavior. That has changed a lot since the 90’s. Even so, I think it is a decent article for anyone interested in seeing how someone starting out may think about the job of search engine marketing.

What are the key factors in getting traffic to a site?

Not to be argumentative Richard, but to my mind you are asking the wrong question. Getting traffic to a site is too easy. Just buy it!

The question should be, “what are the key factors in getting sales from web traffic?” In THAT question, getting traffic to a site is a part of the real process but not one I would consider key. The real challenge has always been the copy, the navigation, and the tech to deliver a feature/benefit message with a call to action that converts at a profit.

I’ve said before that traffic without those other things being is place is the epitome of irony. To generate traffic from being in the top 10 in a major search engine with a competitive phrase, only to have a .01% conversion ratio is an incredible waste of time, money and manpower. That is not to say there are not sound business models that make a lot of money with a .01% conversion rate. My point is that it would appear the majority of the industry sees the problem as not enough traffic when the real problem is not enough sales.

I know this flies in the face and disagrees with RC’s philosophy, ( you should interview him btw. Very interesting individual), but it should be obvious a lot of focus is put in to traffic and not into better converting sites and better converting sites should be the ONLY factor that really matters.

Can of worms potential, but …..can you define spam?

Yes I can.

It is a somewhat greasy cubed luncheon meat with weird little white chunks in it. The oddest thing though is I kind of like it. Especially dipped in flour and fried.

Even going back to those Basic Concepts you referenced earlier, I believe there is no such thing as search engine spam. There is only marketing, advertising and public relations.

You asked me earlier if I thought search engines had the right to list sites anyway they wanted, or something to that effect, and I said I did believe they had that right. BUT, with rights come responsibilities and it can’t be one way without the other. If they have the right to place sites where they want, then they need to take responsibility for their own results and stop trying to blame link buying or hidden text for their lack of ability to provide the results they want to provide.

Without the password to get into a search engines’ server, there is nothing you, me or anyone else can do to manipulate a search engines’ results. If I can’t make a search engine put my site where I want, then how the hell is that spamming anything? It is just me building my site.

It absolutely and completely baffles me that webmasters feel they are not entitled to build their sites any way they want as long as they are not breaking any laws. It is their site, their property and if there is something they believe they can do to improve their site, they should not only feel able to do it, they should feel obligated to do it. Obligated to themselves, their families who depend on their income and obligated to their visitors. If hidden text gets your competitor more traffic, then to not use hidden text on your own site when it helps you meet your objectives, to me is counterproductive and not good business. Business Richard, not lunch meat with weird little white chunks.

Some search engines may like the public to believe that they are the reason to build a site. That having the honor of being placed where the engine wants to place you is the goal of every good webmaster. They may like to promote the perception that they are the internet. Of course that is what they want to present. That is good PR, but it is not the reality. The reality is, it is just business. And if their business is being threatened by how some webmasters build their sites, they need to decide how they are going to handle that. That makes it a problem but it doesn’t make it spam.

At the SEO Roadshow, you were seen wearing a black, hat. Was that a little bit of irony there?

First of all I think the whole white hat/black hat thing is just about the silliest thing I have ever witnessed being discussed by a group of adults.

Secondly, my fashion preference has much more to do with the fact that I have had a love affair with 40’s style Stetsons ever since I first saw Humphrey Bogart smooch the hell out of Ingrid Bergman while wearing a hat in the movie Casablanca at the age of about 12, (I realize I’m dating myself here. For all you younguns that don’t what the hell I’m talking about go here

Since that time I’ve had hundreds of hats, (just about any style other than cowboy hats), and my color of preference in manly headgear is black. I do have some gray and brown but no white. I’m wearing my black Stetson today as a matter of fact and I still love watching old 30’s and 40’s movies. Is that ironic?

If I don’t believe in spam, how could I possibly believe in white hat or black hat? To me it is all just marketing and sales.

I’m like the dyslexic agnostic. I don’t believe there is a dog.




Some interesting points and food for thought you made Bob. So from me thanks for making the time to answer some of my questions.

If you wish to read a little more about Bob, you could try …

ukgimp out

4 Comments on “Bob Massa Interview

  1. Bollocks and Hidings:

    Wiki can take care of bollocks

    As to a hiding, imagine you are walking home after a night out and some general thug types take a bit of a dislike to you and significantly beat you up. Well that could be described as a “a good hiding”. Transfer that to the SERPs and a topic related to SK, and I would say Google gave SK a “damn good hiding” when they devalued the network. 🙂

    So on both counts Bob, you got the right slant on the word.

  2. My idea of a geezer, is good thing and like you say Mick that definition is not that good 🙂

    1. British definition: A geezer is a bloke, a man or a “dude”.

  3. Great interview UKG.

    Bob Massa often comes up with good ideas about search and it is therefore interesting that he is going to give some sort of Searchking portal network a try – again. Though in some ways others have stolen the march from him. (eg. Adbrite is already a very strong in vertical advertising network, Alexa’s new API, Eurekster, Gigablast and Rolly-O for vertical search, etc.)

    Of course the devil is in the details and the followthrough. It’s easy to start things on the Internet but the drudge work is in keeping it all running smoothly.