September 14, 2016

Moz changed Matter Solutions

Published: 14 September 2016 


A light story of Moz’s part in our journey, in 2011 we headed off course but didn’t realise it. MozCon in 2012 helped put us on the right track.

I was on the #MozCrawl last night after a great first day of speakers at MozCon 2016.

I made quite a few new friends and many of the conversations went the same. Like this...

Where are you from?

Brisbane, Australia I run a digital marketing agency

Wow, that’s a long way, is this your first MozCon?

Nope, number four (4) for me. The 2012 MozCon changed my entire business. It put us on an awesome trajectory.

Some Backstory

SEO really took off for Matter Solutions in March 2010. It went from an occasional project to 80% of our revenue in 2 years.

We shifted from a foundation of technical and onsite work to something more proactive. We built skills in link acquisition. We fixed directory listings, we built relationships with organisations for clients, earned those clients links and saw rankings move up up and away. We got dozens of clients to page one, most to the top-half of page one, and many to number one. We were on fire and felt good... mostly.

The but…

We knew we had a problem. We knew too much of the work we were doing wasn’t the best it could be. The whole SEO team met to review the work we were doing I drew a line horizontally across the middle of a whiteboard and we mapped out all the tactics we were using for most clients.

  • Above the line was REAL stuff
  • Below the line was FAKE

The easiest way to think about whether what you’re doing is above or below the line is to ask yourself, would you be happy to have Google review the work? There were components of our work that were below the line. The point was made, we put some changes in motion and I booked my ticket to MozCon 2012.

In April along came the Penguin update, the reality of these tactics hit.


The office was in the ground floor of my house, at that time we had a team of 7, almost all working on SEO. The SEO Manager and I went outside the office into the garden. It was the 25th of April 2012 and he had printed lists of links we’d built and tracked for two particular websites. On one sheet was the link profile of a “winner” someone who retained their ranking, on the other a “loser” someone whose rankings were gone, they’d gone from Hero, page one position one, to Zero.

We saw pretty fast what was wrong. Both had very high levels of target keywords in the anchor text. I could tell almost none of the links were REAL (by the definition above). We knew we were getting a spanking.

For those who don’t know about the Penguin update: The stand out was that the penalized website had absolutely no brand links, they had no domain name or URL links. These days everyone seems to call those brand and generic or naked-url links.

Why do I open this all up over 4 years after the event? Well I hope you can see our mindset. We were gamed the system by chasing the algorithm, we strived to make our link building look natural and even standing outside in the warmth of a Brisbane morning we didn’t really appreciate the magnitude of the changes we needed to make.

We needed ideas and we needed to stop doing the fake crap immediately. We did, sort of. We also came up with ideas, to make our link profiles “look more natural”. I cringe to think that's how it was.

Time passed and we saw some results improve, we discussed the situation with the handful of clients who’d been bitten by penguin openly and honestly. We had always had their best interests at heart so continued that by helping them understand. We gave them our time and most understood.

MozCon 2012

Recap (for skimmers): I was already booked to come to MozCon when Penguin hit in April 2012 we saw a few clients go from hero to zero, monthly later...

I sat in the audience new to the community and unaware of the raw talent that was about to hit me, the strategies, the tactics, the networking but I was open to change.

The whole trip was a whirlwind, like this year, 6 days out of Australia, 35+ hours flying and airports and non-stop learning every moment I was in Seattle, even in the events. I lapped it all up. I was blown away by one presentation in particular…

Wil Reynold’s epic Real Company Shit (#RCS) presentation


Whenever you mention "RCS" even SEOs who weren’t there know what you mean.

Sat there in the dark at MozCon I knew immediately that’s what I wanted, doing it right, just like we used to from 2000-2010.

I knew we had to go back to the good work that had been our foundation and change our mindset from trying to “look natural” to “being natural”, being REAL.

The pain caused by Penguin was useful, it meant I was open to the change needed and I was hopeful that this was true for my team too.

On the way back from Seattle I couldn’t wait, I used the time on the plane preparing to perform Wil’s presentation to my team. I remembered everything, I wasn’t as good… but I recreated the key part (for me), the crisis caused pain, we needed to feel that pain, to know that the crap needs to be left behind.

I got to the office from the airport about mid morning and I delivered the plan for the future.

Fast Forward

Years later here we are, competitors from 2012 didn’t go to MozCon, they didn’t change their approach, they shut up shop because carried on faking it. We changed dramatically and I can say with confidence that we have been doing it right for years.

The crisis was good, we took the spanking and we changed.

Why this blog post now?

Moz Changes

I read about the change in tack for Moz. The layoffs outlined in Sarah Bird’s post about the Doubling Down on Search. These developments are sad and I’ve met some of those people affected. I look up to these individuals and respect them immensely. I feel for them.

When I read that post I got the feelz and wanted to share the story about the way Moz changed the team at Matter.

It wasn’t just MozCon, I used to read the moz blog at every opportunity from April 2008. I would get up at 4am to jump on webinars to hone skills way back in 2009 and 2010. I’m thankful to Rand and his entire team for everything they’ve done for me and probably never knew.

Post Script

New members of my team watch the presentation mentioned here, the YouTube link is in our onboarding documentation for everyone at Matter Solutions, even the developers are encouraged to watch it.

Liked this?

If you liked this post you might enjoy What I Learned About Project Management from a Gangster 🙂


PPS. I’ve mentioned spanking as a tongue-in-cheek reference to getting punished for a mistake. It is worth noting that personally I am opposed to corporal punishment of any kind, and if you want to learn about discipline, check out the book No Drama Discipline. It’ll make you a better parent.

Ben Maden

Read more posts by Ben

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