Are link building personas deceptive?

I’m not going to lie and say that using link building personas isn’t sketchy. Trying to lie to yourself by making half-assed arguments claiming personas are neither fundamentally deceptive nor necessarily deceptive won’t make those statements any true.

Fundamentally Deceptive, Neutral or Authentic?

Michael Martinez of SEO Theory argues that personas are a legitimate way to represent yourself in specific online environments. They are real in so far as they are an extension of yourself online. Therefore, he states that there is no deception happening when you use a persona to represent yourself online. Link building personas are not fundamentally deceptive.

Martinez does admit that creating a persona that impersonates someone that actually exists is a deceptive representation of that person. However, it’s not deceptive to represent myself as Tina Samosa using a female stock photo. Tina is a real, not deceptive, representation of myself in the online ecosystem.

According to Martinez a.k.a SEO Theory, Tina Samosa is just like a pen name, GoogleGuy on WebmasterWorld or the names that Popes take when they are chosen. The main issue here is that we know who these latter personas represent. No one except for me would know that Tina is actually a man named Philip Tomlinson.

So why do we often think link building personas are deceptive according to Martinez? It’s all about communication. If Tina Samosa tries to seduce men online, the deception happens not in my representation of myself but in my communication with others. The problem is rooted in my use of the persona, not its creation.

Deceptive representation versus deceptive communication is not a coherent way to explain our intuition. In fact, representation almost always communicates something regardless of the creators intention. The mere presence of Tina communicates to others that there exists a women out there named Tina and that this is what she does online. She actually does not even have to actively communicate for others online or have been created to express that specific message, the existence of her profile communicate a message to others. If Tina’s online existence communicate this message, her representation is fundamentally deceptive.

I’m not even going to go into his arguments about why personas are real, because it actually makes no difference to his argument. Reality is often deceptive just look at optical illusions.

Can Link Building Personas Be Deception Free

I’m not even sure why I’m going to go over how Megan Brown from iAquire believes we can use link building personas in a non-deceptive way. She even goes as far to say that SEOs have a responsibility to themselves, their clients and the industry to avoid all deceptions.

She argues that if you use your real name and picture, but invent all other aspects to better connect with your target niche, your persona is not deceptive as long as you don’t steal or impersonate.

link building personas are deceptive

Here are 11 non-deceptive tactics, according to Brown, that you should use with your new persona:

  1. Make it look like you are part of your client’s company.
  2. Don’t mention you are an SEO.
  3. Spend time researching about who your persona friends should be with,
  4. Learn the language to fit in.
  5. Give a new personality to your persona.
  6. Create a background that includes you persona that includes likes and dislikes outside of vertical.
  7. Don’t forget your back story.
  8. Don’t forget what you dislike and like.
  9. Be consistent and explain changes using personal life tweets.
  10. Don’t add your friends, people you care about, family or work unless they are influencers.
  11. Write a guideline for your persona so can get someone else to be you when you’re busy.

Nothing on this list is authentic. From what I understand, Megan Brown believes it’s not being deceptive to create a new you to better fit into a new vertical. Is it really authentic to learn a new jargon, plan out who your friends will be, build relationships based on ROI, create a new biography, new likes and new dislikes, and kill the old you? It isn’t.

An Armchair Psychologist Conclusion

The ethics of link building is part of the white hat versus black hat debate which has polluted the internet for quite some time. SEO Theory and iAquire have found a sneaky way to rehash this controversy by hiding it under a new veil.

Martinez argues that black hat personas that spam your blog should not be called fake people but spam people. True marketers do not use spam people, they use non-deceptive personas. Brown claims that only great agencies use personas non-deceptively and that’s why they don’t care about leaving footprints tied to their real names. It’s not about sheer laziness at all. It’s too bad Megan Brown is such a generic name that it’s being use by multiple guest posters?

If you actually want to learn about using personas without the all those ethical hang ups, Kaiser does a good job at stating pure facts here.

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  • Michael Martinez
    January 22, 2014 at 10:27 am

    “…neither fundamentally deceptive nor necessarily deceptive…”

    I never made any such claim. It appears you have completely missed all the points in my article.

    A persona can be DECEPTIVE. It simply cannot be FAKE. To say a persona is fake is equivalent to saying a coffee cup is fake because it has a flawed imprint on it.

    As for “link building personas”, I never wrote about such things.

    It looks to me like you’re misconstruing what I wrote on my blog for the sake of creating a link bait article. Maybe you’re just really confused about what I wrote. I don’t know but I’m not interested in arguing over things I never said.

    • philtomm
      January 23, 2014 at 9:58 am

      I still misunderstand what you are saying…

      However, in this comment, you are misunderstanding what I wrote in this article. I am stating that “personas can be deceptive” is false and that “personas are always deceptive” is true. I also assume that “personas can be deceptive” is equivalent semantically to “personas are not necessarily deceptive.” So yes, you have made that claim in your article according to my understanding of semantics and truth values.

      I’d love to hear the difference between your definitions of REAL vs FAKE and DECEPTIVE vs GENUINE. I admit that I might naturally interpret those distinctions in a different way.

  • Patel Nahaalan
    January 23, 2014 at 10:19 am

    We have bad experience with persona. Micheal, your article is good but maybe you need more experience with persona. My company is good and has many large clients, but they can be penalized your leaving footprint. Please feel free to contact us Micheal at if you need help. Thank uou