Macho Man Dies, TMZ Stuffs Keywords to Profit, and a Lesson In Bad SEO

by Derek Halpern · 73 comments

Macho Man

Don’t get me wrong.

Search engine optimization is vital for getting your content to rank.

But, there’s a line…

A line that divides White Hat SEO, the proper way supported by Google, and Black Hat SEO, the shady stuff that can get you banned from Google.

Today, the large blog TMZ, Aol Owned affiliated with AOL, veered towards the Black Hat line.

Here’s the story:

Don’t Keyword Stuff

One shady SEO technique is keyword stuffing, which is when you include keywords in your URL—several similar keywords—with hopes of picking up extra search traffic.

And today, that’s what TMZ did. Look at their URL for Macho Man’s death. They included every permutation of death: Dies. Dead. Died. Killed.

Quite simply, the URL was:

If you want the screenshot, here it is:

macho man dies

How ridiculous, right?

It’s one thing to report the news. It’s another thing attempt to rank for keywords with hopes of profiting off someone’s death. However, stuffing keywords? That’s a whole new low.

Why Do I Bring This Up Here?

You’ve heard this advice before:

If you want to rank, you should include the keyword you want to rank for in your URL.

It’s good advice.

But if you overdo it, and stuff your keywords, that could actually HURT your ranking because it looks like you’re spamming.

Yes, a big media company like AOL can probably get away with this. But if you’re just starting out, don’t use someone like TMZ as an example of what you can do, and what you can’t do.

Spread the word. This shouldn’t be okay for a large blog to do. Click here to Tweet.

About the Author: Derek Halpern ran marketing at DIYthemes, and is the founder of Social Triggers. To get more tips on how to be confident, sign up to his list here.

If you enjoyed this article, enter your email below to get free updates!


Meg Geddes

2003 called, they want their SEO back.

I mean… really?

Derek Halpern

That’s what I was thinking…

David Martinez

Now that was great response, got a smile out of me!

Brent Nau

TMZ has been stuffing all of their URLs. Good advice for noobs to stay away from this tactic.

Derek Halpern

That’s why we wrote about it. People see large blogs doing it, and think it’s okay, so they do it.

But for sure, we want to make sure no one else gets any ideas.

Tina Thompson

AOL may be bad, but the current kingpin of SEO asshat-dome in my mind is HuffPo. They’re the poster boys for every bad trick in SEO you can get away with.

And now the two are joined at the hip.

Andrew Arenson

Leave it to TMZ to over-sensationalize their SEO…. as they do with most of their news, and non-news.


Pretty lousy ad placement, too: “Crunch” and “Roll Over” just above an article about a fatal car accident? Whew.


Wow Mike – you’re right. I completely glanced over that. Poor taste for sure (not to mention questionable SEO practices.)

If JCPenney can get slammed for buying links, certainly TMZ can get penalized for keyword stuffing, right?

Dave Doolin

I’m such a luser; I’ve never heard of TMZ or Randy Savage.

Gyi Tsakalakis

You get a pass on TMZ, but the Macho Man? You’ve never heard of him? Really?


I think that makes you a winner Dave.

Himanshu Chanda

I guess more than TMZ its AOL to be cursed. The dailies recently exposed how AOL chiefs have directed the whole company to go ahead with maximum SEO leverage and try to get as much traffic as possible… White black red hats… you say it and they have it


Unfortunately in our country in the news “if it bleeds it leads.”

Making money from other peoples’ tragedies is sick and disgusting, that said… people in the U.S. love their accidents, tragedies, celebrities, American Idol and Dancing with Celebrities… As long as we (the people of the U.S.) continue this culture of idolizing celebrities and being fixated on tragedy; doing stuff (black hat SEO/ paying people off/ lying/ whatever) to help the media outlets spread the word and make more money will be done…

And I highly doubt any of the search engines will do jack to stop this from happening…


While it’s a despicable thing, it’s not bad business for them. One stuffed article will not hurt their overall ranking that much, and clearly they want to bank on the increased traffic from wrestling fans, etc.


I’m surprised they didn’t add an ooooooh-yeahhhhhh in there too. Crazy.

Bradley Gauthier

That’s ridiculous! I can’t see how that these tactics even would be a benefit for search rankings. I understand the keyword/seo url stuff, but still, you’d think Google would figure that out. But you’re right, it probably helps that it’s part of AOL.

I always tell my clients to have the shortest possible url that describes exactly what to expect with the page. So when people share the link, there are no surprises or bait-and-switch going on. Nor does the url take up a paragraph when copied and pasted into an email.

Nice find Derek, hopefully Google punishes them.

p.s. RIP Macho Man, “OOOH YEAH!” … you’ll be missed


Not sure I liked your email subject line. Seems not only TMZ is profiting from this man’s death. I agree with your points about SEO however.

Derek Halpern

We don’t really make money from the blog. We mainly use this as a way to give tips and best practices to our customers.

What better way to show what not to do than providing a good example. Don’t you agree?


I agree that this is a good example. Just the subject might be a bit sensitive, that’s all.

Gyi Tsakalakis

I have to agree. SEO points well taken but there’s a twinge of self-righteousness. How’s that saying go, something about glass houses…

Derek Halpern

As I said, there’s nothing more persuasive than a good example of what not to do. 🙂

Gyi Tsakalakis



“so what” … RIP Macho Man, but this could have been any other article, TMZ writes about stuff like that. TMZ is very large and they can probably get away with it, it’s a strategy. You win by using what you have available to you. You lose when you don’t know when to call it quits.

Probably not recommended when you are getting started.


It’s funny that big websites can get away with this. Wait a second, is a big website- Derek, you have to capitalize on search traffic like TMZ. Change your URL immediately to /tmz-sucks-stinks-bad-lame-awful-terrible-horrendous-evil-gross-bad-rapture

That last one is just to bank in on that search traffic…actually surprised that’s not in the TMZ url 🙂

Thomas Bodetti

Yes, I noticed that they did that, because it showed up in my Alexa bar, I looked at the site in firebug and saw what they had done, sort of a low life thing to do.

Steve M

I remember seeing them do this and remarking when Corey Haim died. The URL is:

It’s ridiculous.


I think your stretching your definition of black hat here. Black hat implies something nefarious and unethical done to game the system. TMZ is a sensationalist website, that’s 90% of their game. I don’t think Google has been gamed by these sophomoric tactics for quite some time.

Is it black hat to write an article about SEO and find a way to work in the words TMZ, Angeline Jolie and Brad Pitt all at the same time?

I don’t think so anymore than writing an article about SEO and putting ‘TMZ Sucks’ as the URL. You’re both trying to be sensationalist and get eyeballs. In the end, if the traffic garnered doesn’t give a hoot about the core of your article, not much is gained.

Derek Halpern

The core of the article is, just because you see big blogs stuff their URLs, doesn’t mean you should too.

And that’s the point we made.


The point that calling these tactics black hat gives the wrong impression to many people what black hat truly is and lessens it’s meaning altogether, just how “hacker” now has a different connotation than it once did. The tactics are stupid and sophomoric, not black hat.

JCPenny’s antics were true black hat. This is nowhere near that.

Gyi Tsakalakis

diythemes first page for “TMZ sucks”…

Derek Halpern

That really wasn’t our intention. That’s untargeted traffic, and does us no good. We don’t have ads here :-P.

Derek Halpern

I didn’t call them black hat. I said they veered towards the line of blackhat.


That really wasn’t your intention using a URL of ‘TMZ Sucks?’

What was the intention in that then?


I would think Google et al would have some sort of algorithm that looked for synonyms and disregarded them… but then I’ve never heard that officially so who knows.

I took a look at TMZ and they seem to stuff a lot, not all, of their URLs. The reported on the death of a good friend of mine a little while back and while I didn’t notice it at the time, they did the same thing… I’ll just continue to ignore their crap as I always have, but thanks for making it a teachable situation.


This is a great conversation, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. This is the business we’re all forced into. If Google did a better job of protecting those that break the news, the news breakers wouldn’t have to resort to these measures.
Oh and from the department of jerk, AOL no longer owns TMZ, it was spun off, when AOL spun out of Time Warner.


Great article. Was wondering though were you aiming at ranking for the keyword “Keyword” in this post 🙂

Jennifer Fontaine

This is terrible. They are completely in the wrong. Like your url for this “tmz-sucks” is great!

Marketing Loudly

I agree that trying to profit off of someone’s death is absolutely appalling. However, IMO, the overall blame for this type of thing rests squarely with Google. They have created a culture where underhanded, spammy and downright illegal SEO practices are rewarded with top rankings the majority of the time…


TMZ is ignorant, uncouth, vulgar, crude, shallow, witless, AOL, redundant

Richard Barratt

Gutted! Loved Macho Man when I was growing up – this has actually made me a bit sad…

Yep, I agree, just because someone ‘bigger’ does this doesn’t mean you should. It may get more traffic – but is a ‘traffic spike’ worth the loss of morality?

Unfortunately, these guys will get away with it unscathed, they can hide behind the anonymity of being ‘corporate’. Would the author (and his boss) have done this on their personal blog?

Probably not.

Rest in Peace Matcho Man – give Andre the flying elbow for me!


Ugh! TMZ has sunk to a new low.

The problem is that sites like these consistently get away with grey area SEO, and then my clients come to me and use this crap as examples to emulate.

Plus, Macho Man is awesome and while I usually routed for The Bird Man and Andre The Giant, my childhood wouldn’t have been the same without him.

Bob Garrett

I thought aol went out of business years ago? RIP Randy

Tina Thompson

No, AOL is still very much in business, and with recent acquisitions are poised to have a healthy profit for some time to come.

Ed @ Red Bridge

Simple really, it’s the AOL Way

With Demand Media making the money that they do and Google not yet knowing what to do about this content carpet bombing, you can bet your bottom dollar companies like AOL and others are going to keep this up.

Vinny O'Hare

Derek did you find this on accident or do you really read TMZ?

Brian Tucker

Agreed it’s not the best practice. But then again, this post is capitalizing on the traffic a little bit too. Isn’t it? 🙂

Derek Halpern

That’s what people are saying, but, in reality, we’re sharing a best practice for SEO, and exposing some BS at the same time. How else can we call someone out, without writing about it?

Brian Tucker

I”m just jabbing ya a little. Totally agree with what you’re onto here, especially since I’m a huge fan of Randy’s. He was a true artist, great entertainer and one hell of a comedian!


Unfortunately that’s what passes for cleverness. How much more clever to rank without such tactics!

Thanks for the heads up and the screen shot, why give them more traffic?

Iulian Lita

this is nothing man, compared to what I saw recently on a website for seo india…

check this out../post/freelance-seo-india-seo-freelancer-india-seo-freelance-india-freelance-seo-expert-india.aspx How about this?:D

David Martinez

This is not black hat, this is just “not good”. It’s plain vanilla keyword stuffing. I don’t think this warrants an article. My 2 cents.

Derek Halpern

Much of our audience is new to SEO. They see something like this, and think it’s a good idea because big blogs do it. If we don’t tell them it’s wrong, they won’t learn it.

David Smith

I’m not at all sure about “sickening”, but it’s clearly not that effective…TMZ scores below the fold on Google for “macho man” — behind the Village People!

Stupid, ineffective, but “sickening”? Is this a wrestling fan thing, or distaste for Hollywood scandal sheets, or what?

Ed @ Red Bridge

David, I think the point that he was trying to make, the point that “sickening” is that TMZ is stuffing keywords (dies, death, killed) combined with “macho man” in order to grab the headline/news searches on this event. Eventually, the use of multiple terms to describe hi demise will provide long-tail results long after today. Searching for “macho man” and noticing that he’s “below the fold” is missing the point.

Type in “macho man dies”, “macho man dead”, and “macho man killed”. Look for TMZ now. That’s the morbid part. The story wasn’t enough. It’s trying to figure every possible combination of words to describe the poor guys death (in order to rank on these search phrases and make $$$$) is the part that’s disgusting.


Humm, I’m guessing your blog is here to simply inform ppl about website building do’s and don’ts — and not selling ads… you’re just selling Thesis membership plans for $167 and $87. If you didn’t quickly jump to capitalize on the search volume TMZ drives in Google by using “tmz” in your url, how would you drive traffic the traffic you drive to this page of yours? Every website does their own thing, whether its teaching about building websites, or reporting entertainment news, no one’s going to know about it unless you make it findable to the masses. In TMZ’s case, the point is news reporting, in your case it’s “building websites”. TMZ has sponsors, like a newspaper… and you have paid-membership plans. TMZ used “Macho Man” with “dead” related keywords in URL cos that’s what you expect ppl to search, and you used “TMZ” in your URL, cos that’s what you expect millions of TMZ readers are going search…. “TMZ”, hopefully to find your blog, and show them how great you are, and sign up of your membership at the top of this page. That’s my 2 cents as well.

Martin Malden

I’m actually gob-smacked that any big blog that’s been around for a while would do this kind of thing. They must have staffers who write their articles without any editorial oversight.

With the constant development of the search engines’ algorithms SEO is getting easier for publishers – and the simpler you make it, the better you’re likely to do.

Assuming, that is, that you’re writing something worthwhile and original.




Great blog post.

May I ask, for White Hat purposes, how do you put keywords in your URL?

Doesn’t the title just get turned into the URL?

Is there a way using Thesis to have the URL different from the title?


The title of the post, as initially typed, is made into the “pretty permalink” or slug by default, presuming you are using a custom permalink type in WordPress.

This slug (end of the URI) can be changed by clicking Edit to the right of the auto-generated slug, adding what you want like my-post-name-here and hitting Ok.

The visible title of the post is usually fairly close to your slug, but it can be a good idea at the least to remove words like the, or, and, etc. Partly for SEO, partly for user readability of the URI. Avoid capitals and spaces and unusual characters.

Pretending your question was a post title of “Is there a way using Thesis to have the URL different from the title?” then your slug might be “different-url-title-thesis” minus the quotes. Not the best example ever, but hoping that answers your question.

Ronald Redito

Hmmm… lemme guess, is this what you call “link bait”? =p

Peter Sans
Peter Sans

and again, according to SEOmoz URL spam detection algo, your blog post URL has a slightly higher score to be considered as “URL spam”:

just fyi….


If you want to be read, you play by the rules that will get you read, which means covering all the variations of search terms that folks type into Google.

What use is the most eloquently written article if no one can find it and read it?


Well, it totally sucks, don’t get me wrong. But, it’s TMZ. It’s kinda…what they do. And by “what they do”, I mean shitty “journalism” aimed at exploiting and/or humiliating celebrities. It’s terrible, but it wasn’t NBC news or anything. (But, don’t like 5 companies own every media outlet? I think AOL is still Time Warner? If you wanted to know who to picket…)


I’m just curious, how is google able to identify when someone is “stuffing” urls?

To do this, wouldn’t you need some sort of semantic type matching that is able to interpret synonyms and then decide what is considered “too black”?

I know this method goes against etiquette, but does it really hurt?


I have my main keyword in just about every url on my online store. Is that considered keyword stuffing?

Ahmad Wali

So, Big G going to do something about it or Big Names are immune to penalties, black hats and all the other sneaky ways. Even if Google take action, TMZ name is established huge reader base no worries…

Panda Marketer

I noticed you removed the “sickening. ” part of your title, and slug. It look a lot better, now. Because before, that period was practically invisible. It read as:

Sickening Macho Man Dies … TMZ blah blah blah SEO.

It was probably bad grammar, too. The adjective was too far away from its subject. Who was sickening? Macho Man, or TMZ? The way it read, alluded to the former.

Part of SEO is also proof reading, and testing, your Subject / Title / Headline. Now, if an exclamation mark was used, it would show a clear end of point. A hyphen would also have worked.

I believe this is what David Smith was referring to, as well. (I hope)

Derek Halpern

it was never in the slug. I removed it from the title because the title wrapping on 3 lines looked silly to me.

And, for the record, there was an exclamation point after Sickening.

Panda Marketer

I see. (or didn’t see lol) Yeah, did I say slug? I meant tag. 😛

Panda Marketer

D’oh. <title> tag

Paul Caparas

Wow! TMZ went well overboard on the Keyword stuffing.

Dude Fishing for a Link

Wow, that is horrible looking and Wow, I didn’t know TMZ would result to such practices…
Wait, that doesn’t suprise me! lol,

Didn’t know TMZ needed that sort of thing…