In the cut-throat game of online design marketing, some companies are using logo raiding, a tactic that creeps closer and closer to the boundaries of ethics, and perhaps treads over copyright itself.

Latest trend in the online design game?

Logo Raiding.

Never heard of it? You have now. That’s when blog publishers (often producing the blog as an SEO ‘booster’ for another target site), raid logo galleries or portfolio sites (the popular Logo Pond is a favored source, Brandstack is another) for dozens of logo examples from other designers. These logos are then assembled in a keyword drenched post that’s only purpose is to score high ranking in search engines, usually wrapped around some weirdly nebulous logo ‘theme’. Say ’50 emotional logos’, ’20 logos with movement’ or ’60 really cool coffee logos’. Or strange thematic battles that feature ‘This Type of Logos’ versus ‘These Types of Logos’. When people are looking for say, ’emotional’, ‘movement’, or ‘coffee’ logos in Google or Yahoo!, they’ll find these pages. Like any kind of search engine marketing, this is to get eyeballs on a page. And convert those eyeballs to paying customers.

No credit, no link, no gain

Trouble is, the designs are usually presented without credit or linkage, and any benefit goes solely to the blog hosting the logos, and then onto the target site, either directly via a link, or indirectly through inbound link love. And while the site, or company, using the logos to boost their search engine rankings don’t exactly claim that they designed the logos, they don’t exactly ‘fess up that they didn’t. A perfectly reasonable person might assume they did, so guess who they’re going to ask to “design a logo like this one”? The site hosting the raided logo, or one of their linked ‘partners’, usually a universe, and often a continent, removed from the designer that actually designed it. Usually the company that actually owns, and operates, the blog in the first place.

In use corporate logos vs. concept designs.

It’s not like these sites are using the marks of giant corporations (something which we’re all cool with I suppose). Designers write tons of blog posts that critique corporate logos, often quite savagely. So, what’s the difference with logo raiding? That’s the easy part. Most of the logos raided from online logo galleries are ‘concept’ logos, and as such, still the property of the designer. Bottom line, designers’ ‘raw’ work is being used, without credit, permission or link love, to promote another website and the company that’s behind it. I don’t imagine ‘Fair Use’ would cover the practice either. From what I understand, uncredited use of others’ work, for commercial gain, remains taboo, DMCA or not.

And from were I sit, this use ain’t very fair at all.

Using competitor’s work to compete against them?

While I get the whole design community ‘we’re in this together vibe’ these sites try to germinate (usually by going to extraordinary lengths to hide their true ownership), the naked truth is most of these blogs are run by cut-throat bastards who are using the work of their competition to promote themselves via search engines. They’re not trying to promote the designers presented, nor send link love or actual business their way. You know, in a quid pro quo hat tip for use of the work. And while sites like Logo Pond and Brandstack feature profiles and links and contact methods for potential clients, on these “40 best logo” posts, the designers aren’t even mentioned.

Displaying design work is for promotion

Oddly, I’ve read comments from some designers stating they’re “honored” to be featured in these spurious gallery pages. Not sure why anyone would be honored by a potential competitor using their logo design work, especially when the designers aren’t credited, nor their sites linked to. Their profiles on the page, save the logos themselves, are non-existent. As far as I understand this internet marketing thing, promotion is the main purpose of showing logo design examples in the first place. More often than not, the designers featured have no idea of the real purpose of the post their work is presented on. Or who’s really doing the presenting. And while it may be cool to see one’s logo ‘in lights’, the promotional gain for the use is zero. Even weirder, the copyright notices on these blogs, usually blanket statements at the bottom of each page, technically claim copyright for the logos presented above it.

Nature of the web?

Am I being nit-picky or absolutist? Perhaps. I must admit I do like control of my work. And yes, like many design blogs, I sometimes feature logos that I really like, but I always try to ask permission first, and if that’s not possible, try to track down the designer so that I can at least credit them. Maybe send a little business their way. That’s the ebb and flow nature of the internet and social media marketing. We all pinch a little, stitching various bits and pieces of other people’s work into our own, unique posts and articles, presumably with credit via a mention or link. The designs used in logo raider posts are the post. It’s simply a cynical ploy to pepper search engines using other designers’ work. Without asking to use that work. Or to credit for it. So why would supposedly legitimate logo design companies lift, en masse, other people’s work to feature as wonky galleries on their blog? For the answer to that, we need to understand why these companies hide their identities in the first place.

Why all the subterfuge?

Before spec work and logo design contests started taking some of the heat, many graphic designers were fundamentally opposed to online logo companies.

Hated ’em all.

Yes, even our humble shop, referring to the genre as “logo mills” and “logo factories” (the latter one’s unfortunate, especially when your company name is The Logo Factory, but I digress.) It’s something that we’ve kinda put up with over the years, but other than a couple of flame wars here and there, we’ve nestled into our own little niche in the design community. Other companies think, perhaps with some validity, that designers opposed to the business model wouldn’t engage their main sites, and thus they’d miss out on all the benefits of such engagement. No comments, no inbound links and in the era of Twitter and Facebook, no social media love. Solution? Create a pseudo-entity (or entities) that while hiding all ties with the mothership, aim the SEO benefits towards it. Designers, none the wiser, link to the blog, join in the comments and ‘retweet’ posts they like around Twitter.

It’s pretty cynical, but it works.

Pragmatically speaking, these disguised blogs aren’t supposed to belong to the target company, so they can’t use their own work ’cause If they did, the jig would be up. Trouble is, a blog needs content, multiple blogs need lots of content and producing original material is extremely time consuming (one of the reasons for blog content scraping, which some of these sites also engage in). Raiding other logo gallery sites is so much easier. Taking minutes vs. hours, it’s cheaper too. These 20, 30, and 40 best logo posts all follow the same format. An somewhat oddly worded introductory paragraph that pitches the supposed ‘theme’. Then 30 raided logos plastered over the page. It is an exceptionally effective way to produce blog content and in this era of ROI (Return on Investment), the ROI on these posts is phenomenal, especially when it comes down to search engine penetration, the primary purpose of the activity. Accordingly, logo raiding is starting to be used by a lot of pseudo design blogs (belonging to other companies, they’re more splogs than not) and I’m not the only one who’s noticed. David Airey wrote an excellent post about the practice last week.

I don’t think it’s the last we’re going to hear about it either.