The Dark Side of SEO

This is an oversimplification of the tactics, written for the business owner. The search marketing industry is constantly evolving. Search engines have become an integral part of our lives, a digital friend and assistant that we rely on for recommendations, directions, entertainment, and advice.

As we hurdle towards the 'internet of things', search engines have become indispensable tools to help us navigate our lives. Google is in our phones, our cars, our email, and soon to be in our thermostats, and refrigerators. Soon the internet will cease being optional, and will become like a new element. Search engines, particularly Google are at the epicenter of this advancement, processing roughly 3.3 billion searches a day. If knowledge is power, then Google is celestial, and websites that are favored by Google are well rewarded.

SEO specialists study how people interact with search engines, and how search engines interact with websites. Search engines are always tweaking their algorithms to improve user experience and provide better results. Algorithms are used to determine the relevancy of a site to a search query, using hundreds of factors both on and off the webpage. The weighting of these factors, or signals, is also used to foil attempts at manipulating the results. Search marketers try to make their websites attractive to search engines without affecting the experience of the human visitor. The methods that they use to achieve their goals have been given the most recognizable label, the White or the Black Hat.  

The relationship between search engines and SEO specialists is bittersweet, they co-exist with the understanding that one side is always trying to outsmart the other. With so much money on the table, corrupt or deceptive practices are inevitable. With search engines, slow and steady wins the race, but that can be a difficult case to make when proposing time and budgets. As search engines mature, they continue to patch holes and de-value elements that were previously susceptible to being exploited by clever marketers, whose goal is to trick the search engines into giving their site a better position than it deserves.

Black Hat SEO

Black Hat SEOs are a source of frustration for not only search engines and their users, but also for search marketers that choose to play by the rules. It is difficult to explain to an executive that competitor is ranked higher in Google's results because of Black Hat efforts. This is especially true businesses that are new to a crowded market, or are launching a new website. Methods that were previously very effective at obtaining high rankings are no longer effective, but websites that benefited from these strategies still occupy the top spot, simple because they got there first.  

As a CEO, or marketing manager, it is critical that you are able to identify the philosophy and practices of your search marketing company. When you engage a search marketing company, you are entrusting them with your brand. Most search marketing companies will not tell you that they use Black Hat techniques, only that they will get you to the top of the results faster and cheaper than the other guys. Ignorance is not excuse in the eyes of Google, and if your site is caught trying to rig the game, Google shows no mercy. Black Hat SEO and Google penalties became a big story a few years ago when big brands like JC Penny and BMW, suddenly disappeared from Googles index when it was discovered that their search marketers were using Black Hat methods to boost their rankings.

While it is not the CEO's job to keep up with the tactics of their search marketing, or stay on top of the ever changing rules. It is unlikely that your search marketing team will admit to using black hat techniques, so it is important that you know some of the tell-tale signs that they may not have your brands best interest in mind.  

White hat SEO is so much easier to explain than Black Hat SEO, but it is also MUCH harder to practice. White Hat SEO also tends to be more expensive and time consuming than Black Hat; combine that with the fact that results tend to appear at a much slower pace, it's understandable that the dark-side can be appealing. Black Hat promises quick results, but it is not a viable long term strategy.

How To Spot A Black Hat SEO Company

Search optimization methods are always changing, but a Black Hat SEO company is easy to spot. If you have a company website, you will undoubtedly see something here that you recognize.

*   The $99 SEO Package: Unsolicited emails from a company who says they have identified you as a good candidate for their SEO services. Reputable shops do not send out bulk emails to advertise their services. These emails often come from companies based overseas.  

*   Guaranteed First Page Rankings: Anytime you see the word 'Guarantee', whether it's about traffic, positioning, links, or time. The only guarantee in SEO is that if you play by the rules and are prepared to put in the time and money, you will see results.

*   Get 1000's of links: Link building services in general are to be avoided. Links are an important metric in Google's ranking algorithm, but not as important as they were, and it's about quality not quantity. Do not pay for link building services.

*   SEO on Auto-pilot: Automated SEO platforms that imply that, if you pay the monthly fee, you will have a set-it-and-forget-it system to rocket you to the top, Impossible.

There are many other tactics that that could be on this list, but they all imply the same thing: that SEO is easy, cheap, quick, or can be guaranteed. Effective SEO is only possible with shared effort from you and the people who are handling your strategy. SEO is just one part of a successful overall online marketing strategy, it is not for short term hits, and like everything else in life, it's not a basket meant to hold all your eggs.

As stated in the beginning, this is an overly-simplified explanation of Black Hat SEO. Search marketing is a long term strategy that requires quite a bit of time and effort, but that should not dissuade you, because it is consistently the most profitable online channel.

In the next segment we will talk about what White Hat SEO really is, and how to reap the long term benefits. 

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