Don’t Be Evil – Why black hat SEO techniques never pay off

Written by: Drew Lyon   Austin, Texas

Posted on: April 3, 2013

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What better way for an SEO company to stay in the good graces of Google than by following the search leader’s own quasi-motto: Don’t Be Evil. That means no keyword stuffing, no link farms, no social spamming, no ripped-off content, no invisible text, etcetera. Some people call these “black hat” SEO techniques, but that label has become increasingly old-fashioned because so much grey area exists between the supposed white hat and black hat tactics. Frankly, most search engine marketing strategies reside somewhere in the great big ol’ land of grey.

With that in mind, perhaps a simpler distinction is needed. By putting the user’s experience first—Google users and website users—it’s clear that every SEO practice should be in the service of these users. Our goal should be to make their experiences better. Simple. This is how we define “being good.” Anything that improves the user’s experience, whether from a search engine or website point of view, can be called good. Thus, our SEO motto: Be Good.

Think Long Term

Let’s not turn this into a moral debate. Things that improve a user’s experience are just as easy to identify as those that exist solely for the purpose of SEO. Better yet, the tactics we’re going to call ‘good’ all coincide with Google’s methodology for ranking websites. Furthermore, if you only choose to employ optimization strategies that do good by the user, you are more likely to be immune to sweeping Google updates that aim to devalue websites trying to game their system.

Cheaters Never Win

Good search engine marketing is not about deceiving Google. It’s about clearly and accurately representing to search engines what your site is about and why you are an authority on it—perhaps the authority on it. When you show up at the top of a search for “Austin loft apartments,” the user is rightly going to expect to find an extensive selection of loft-style residences listed on your website.

This might sound obvious, but we all know how frustrating it is when we search for one thing and the website we visit has a loose, if any, connection to what we were originally searching for. Tricking users into visiting a site isn’t a useful strategy for a business or an SEO company. Traffic doesn’t matter unless it results in sales. Bottom line.

But enough preaching—how does all this translate to the real world of website marketing? Well, it’s all about showing Google you are the real deal for whatever it is you do.

Warning: expect to see the word “real” (and its synonyms) a lot.

Follow best and current practices for onpage optimization

We start here because this is one of the few remaining signals that is meant more for search engines than it is for end users. That said, title tags and meta descriptions do show up in search results with your URL. Therefore, making them succinct and relevant not only tells Google what your site is about, but also provides users with a quick synopsis of your content. That’s helpful.

Write original content meant to be read by real people

What difference does it make…nobody’s going to read it anyway? Not true. People will read your website content if it’s interesting and Google will read your website content regardless. Both of them will judge your content on originality, informativeness, and relevance. You shouldn’t have to obsess over SEO keywords, and you certainly don’t want to overdo it (one or two keywords per 100 words of text is recommended). They should naturally appear in your content anyway because they describe what you do.

Maintain real social accounts with actual engagement

Social media is important for two reasons. One: it’s a direct line of communication with people interested in your brand. Two: search engines think it’s important. It won’t work on either level if it’s not a genuine effort. Dormant social accounts are about as useful as stale bread. Stuffing anyone?

Pump up your brand power

This is a hot one. Right now, Google is doing everything in their power to establish the legitimacy and quality of brands. Becoming a top-tier brand is a long term strategy, but there are a few things you can do right away to show Google you’re a respected brand. Step one: make sure you have a Google+ account (personal and business). Step two: link the account to your website following these steps. Step three: be active, get in circles.

Encourage customers to leave feedback where it matters most (on Google)

Google reviews are SEO gold for local businesses. Remind your customers to leave reviews on Google+ first. Incentivize them. Put up “find us on Google” stickers, pass out cards with QR codes that link to your business page, most of all, provide memorable (in a good way) services or products. Put a blatant Google+ link and ‘+1’ button on your homepage.

Generate real news and press by being active in your community

Get out and do something. Start by attending networking events and then expand to hosting them. You should believe in what you do so much that you are dying to tell anyone who will listen. When you come up with a zany stunt or local event, reach out to local news outlets. See if you can get them to do a story or at least write a blurb on your upcoming event. Keep at it.

Earn legit links by demonstrating your value to other websites

Whether you do it by creating infographics, generating news, writing provocative blogs, making silly videos, becoming a contributing member of a online community, or providing an industry resource, you have to show other people why you matter. These organic links are the ones that Google values most.

But aren’t all SEO practices inherently evil?

This is a popular misconception held by SEO skeptics. Google supports search engine optimization when done right. They even have their own SEO guide. SEO is only evil when the intention is to trick search engines or mislead users. That’s why we’re making the distinction clear. Things that hurt a user’s experience are bad. Things that improve it are good. Be Good!

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