Digital Marketing

Avoiding Being Evil: Ethical Search Marketing

We didn’t spend this chapter describing spam just so that unscrupulous users could run out and use it. Sure, the spam might bump their page rank for a little while, but they will be caught, and their site will be penalized or pulled from the index entirely. So why use it?

For too long, many SEO practitioners were involved in an arms race of sorts, inventing technology and techniques in order to achieve the best rankings and get the most clients. Unfortunately, some developed more and more devious technology to trick the search engines and beat the competition.

Search engine penalties

The search engines tweak their algorithms all the time in a continuous effort to improve the quality of search results. Google has said it makes more than 500 changes a year — that’s more than once per day! Many changes are minor, but others aggressively attack one form of spam or another, causing major consequences for websites trying to rank. When the dust settles, both winners and losers emerge.

Within the SEO industry, we call any sudden and noticeable demotion in search engine ranking a penalty. Penalties can be assigned either manually or as the result of an algorithm change, but the resulting drop in traffic and revenue feels the same to the website owner. Search engines have human quality raters who can review a website and assign a manual action if they find that the site violates their quality guidelines. That’s what search engines call a “penalty.” But sites can also get hit with an algorithmic penalty when an algorithm change redefines what’s okay to do and they are suddenly caught outside the new stricter boundaries. Just as in musical chairs when the music stops, a site that has been happily playing the game can suddenly find itself without a place to sit in the SERPs.

Realizing That There Are No Promises or Guarantees

Say that you know that you won’t use spam in order to increase your page ranking in the search engines. You understand that it’s unethical and is more trouble than it’s worth. But at the same time, you need to increase your page rank. The simple solution is to hire an SEO organization to do the optimizing for you. But beware: Although you might not use spam, there’s a chance than an unscrupulous SEO practitioner will.

A code of ethics applies to people in the search engine optimization industry. Beware of those who promise or guarantee results to their clients, allege a special relationship with a search engine, or advertise the ability to get priority consideration when they submit to a search engine. People who make these claims are usually lying.

Remember, there is no way to pay your way into the top of the search results page. Yahoo does have a program called Search Submit Pro where, for a fee, you can submit your page and be guaranteed that the Yahoo spider will crawl your site frequently, but Yahoo doesn’t guarantee rankings, and it’s the only large engine with this sort of program.

Last word

In a nutshell? Don’t be evil. Spammers never win, and winners never spam. What works in the short term won’t work forever, and living in fear of getting caught is no way to run a business.

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