Ah, ethics! That topic that’s eternally discussed in the business world. Yet there are so many examples of people and companies who somehow forget all about them. From embezzling money to inappropriate comments, it seems like someone makes a major “oopsie” at least once a month nowadays.

While shady SEO practices probably won’t land you in a federal penitentiary, they can (and likely will) earn you some time in Google solitary. To avoid landing in the search engine slammer, let’s take a quick look at what ethical and unethical SEO look like.

The general rule for SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), put very simply, is the practice of increasing the likelihood of being found when potential customers search for you online. The general rule to follow for SEO (and SEM) is to stick to the obvious. As I tell my kids: if you have to hide something or you wouldn’t me to know you did it, you probably shouldn’t do it.

White hat SEO practices

“White hat” SEO practices refer to the ethical, fully legal ways of optimizing a website. White hat practices follow the guidelines set by search engines, bring value to site vistitors, and focus on the long-term (Crazy Egg, 2018). While white hat tactics do and to take more time, they also create and maintain consumer trust for the brand. Additionally, these practices tend to be more obvious and simple including:

  • Creating quality content
  • Using keywords relevant to the content
  • Keyword-rich page titles
  • One keyword focus per page
  • Intuitive website navigation
  • Fast page loading times

Using these tactics will help you create a website with authority that customers feel like they can trust. Also, since these practices are all above board, you can be confident that your SEO strategy will continue to move up the listings, as long as you continue to ensure your content and keywords are relevant.

Black hat SEO practices

“Black hat” SEO is, you guessed it, the opposite of white hat SEO: the unethical, do-not-dos of the SEO world. These are the tactics that often promise quick wins, try to manipulate the algorithm, and bend the guidelines (or throw them completely out the window). While many of these tactics have roots in the early days of search engines, using them now could lead to an extended stay in Google Narnia and possibly a fine or the total blocking of your website. Included in this list of no-nos are:

  • Keyword stuffing – keywords either hidden or over used to increase ranking
  • Meta keyword stuffing – inorganically adding keywords to page titles, meta tags or backlinks
  • Content cloaking – showing search engines content visitors can’t see
  • Bad content – irrelevant, copied or otherwise unhelpful content for visitors
  • Link farming – gathering extra website links, usually through paying, from unrelated sites

When the black hat bites back

One example of black hat SEO coming back to bite its users is J.C. Penney’s 2011 paid link network. The company’s SEO firm allegedly paid to create a network of 2,015 pages all leading to J.C. Penney’s website. While some of the links appeared on relevant pages, most were completely unrelated and contained content on everything from diseases to nuclear engineering (Segal, 2011). Upon confirming the scheme, Google quickly enforced “manual action”, essentially burying the page in search results, causing it to fall from the #1 spot to the high 60s, low 70s (Devaney, 2017).

Final thoughts

While the internet has conditioned us to expect fast, easy results his is one case where we need to remember the tortoise and the hare. Chugging along with great content and properly used keywords, while slower and more daunting, will build value and trust that alleged “short cuts” will never be able to touch. This focus on creating value for customers will help you ensure you stay on the SEO straight-and-narrow, and resist the temptation to use less ethical means to gain a quick follower of two. Remember: if you have to hide it, you shouldn’t be doing it.

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Devaney, E. (2017, February 1). The Biggest SEO Blunders of All Time. HubSpot Blog. https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/biggest-seo-blunders.

Isca, F. (2020, January 2). White Hat & Black Hat SEO Techniques: 12 Things You Need To Know. Weidert Group is a B2B Inbound Marketing Agency for Industrial Manufacturers. https://www.weidert.com/blog/white-hat-seo-black-hat-seo.

Segal, D. (2011, February 12). The Dirty Little Secrets of Search. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/business/13search.html?_r=2.

White vs. Black Hat SEO: What is the Difference. The Daily Egg. (2018, May 20). https://www.crazyegg.com/blog/seo/black-hat-vs-white-hat-seo/.

Posted by:Amy Clark

Hey, sunshine! I’m a proud entrepreneurial mama with three kids and a hunky husband. I worship chocolate like a deity, drink homemade lattes like my life depends on it and think jeggings are one of the greatest inventions of the 21st Century. A photographer, educator + military spouse, my happiest days are spent helping creative-based small business owners reach their business goals. Have questions about photography, business or life with 3 littles?- feel free to email me! amy@amyclarkcreative.com

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