White Hat SEO Checklist: 3 Ways to Ensure You’re Not Penalized for Overly Aggressive Search Strategies
It happens all the time. Lesser-known brands outrank national brands in search results—sometimes for several months at a time. Leveraging questionable link building strategies may drive search results, but what do they say about your brand?
Deceiving search engines through rapid backlink generation, overuse of keywords in anchor text and misleading authority sites are unsustainable practices that can reflect poorly on your brand. "Tricking" the system is like a sugar high—the peaks are high, but the decline is quick and inevitable.
So why do SEO practitioners turn to questionable link-building strategies? The short answer is: Because they can. But just because they can doesn't mean they should.
To maintain positive brand perception through search practices, marketers need to understand that there is a line between aggressive and misleading. Savvy brands are creating a competitive, long-term advantage by focusing efforts on building links based on content that is directly relevant to its industry, helpful to its customers and builds credibility. So what should marketing leaders aim for in their search strategies? They should develop strategies that are sustainable, legitimate and ethical.
1. Sustainable: If every change to Google's algorithm sends your SEO team into a tailspin, your SEO practices probably are not sustainable. Unsustainable SEO practices can lead to wasted resources, inconsistent results and less relevant content delivered to site visitors. A sustainable link building strategy consistently delivers successful results, independent of changes to search engine algorithms. And, developing content that establishes authority and credibility can create opportunities to expand thought leadership across relevant media, which promotes stronger rankings.
2. Legitimate: Driving search results is the name of the game. But, at the end of the day, it's not a game. We have to remember that we are working to help our brands make meaningful connections with customers—to deliver relevant results that are tailored to individual user interests and needs and not just search engines. Instead of merely planting links in blogs by the masses in the interest of creating incoming links, savvy brands are putting in the time and effort to write guest columns or submit insightful comments on blogs and forums that are industry- and subject matter-relevant. SEO practitioners also can drive legitimate results by linking social feeds to a company website or optimizing videos for YouTube and other video sharing platforms.
3. Ethical: Pushing the boundaries too far can land search marketers, and ultimately the brands they represent, in hot water. Being penalized or blocked completely by Google is more than just a search problem. While it's true that this sort of action makes a brand invisible in a critical medium, it can also have an impact on the brand's overall perception. Recall the 2011 J.C. Penney fiasco. The brand made national news when The New York Times called them out for problematic link-building practices. In this case, J.C. Penney paid for thousands of links, which Google explicitly forbids in cases that "disregard the quality of links, the sources and the long-term impact it will have on their sites." J.C. Penney's reputation was tarnished, and Google penalized the brand by burying its search results. Instead of turning a blind eye to search practices and taking successful search results for granted, brands need to, at the very least, be aware of search practices being implemented on their behalf to prevent negative brand impact.
The line between "acceptable" and "unethical" can be fuzzy and it is not uncommon for search marketers to push the limits in the interest of driving results. It is up to brands and their marketing teams to understand the tactics and strategies being implemented by search marketers. To protect the brand, we should always err on the side of sustainable, legitimate and ethical.
Eppie Vojt is a digital marketing consultant and John Walker is digital marketing manager at Harrisburg, Pa.-based integrated marketing firm JPL. Vojt can be reached at email@example.com and Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org.