Tim Priebe

Is your SEO strategy risky?

Black hatI spoke with a local business owner recently who had some questions about SEO (search engine optimization). During our conversation, what she shared revealed a lot of red flags. Knowing what I heard can help you know if you might be running a risk with unethical SEO, often known as black hat SEO.

The situation

Through my conversation with this woman, I discovered that she was paying someone in another country around $100 a month to handle her SEO. He had done websites for people in her industry and did continuing SEO with her website but she wasn’t sure what was included in that.

We also talked about the results she was seeing. She was #1 in Google for several different searches. She also mentioned that another of her SEO vendor’s clients had disappeared from Google results, which struck her as odd.

The amount of money she was paying was so little for that level of result that it was suspicious. And the fact that her SEO provider obviously hadn’t taken any time to explain what he was doing for her website? Downright fishy.

Two different SEO methods

Let’s talk terms. There are two ways to increase someone’s Search Engine Optimization: black hat SEO or white hat SEO. These terms come from Western movies—the bad guys would wear black hats, and the good guys would wear white hats. That way you’d know who was who throughout the movie.

In online marketing, though, most of us don’t wear cowboy hats. So it’s hard to know, sometimes, if what you’re getting is a legitimate service or something that Google is going to penalize you for later.

Black hat SEO

In the conversation I had, it sounded like the woman I was speaking with was inadvertently having someone provide black hat SEO for her company.

For almost as long as Google’s been around, people have tried to manipulate the system by using underhanded methods to increase the visibility of their sites. This particular tactic doesn’t work anymore, but one example of how this used to work was trying to trick Google’s search algorithm by having white text on white background.

Visitors to the site couldn’t see it (they’d just see a weirdly large blank space), but those invisible words would greatly improve that website’s search engine visibility. Then Google started blacklisting websites that did that.

White hat SEO

White hat online marketers improve the visibility of the websites they work on by non-manipulative means: relevant, content-rich text, consistent meaningful updates, and user engagement, among other things. Google’s algorithm looks for websites with those qualities and those are the ones that show up more highly in searches.

Black hat SEO providers continue to find more creative way to trick search engines like Google. To combat that, Google continually updates their algorithm. In fact, one of the things their algorithm will do is flag suspicious websites for manual review, where a real person will look at the website and decide if it’s legitimately valuable. If it’s not, there are consequences.

The investment makes a difference

Unfortunately, the contact I spoke with over the phone couldn’t to get the results she wanted in a white hat manner for her current investment. In her case, white hat SEO would be about 3-5 times more of a financial investment. A legitimate purchase typically comes with a higher investment than one on the black market, whether we’re talking about pawn shops or black hat SEO.

Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re new to online marketing, ask people with more experience what reasonable expectations are. Whether they do online marketing themselves or are a client of someone who does, they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

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