Some use the straight, narrow, and often, difficult path to achieve success. Many use short-cuts. As in life, there are no short-cuts to long-term success in search engine optimization (SEO).
Search engine optimization is the process of ensuring that a website gets visibility and ranking on search engines through a series of strategies based on globally-accepted best practices. Or rather it should be.
However, a number of SEO firms around the world use tactics that are not only unethical but specifically banned by search engines. If your website requires SEO services, it pays to keep yourself informed about what is ethical and what is not. If your SEO service partner follows Black Hat Tactics, it can have serious consequences for your site in the long run. Of course, such SEO firms may show dramatic results and ROI initially, but the moment search engines catch on - and they will - your site will be penalized and possibly black listed.
The penalties are quite stiff: search engines can penalize your site by lowering its ranking, stripping the site of the power to pass on PageRank; banning parts of your site; or even a total site ban (also called 'graybarred' because the site's PageRank is grayed out on the Google toolbar).
How does one distinguish unethical SEO practices from ethical ones?
The fundamental trait that marks an unethical SEO firm is it focuses on getting the attention of the search engine robot rather than the human viewer. It treats the search engine as an adversary, something to be manipulated, rather than used as a legitimate tool to get visitors who may be interested in your web site, your products or services. The aim of such a firm is to get quick results, rather than look at the long-term success of its clients.
Search engines are constantly on the watch for such unethical practices and are quick to crack down hard on sites relying on such methods. They use a variety of means to detect unethical practices. These include sophisticated automated spam checks, paid spam spotters and, most important, your own competitors. So if you think your unethical practices will go undetected, think again.
There's a simple reason for their alacrity. For unethical SEO firms, getting a good ranking for their clients in the shortest period of time is all-important, not ensuring that the user finds what he or she wants. So the user gets a lot of search results that he or she finds perfectly useless, damaging the credibility of the search engine.
Make sure that your SEO partner is not using any of these tactics:
Unethical redirects: The search results throws up a certain URL that seems to match the word you were looking for. But when you click on it, you're redirected to another URL, which has absolutely no connection with what you wanted. The idea is to create a number of pages that match particular keywords specifically for search engine robots. But when a user clicks on those URLs, they are redirected to a single page that the webmaster wants you to see.
You've been framed: In this case the URL remains the same, but the entire viewing area of the web page is filled up by a frame (search engines robots have a problem reading content inside frames) that may or may not have the content you want. Right-click on the body of the frame and choose `properties', and you'll discover that it has a different URL.
Now you see it, now you don't: This is one of the oldest spamming techniques: Making content such as keywords and links invisible by using the same colour for text as the background; white text on white background. While search engine robots will be able to read the content, users will not.
Link farms: Many sites offer reciprocal links and exist solely for that purpose. Avoid such link networks. Another black hat tactic employed by SEOs is to submit competitors' sites to such networks in the hope that they will be penalized.
Keyword spam: Excessive use of keywords in tags and across body copy. Use your keywords judiciously. Don't overdo it. Another method of keyword spamming is using popular keywords that are irrelevant to your business.
Trademark infringement: Using the name of competitors as a keyword on your site.
All of these practices are frowned upon by search engines. Be aware that you will be discovered sooner or later. Taking short-cuts is obviously not the answer. A SEO firm that takes its job seriously goes about it in an ethical fashion, which pays off in the long-term. It treats the search engine not as an adversary, but as a friend. The focus is on delivering the relevant results to the relevant audience, not to con them. It does not concentrate just on improving rankings in a hurry.
An ethical SEO partner will work with you and your marketing team to understand your business, your target audience and your web site goals. It will extensively research keyword strategies, identify those that fit your business and goals and help you build content that is relevant to users around these keywords.
Such a firm will help you build links from high-quality sites that are thematically similar to yours. It will help you write articles, press releases and great content that you can distribute across the net and build links and relationships.
It will help you design a site that is easy for search engines to navigate and index. Such a firm will not be able to give you results overnight. But the results it does produce will be sustainable.
(The author is the CEO of Puretech Internet Pvt. Ltd.)