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Posts Tagged ‘Ethics’

Black Hat SEO Will Cost You

February 25, 2011 2 comments

It’s not often that SEO makes the news. However, in the last two weeks, SEO has been a big topic in several mainstream media publications.

Two weeks ago the New York Times wrote how JC Penney used scammy link building to craft a successful online holiday shopping season. When the reporter contacted Google about the tactic, the top rankings disappeared.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal wrote how Overstock.com paid college students for inbound links to their site in another questionable SEO campaign.

Finally, today Google announced it was changing the way its search algorithm works in an attempt to delist “content farms.”

What is important about this recent news about SEO? It’s a clear message to the spammers and scammers of the online world black hat SEO tactics won’t be tolerated. The fact the SEO industry even has a recognized “black hat” category is quite telling. There are rogue operators in any industry, but they keep a low profile and operate in the shadows to avoid detection. Black hat SEOs like to brag.

If you hire a black hat SEO, you may benefit for a while, but eventually you will pay…maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your domain’s life. It worked for JC Penney during a crucial time -

Kate Coultas, a company spokeswoman, wrote to a reporter in January, “Internet sales through jcp.com posted strong growth in December, with significant increases in traffic and orders for the key holiday shopping periods of the week after Thanksgiving and the week before Christmas.”

Today Penney’s has lost significant position on its ill-gotten rankings.

The situation with Overstock.com wasn’t as blatant as JC Penney’s. Rather than buying links from the dregs of the online world, they offered a discount to people who would link to them. These were namely tech savvy college students who blogged from high authority .edu domains. The end result was the same…a significant drop in search rankings for top keywords.

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon…

These high-profile cases beg the question, “Are paid links legal in the search algorithms?” The answer is no. Google’s search algorithm won’t consider paid links. The only legal paid links are those that have a “nofollow” tag or those that go to an interstitial page that has the robots.txt file blocked.

Penneys and Overstock haven’t been banned, they’ve simply had the “link juice” or Page Rank removed from their links. The results have been devastating.

Content farms are another concept altogether. They involve low quality articles written purely to attract the attention of search engines and gain rankings. Human visitors to these sites are typically bombarded with an array of ads and the site owners hope to gain advertising income. The largest organized creator of such content recently had an IPO worth millions of dollars. Google has decided to change how these sites are ranked.

The aftermath for these companies is up in the air. JC Penney fired its SEO consulting company and blamed the entire fiasco on them. The Overstock situation is still playing out and Demand Media claims their rankings haven’t been affected.

Perhaps the better question relies on strategy. Was JC Penney duped by an SEO company? They’re in a tough position; either admit they went black hat on purpose (it was effective after all) or claim ignorance (something a multi-billion dollar company should never do.

Overstock obviously adopted a grayer hat approach, but still knew their tactic was wrong and could have consequences. Paid links that pass Page Rank are never legal. NEVER.  Demand Media and its ilk also chose the path they went down. The search engines allowed it. Now they don’t. Adapt or become extinct.

My policy has always been white hat. Over the years I’ve been passed by temporarily by black hat tactics or black hat SEOs only to find out later their results didn’t work long-term. I don’t worry about algorithm changes, because I produce good content. I’m not in business to test the gray/black line. I’m here to create good content and get good, lasting rankings for myself and my clients.

How do you choose a good SEO?

Ask them. Ask their clients. Ask their former clients. Find out what their link building strategy is. While certain tactics may be proprietary, it’s easy enough to find out where inbound links are coming from by searching for an inbound link checker.

Online marketing is now about transparency. Anything underhanded, shady or gray will be found out. There is no shortcut to creating good content. Outsourcing your content generation to countries where English isn’t their first language is not an effective strategy. The same applies if you’re creating content for a non-English website.

Bottom line: Black hat SEO isn’t good strategy. Your site’s search results will pay and pay dearly.

Ten Fearless Predictions About Internet Marketing in 2010

December 28, 2009 8 comments

It’s that time of year when predictions, goals and lists dominate the media.  Who am I not to oblige?  Here is my top ten list of Internet marketing trends that will dominate the year:

10.  Mobile media – The introduction of the Android operating system is going to create new demand for smart phones from the world’s largest manufacturers.  Gartner research predicts Android will be the number two operating system in the world by 2012.  That’s a lot of new phone hardware and a lot of people who will use the mobile web that haven’t in the past.  When Motorola’s Droid phone went on sale last month, it sold 250,000 units in the first week.  Most of those buyers were not iPhone deserters.  Ignore the mobile web at your peril.

9.  Bing becomes the number two search engine – Since Microsoft’s purchase of Yahoo! earlier this year, the perennial number two search engine has continued to lose market share to Google and now Bing.  I can’t help but think it’s because of the heavy TV advertising that was done.  Instead of building a stronger brand to challenge Google, Microsoft has simply cannibalized its most recent acquisition.  Expect to see more of that and make the effort to be found on Bing.  New Internet users and those easily persuaded by TV commercials are there.

8.  Businesses are going to make concerted efforts in social media – I’m seeing more and more companies creating business pages on Facebook.  I fanned a page for Grey Goose vodka the other day because they were running ads there.  They’ve got nearly 100,000 fans and a vibrant community on Facebook sharing and discussing drink recipes.  That’s the way to do it.  Pepsi is withdrawing all its Superbowl advertising in favor of a social media campaign with a charitable partner.  That’s 23 years of Superbowl commercials and millions of dollars being shifted online.  Pay attention.  There’s a reason.

7.  Non-commercial applications and uses will drive online commerce – Besides Pepsi’s alignment with the non-profit arena, government’s are using technology more to create engaged citizens.  CNN tells how mobile apps allow users to point out potholes and graffiti in larger cities.

If the inconvenience had happened a few years ago, Newmark said he would have just gone on with his day — maybe complaining about the temperature to a friend.

But this was 2009, the age of mobile technology, so Newmark pulled out his iPhone, snapped a photo of the train car and, using an app called “SeeClickFix,” zapped an on-the-go complaint, complete with GPS coordinates, straight to City Hall.

If government can engage citizens, businesses will have to as well.

6.  Relationships will mean more, social media will be the gateway – Over the past decade, two events have changed our country.  The first was 9/11.  It made us fearful, but also cognizant that anything can happen, any day.  When I first read about those towers coming down on the Internet, I couldn’t believe it.  I had to turn on my TV for proof.  It was that inconceivable.  The attitude that developed post 9/11 was one of staying home, remodeling and not travelling.  Many people made a lot of money staying home and remodeling their homes and the Gulf War brought the country out of recession.  Now we’re in a bigger recession, our homes have lost all their pumped up value and we’re realizing its people, not posessions that are important.  Social media is making it easier and easier to connect with people.

5.  A company will implode due to social media – I have no insider information, just a feeling that some big company out there is going to take on a social media campaign and screw it up so badly it either damages the company for years or takes it down completely.  We’ve seen hints of this in the past with AOL and Best Buy, but this is going to be a very special mistake.  Here’s why it’s going to happen -  most of corporate America doesn’t understand the Internet.  Here’s how – people online act like they’re yelling at their TV’s at home.  Social media is like turning up the volume on that TV, but with it becoming two sided.  It’s if Elvis was shooting the TV and the person on the other side had some danger of being hit.  They do and I believe it will happen in 2010.

Corporate America thinks they can still lie and misrepresent and set up patsies in this age of transparency.  They can’t any more, but it will take a gigantic implosion before the rest of them catch on.  Social media will be that catalyst.

4.  Blogging is going to make a comeback -  Over the past year, blogs have seemed to become passé.  Twitter (microblogging) and Facebook have become the brand names of social media.  Meanwhile the old standbys; forums and blogs keep chugging along.  The reason I think blogs are going to come back stronger is the emergence of Posterous as another platform.  It doesn’t replace existing platforms, even though it can.  It complements them and makes it even easier for bloggers to blog…by simply sending an email.  Posterous showed its getting serious when it recently added multi-author capability, a feature that prevented business adoption of the technology.  I think we’re going to see a new form of blogging I’m dubbing “mini-blogging” that will be longer than Twitter, but shorter than a blog like mine.  Posterous is going to help make that happen.

3. Twitter gives control back to consumers – I think quite possibly the most annoying thing about the Internet is spam.  I get an email from the Chicago Cubs a few times a week in an email I don’t use very often.  I probably got on their list when I created a March madness bracket five years ago, but I can’t seem to be removed.  It’s an indignity I’ve learned to ignore…and delete every time I get an email from them.  On the other hand, if all they had was my Twitter address, I retain control since I can unfollow them any time I want.  This is the direction smart marketers are heading.  If you’re starting a new site, use Twitter to build your list because it will build trust and a loyal following.

2. Advertisers will ask for less, but know more – Along the same vein, smart marketers are asking for less information on contact and landing pages.  When I first read this article suggesting not to ask for a full name, I was a little flabbergasted.  Any email marketer knows personalized emails with the prospect’s name in the subject line have a higher open rate.  Mark was right, you’ll get the rest of their information…when they buy.  Then you can personalize to your heart’s content.  In the meantime people who Twitter would rather give up that information, even though it can supply much more than an email, because they know they can unfollow at any time.  Are you using Twitter and Facebook on your landing pages and contact forms?  You should.

1.  Coupon sites will rule the year – It seems technology and the economy have combined to create an amazing opportunity for consumers through the old standby – coupons.  Who doesn’t like to save money?  In some of the email newsletters I still subscribe to, I’ve seen the word coupon pop up more and more frequently and I believe 2010 will produce an amazing winner in that vertical space.  There’s no doubt demand exists.  “Printable coupons” gets searched over 100,000 times per month according to WordTracker and SmallBusinessNewz wrote,

Of course big-name brands were often accompanying the keywords, but the fact that people are looking for printable coupons should tip you off that it is a good idea to offer them if you run a brick and mortar store. I guarantee that not everyone who is searching for coupons is associating them with a specific brand.

Online coupon businesses are doing very well.  Groupon.com has experienced explosive growth this year and just received a 30 million dollar capital injection that could make it the break out coupon site of 2010.  Whether or not it’s Groupon, I do think at the end of next year, coupon sites are going to be very top of mind.

There are my ten fearless predictions for 2010.  Any thoughts…agreements…disagreements?  Let me know by leaving a comment.

Link Building – Avoid the Bad Neighborhoods

September 24, 2009 Leave a comment

bad neighborhoodIn my last two articles on link building, I’ve mentioned the bad neighborhood concept, but not really explained it fully.

I’d like to discuss the concept and share a tool you can use to avoid Internet bad neighborhoods.

Everybody has stumbled across an Internet bad neighborhood at some point in their surfing.  Sites with multiple pop-up ads, link farms, pay per surf offers, safelists and others are types of bad neighborhood sites.  The search engines hate them because they try and game the system and typically don’t offer any quality content.

Google writes on their webmaster site -

  • Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.

Google wants search to be natural and will penalize sites that try to skirt the rules.

How do you avoid bad neighborhoods?

Don’t link to them.  If somebody asks me for a link, I look at the site.  Is it relevant to mine?  Does it offer value to my readers?  Is it full of ads and popups?  If these questions aren’t answered to my satisfaction, I don’t link to it.  I normally find sites I link to through Google searches.  Those are generally safe to link to.  Now that I’m getting pushed links from Twitter, Facebook and other social sites, I simply look at the site and ignore it if it doesn’t offer any value.  If it does, I bookmark it for later use.

What if you can’t tell you’re in a bad neighborhood?

There are a few occasions when this might happen.  While researching this article, I found a pretty cool tool to help.  This tool is useful on several levels just as a link checker so you can verify you don’t have any broken links on your page.  It’s also possible a domain you once linked to has expired and been taken over by some scam artist.  This tool will help you go through those old links to verify they still work!

Use links to your advantage, avoid Internet bad neighborhoods and enjoy good search engine rankings and visitors who are interested in your site.

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Ethics for Bloggers – A Powerpoint Presentation

September 2, 2009 6 comments

I gave a presentation last September to a new media class at the University of Utah about fact checking and accuracy when blogging.  This is the powerpoint slide presentation I created.

The website referenced is no longer in existence, but I think you can all follow along.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to comment or email me.

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