Short term rewards, long term consequences

Those of you who are still getting to grips with the concept of external links to a site being the ‘currency’ of the Google results should read a well-researched article in the US newspaper The New York Times from this weekend. The Dirty Little Secrets of Search shows how a US department store dominated the Google results over Christmas, but has suffered adverse consequences.

Here’s what we can learn from what seems to have happened. The first thing to understand is that if you want to appear top of the Google results for “widgets”, you need links to your widgets page from lots of other sites, preferably ones about widgets. The second thing to understand is that there are ways of doing this correctly, and there are shortcuts. In the search engine optimisation world, these are known as “white hat” and “black hat” techniques. Google tries to spot the sites which have acquired their links properly and gives them credit for doing so. It also tries to spot the sites which are trying to game the system, and penalises them.

What’s involved in “black hat” techniques? Things like planting your links all over sites which don’t really want them, setting up your own third-party sites just to link to your main one, and joining in the market for buying links. Now, I should stress that there’s nothing illegal with doing this sort of thing. Google has become so pervasive in our society that you get the impression that if you don’t follow its rules, you’ll find a police car drawing up outside your house. This is absolute nonsense, and it really irritates me. My local shop has a noticeboard where you can put up cards with items for sale. If you type out a nice card and give it to them, they’ll kindly display it for you. If you bring in a giant card and pin it over the top of everyone else’s, as soon as the shop notices, they’ll take it down and won’t let you put any more up in future. No law has been broken, they just have their own rules and ask you abide by them if you want the benefit of the service.

So it’s up to you. You can shortcut the system, get a temporary benefit, and then be frozen out if and when you get caught. Or you can play the game, but just try to do it better than anyone else.

Unfortunately, many people in business think its a good idea to pay people to play the game for them, but don’t keep an eye on how its done. It’s like telling someone: “sell my bike for me, and I’ll give you £5. I don’t care how you do it”. You know what happens next. They take a giant card down to the local shop, cover up everybody else’s cards with it, sell the bike and pocket the £5. But next time you go down the shop, to your surprise, the shopkeeper mentions that you won’t be allowed to use his noticeboard again.

That’s why we believe the best way to get your company to the top of the Google results is to learn search engine optimisation techniques and to implement them in-house. There are plenty of outsourced services to do the whole thing for you, but can you tell which are the ones who play by the rules, and which are the ones which will game the system, pocket their fee, and leave you to suffer the consequences for years to come?

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