3 Questions You Should Ask Before Debating “Black Hat” Tactics

 

We have positioned ourselves as ethical digital marketers and we stand behind that assertion, but a chasm is opening up in this industry and I don’t think it’s healthy. Marketers are outing “black hats” while many “inbound marketers” are being criticized for hypocrisy and false assertions that what they do does not work.

The real problem with this debate is that there are no stated goals other than the desire to position ourselves as “safe” marketers or as “real” SEOs. The phrases “black hat” and “white hat” are being defined only by whoever is using them, and legitimate criticisms from either side are being fully ignored due to cognitive biases. Black Hat Tactics

We’re probably guilty of some of this ourselves, so we’re not preaching from the pulpit here. I just think it’s time to start defining what we mean and why we care so much about this debate, to stop inventing straw men, and to build something constructive out of this.

So, with that in mind, here are 3 questions I think we should all ask before we jump back into this debate.

1. What are “black hat” and “white hat” tactics anyway?

Ask an SEO, get a wrong answer.

“Inbound marketers” will mostly point to tactics that Google has explicitly stated are against the rules, like:

  • Buying and selling links, including exchanging goods and services for links or sending “free” products in exchange for links
  • Trading links “excessively”
  • Linking to spammers and unrelated sites to manipulate PageRank
  • Building pages just to link from them
  • Building links with automated programs

Meanwhile, supposed “black hats” will point out that the term comes from the hacking world. You’re not really a “black hat” unless you are breaking the law or hacking computer systems, many of them will argue.

But, as we’ve pointed out several times, and Michael Martinez has joined us, Google has stated that any links intended to manipulate rankings can be considered part of a link scheme.

If we accept the premise that SEO tactics are “gray hat” if they lie in murky, unclearly defined territory according to Google’s guidelines, then virtually all SEO is gray hat. We’re all trying to “manipulate” rankings. It’s only by attributing a sinister connotation to the word “manipulate” that we can justify calling ourselves “white hats” and them “black hats.”

And, of course, Google can change its guidelines at any time.

As we’ve said before and will say again, we advocate attaching some non-SEO marketing value to every SEO tactic you use. The simple mantra “would I build this link if it were no-follow?” is a good one to live by. We also feel it’s a better decision to scale through smart hiring and project management software like WorkZone than through automation like Xrumer or whatever the kids are using these days.

But this doesn’t really come down to being “black hat” or “white hat.” It comes down to our goals and our risk tolerance. And that brings us to our next question.

2. What are your goals and your risk tolerance?

Why do you care about rankings, and how much risk are you willing to accept?

If you’re in SEO for yourself, the ethics can get murkier than most of us would like to admit. You’re only putting yourself at risk, and a few spun articles and purchased links probably aren’t going to hurt anybody but you beyond mere annoyance. This is, in fact, fairly tame compared to some aggressive marketing tactics that predate SEO.

If you’re working for clients, the situation is very different. Putting a client at risk without their consent is certainly unethical, bad for morale, bad for publicity, and ultimately bad for business.

Even clients who claim to be up for the risk will often quickly be reduced to tears when they find themselves getting penalized.

And this isn’t the world of insurance, where risks can be calculated with some degree of accuracy. We have to face facts and realize that we have no idea what the risks are when we violate, or tip-toe on, Google’s guidelines.

I’m of the opinion that deliberately violating Google’s guidelines can only make sense if all you care about are short term results. Most spammers fully realize this, and leverage automated, risky tactics for short term profit. That’s an ethically gray decision that we’re not interested in making, because long term success is the only kind of success that matters to us.

But what about the rest of us? When we use guest posts to boost PageRank or use outreach to build links, we are arguably engaging in “link schemes.” That’s also a risk we need to be fully aware of, which is why it is so important to diversify and chase referral traffic and branding impressions just as much as SEO value.

And all of this talk about ethics really makes me wonder about one big question that often goes unaddressed, and really gets to the heart of why this debate has been bothering me lately.

3. Why do ethics only matter when it comes to Google?

Ask almost anybody and you won’t find that their hearts go out to Google and its shareholders, and all the pain and suffering that they must go through because of “black hat” SEOs.

Whenever people debate “black hat” vs “white hat” the subject of ethics always seems to come up, but rarely does this discussion move beyond the rules Google has defined. This is probably why “black hats” often claim “inbound marketers” are brainwashed herd animals.

What about collecting arguably private user data for remarketing advertisements? What about using Facebook’s user data to market to consumers using what they often argue is private data? What about maximizing your conversion rate by making false promises?

I’m not arguing for or against any of these tactics; I’m simply pointing out that these subjects rarely seem to come up during these debates. As far as the user is concerned, a remarketing ad is just as bad, if not worse than, a purchased link. False promises are still worse, and yet practically ubiquitous as far as consumers are concerned.

Conclusion

Ethics go deeper than the rules Google has laid out for us. In fact, ethics are a crucial part of holistic marketing. Shared values are one of the strongest motivators for purchasing intent, and internal morale is driven in large part by ethics. If we can move beyond name calling, we can address how ethics really impact SEO, instead of focusing on the undeniable fact that violating Google guidelines comes with inherent risks.

What do you think about ethics in SEO outside this traditionally defined scope?

(Photo Source)

Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder & VP of Marketing of E2M Solutions & OnlyDesign. The primary focus of E2M Solutions is on content marketing and leveraging its potential to generate revenue for clients. OnlyDesign helps companies build a better web & mobile presence. You can contact him on twitter @DholakiyaPratik or by emailing at web@pratikdholakiya.com

7 Ways to Optimize a National Site for Local Search


You got yourself a site that has a national presence and is doing quite well in SERPs, but one fine day you realize that you Local Searchwant to optimize it for local search. You want your site to be found by a local target audience, one that belongs to particular city/town/neighborhood. What are you going to do about it? Will you make wholesale changes to the site, making it part national part local? Or do you start taking sure footed SEO steps to not just optimize your site for local search but ensure that it figures right at the top of the search rankings.

Out of the all the roads that you could take to reach your destination, the last sounds the best; let’s take a look at seven pointers that are part and parcel of any local SEO driven strategy.

 

1.       Start with the Basics – Keyword Research

Onsite optimization is a prerequisite for ranking in local search, but you must first know the keywords that you want to use. The idea here is to target industry specific terms and geo specific terms.

So, if you are a software services provider that wants to target New York, your keywords research must include both, your domain centric keywords and New York.

By getting an idea of the number times keywords are searched in a month, you will get the handle on the keywords that you must target. In local search, it’s a good idea to focus on long tail keywords; these are more niche and locations specific and they also give you a better opportunity to rank.

 

2.       Onsite Optimization

Once you have your keywords locked in, get started on website optimization focused on local search; after all, you need to tell the search engine which location you are targeting.

Optimize your SEO title tags with the local keywords that you researched, it needs to be a mix of your primary keywords and location based keywords as well; and mind you all this within the 65 character limit.

Your optimized Meta description has scope for some more information as compared to your locally optimized Title Tags. So, make those 155 characters count; add primary and local keywords, location specific business information and your phone number.

 

3.       Using local online directories

This is a critical element of offsite optimization. Getting listed on local directories helps you build citations, which play a big role in ranking algorithms for local search. A citation is a mention. It is your brand name, business address, contact details and any other information that gives the listing the most value. What’s more, it’s important that this information is the same across all directories, word for word and format for format.

Listing your domain on local directories helps you build high quality links and citations, which in turn helps improve your visibility. But using just any local online directory won’t do, your focus must be on authoritative directories, the kind that don’t just accept any listing, but only accept listings that follow best practices. Some well-respected figures in this niche include Google Places, Yelp, Bing Local, Merchant Circle, and Yellow Pages.

 

4.       Landing Page for each location that you want to target

If you want your national presence to be more localized, you shouldn’t go about creating a new website. Why not create a landing page or a subdomain for every location that you want to target. So, it could be something like newyork.xyz.com. Of course, this is only useful if you want to rank for multiple cities.

A local landing page for say New York, another one for Boston, and yet another for say Houston will help you improve organic rankings and there is a good chance that Google Maps will pick it up as well. Follow the best practices of optimizing your different landing pages like optimizing title tags, giving full business address; local phone numbers etc. will give a fillip to your SEO ranking efforts.

 

5.      Adding a location wise directory structure

One of the better ways of ranking in local search is designing the right kind of URL architecture; especially if you are targeting a variety of locations/cities across the United States. The idea is to create a directory structure that can penetrate local search best, for the cities that you want to target.

What you need here is a deeply nested site that has a structure by state/location/city/different-pages. A hierarchal structure is a necessity here, and you need to identify the term that will give a signal to local search results. It’s only with a location specific directory structure that you can establish immediate relevancy at the city level, which in turn allows your site to build the authority it needs.

 

6.     Google Places

I have made a mention Google Places while talking about local directory listings, but this guy warrants a pointer of his own. After all, isn’t your ultimate goal, to show up right at top of the organic search results in Google, right where everybody can see you?

So, get started on claiming your business on Google Places, by creating your profile. Fill up everything that it asks you to and be sure to fill in only the most complete information. So, if you don’t have videos to link, create videos about your business, have them up on YouTube and then provide the link.

Once you submit, you will need to verify your business with either phone (this happens immediately), or through a postcard sent to your business address (takes 2-3 weeks). Once you go live, encourage reviews from customers who have used your services. Every positive review will have a bearing on your local search rank.

 

7.     Encouraging Local Reviews

You need to up the positive rating of your business on local search, and this is only possible through positive reviews. A customer needs to be encouraged to review your services and this can be done by adopting plenty of nifty little tactics. Of course, the first step of getting a positive review is offering the best services, otherwise nobody is going to leave any reviews for you, and if at all you will get a review, it will be a bad one.

But let’s be optimistic and consider that you haven’t put a step wrong in offering your services, so how do you go about encouraging good reviews:

  • Reviews via Emails: Encourage your customers to send in a review via email; do this by emailing them after you have provided your services to them, and ask them to rate their experience of working with you, by giving them a link to your business listing.
  • Ask: Sometimes it just makes better sense to ask your customer upfront to give you a positive review on a business listing. Most customers, if they are a happy lot, are going to oblige.
  • Buttons/Badges: Add links to your business listing on your website, and let your customers know they can rate your business on these sites.

Something else that you need to do, is monitor all the reviews that are coming in, so if there is a bad review that has come your way, you can quickly respond to it; at times this response will satisfy unsatisfied customers, helping you earn some brownie points.

 

In Conclusion

Local SEO is all about focusing attention on the specifics of your niche and location. You will need to keep reading and keep learning on the various ways of winning the top place in local search. You can take a look at 9 steps to win your online space, a post that gives you more information about local SEO and how to tackle it.

There is some tough competition on local search, but there are plenty of ways to go one up over them. You live and learn. All the best!

 

I hope you enjoyed this article and will share with your network.  We look forward to your comments.

Pratik Dholakiya is a Lead SEO Strategist at E2M Solutions, a full service internet marketing company specializing in ethical and advanced SEO services. Pratik has analyzed all the recent Google search algorithm updates very closely and seen success in defining and implementing SEO strategy that works in the current era to see sustainable results that stay last longer and produce high ROI.

Creating Results Based Content Strategy

There is a proliferation of new content management tools being launched to assist digital marketers, large organizations and SMEs.  The good news is that managing your content mix and scheduling the planned dispersion of your informatics through all channels is now accepted to be equally as important as the quality and quantity of your communications.  But how much of an impact does content management have on the success of online campaigns and penetration?  What benchmarks should be set to measure the promotional performance of your content?  Let’s discuss content from a new angle and evaluate strategic elements to design and implement effective enterprise content.

Content Strategy Results

Getting Started

For those not using a content management system it is important to understand that you are achieving only a fraction of the results than you could with a strategic approach.  Long gone are the days where simply providing content assured traffic when daily numbers were enough.  Metrics have changed and the value of content is no longer based on volume of visits alone, but strongly reliant on conversion of traffic to calls-to-action from the audience and readership.  You are competing with millions of websites around the world providing a steady stream of information.  So how do you grasp your audience and engage them?  By creating a content strategy that addresses a variety of factors.

 

Seasonality

The first and perhaps easiest item to add to your content strategy plan is to acknowledge various seasons and holidays of importance.  The dates that you acknowledge in your posts and supplemental social media feeds must always reflect your target market, but not be mutually exclusive and eliminate other opportunities to draw audience from additional social, religious or economic groups.

Geography plays a part in helping you decide which events to acknowledge in your content.  If your business enterprise operates on a national level you may acknowledge the accepted holidays and important dates for the country in which you do business.  However, if sales activities are worldwide you may choose to acknowledge a variety of dates, but avoid feeling compelled to note all of them.  In fact, attempting to do so can compromise the integrity of your intention and communications from participation to pandering and have the opposite effect.

 

Topic Mix

Do you watch the same television episode or movie more than once?  For most people it is futile to revisit content that they have already endorsed by visiting your site to read it.  Even if the enterprise is highly specialized, avoid creating excessive content on the same topic matter if you wish to retain and grow your audience.  No one likes to read the same thing twice, and truthfully if your readers formulate the opinion that you are recycling content without putting a sincere effort into creating items of interest they will go somewhere else.  They are not lacking for other options. Topic Mix

Large multinational entities know the value of creating interesting content that relates to their audience but which may not always directly link back to the product or brand they are promoting.  In other words, your readers want to relate to your product or brand.   Assuming a broadcast mentality (or one directional communication) is necessary to inform however fun and entertaining posts can also create loyalty and brand ambassadors for your product.  The digital consumer (inundated with unlimited sensory and content options online) is a discerning one that is looking to make a connection.  Include informal posts that address lifestyle, health and wellness, trends and other items of interest to keep your readers engaged and coming back for more.
 

Interactivity

A rule that many content strategists forget when developing their monthly or annual plans is to include elements of interactivity in their posts.   Most children have a hard time sitting still and doing little, which is why parents are eager to keep them busy and entertained.  Without condescension your readers are the same.  Web 2.0 is interactive.  People want to engage with their minds and their mouse when they visit your site, and there are many advantages to building in a variety of interactive opportunities.

Retention is a goal of your strategic plan.  That is where the return on investment for digital marketing is born.  Achieving visits to your website is only one small part of content management.  Providing an element that requires thought and participation has the ability to formulate a lasting impression and recollection of your website, content and your brand.   And that impression has the probability of creating a call-to-action, whether referring your website to friends and family for a centrifugal viral effect or a purchase decision regarding your product or service.   These rewards create a memorable experience which translates into tangible measurements such as brand loyalty and sales.

Explore online promotional applications such as WildFire and integrate content with a contest.   Engage your readers in opinion polls directly on the website and direct participation through social media channels.  Drive coupon and other incentives to reward direct engagement, and most importantly converse with your audience, respond to questions and with gratitude for their interaction.  Remember that if you do not take the time to appreciate their efforts your competitors definitely will.  Comments, reactions, moderation and responses are all part of creating an environment of responsive interactivity with your audience.

 

Is This Thing Working?

Digital marketing professionals are frequently asked for evidence of the efficacy of their programs.  While none of the measurements can round to the nearest dollar to valuate content and online engagement, there are a number of metrics that can be monitored to note what works for your audience and what does not.Is Social Working?

Social media activity and content quality work synchronously.  If your content mix is creating an impact with your target market you will note a surge in your social media metrics.  Shares and ‘Likes” on Facebook will increase, Twitter metrics such as retweet and sharing of links will start to climb. Naturally other site related traffic statistics will bear an increase in readership including page views or website subscriptions to RSS feed.

Remember that it is important to utilize all reporting available and analyze your “hits and misses” and tailor your content strategically throughout the year based on what is meaningful to your readers. Position your content plan as a framework to guide your organized communication throughout the year, but revisit it on a monthly basis to modify based on overall performance and promotional objectives.

Digital marketers are in the business of encouraging people to visit, engage and purchase. If you write it qualitatively and intuitively they will come (and bring their friends and family) and be drawn to content that is intelligent, relevant and meaningful to their lives. Today, all marketing is relationship marketing.  Remember to feed that relationship with high quality content through all channels of your communication for optimal results.

 Please bring the comments, and share if you liked the piece.

 

Pratik Dholakiya is a Lead SEO Strategist at E2M Solutions, a full service internet marketing company specializing in ethical and advanced SEO services. Pratik has analyzed all the recent Google search algorithm updates very closely and seen success in defining and implementing SEO strategy that works in the current era to see sustainable results that stay last longer and produce high ROI.