The Dark Side of SEO

It seems the confusion over acceptable SEO (search engine optimization) practices continues to rage on. The battlefield is the Internet, and the prisoners of war are the writers, marketers and publishers who are trying to produce high quality content and figure out the best way to deliver that to the people (we KNOW you’re out there, somewhere!) who want to read it.

But, thanks to Google’s many and ongoing algorithm updates, it’s not going to get any easier any time soon. So, we hunker down, do our homework, decipher the latest bits of SEO advice and continue moving forward, the best we know how.

One of the latest points of contention over what’s acceptable and not acceptable as far as SEO best practices has to do with article directories (also known as content farms or syndication sites, though one does not necessarily imply the other).

Here, we will discuss why article directories and syndication sites have grown to acquire a pretty bad reputation in the world of SEO, and whether or not you’ll suffer when and if you decide to use one.

Article Directories and Link Building

Once upon a time, the SEO industry was a place where you could write up one little article (about 400 words), include a link back to your website, submit that article to any number of article directories, and sit back and wait and hope that others will find the article and then publish it on their own sites for content. Well, to put it bluntly (and most SEO know-hows already know this) those days are gone. Long gone.

Because of duplicate content filters and link penalties from Google, most web developers have given up on article directories, and that’s for good reason.

However, there’s something to be said for the article directories that are still around, soliciting fresh content, as well as the syndication sites who continue to republish content, some of which really IS good.

As with many things complex, the devil lies in the details. First off, all article directories are not syndication sites, however, all syndication sites ARE article directories.

Once you wrap your head around that, you can start to realize this: all article directories are certainly not created equal.

Separate and NOT Equal

Just like any other website, company, or software, article directories and syndication sites can be really good, or they can be really bad. Most fall somewhere in between.

The point here is that when you look at HUGE (and arguably successful) article directories like Ezine Articles, you might think to yourself, “How could publishing an article here result in me receiving a penalty from Google?” Well, it can, and let me explain just how.

It’s not that uploading one unique article to one article directory will necessarily earn you a negative ding. But rather, uploading the SAME article to MANY different places will certainly earn you a bad reputation (duplicate content), just like if you syndicated the same article to many different websites (also duplicate content) in order to spread that content with a link back to your company all over the web.

That is how BAD link building works, and Google will penalize your website for it.

So, make sure you pay attention to the quality of the article directories and syndication sites you’re interested in working with. Those who are spraying spammy content all over the web are the ones who are giving everyone else a bad name. However, there ARE reputable sites out there who publish high quality content. Business2Community is one of them (and I happen to contribute to it).

Just keep in mind that most are a mixed bag, as that is the nature with sites that are eager for content and so, must be low with their standards.

Black vs. White Hat SEO

Syndicating your content over the web is a big time double-edged sword. On one hand, you want to get your name out there, as well as your website’s name, and you want links out there over the web that point back to your site to help you gain traffic. That’s all perfectly understandable.

But—BEWARE of unethical SEO practices, logically dubbed “black hat SEO.” These types of practices will bring you nothing but frustration in the long run, likely earning you a dreaded Google penalty for your website (like I mentioned earlier).

Staying away from black hat SEO means staying away from syndication sites that will syndicate your content in places it doesn’t belong, as well as you posting your own content in places it doesn’t belong. If you’re writing about small business advice, you shouldn’t be posting to sites about gardening (for example).

One way to get around the negative duplicate content ding, while still syndicating your high quality content to get your name out there is to use the canonical tag.

While the canonical tag is designed in many ways for e-commerce sites who MUST have duplicate content on their sites for high usability, it can also be used for syndicated content. Once you add a canonical tag to your content, that page will not be indexed, and thus, it fixes the issue of Google finding the duplicate content and penalizing you for it.

In addition, this will help the page with the original content gain higher ranking, which, in reality, is the way it should be. Image courtesy of Flickr user del mich.

Kelly Lucia is a first-hand contributor at ChamberofCommerce.com and PostsbyGhost.com. When she’s not writing high-quality content in the form of blog articles and strategic website copy, she can be found working on SEO projects for large-scale Chicago clients, composing clever tweets and Facebook status updates, and even proofreading part-time for local advertising agencies.