A few weeks ago, fellow contributor Paul Bliss wrote an article about why black hat SEO is awesome. It got me thinking that there is no winning in our current state.
Search engines dole out punishment indiscriminately either on a massive scale with massive algorithm changes (Panda, Hummingbird) or on an individual site basis with trial in absentia (Penguin). The search engines do not want any SEO beyond what they themselves develop. So, anything we do as a community is bad. Despite our best efforts, we’ve been wearing black hats all along.
I suggest that we divest ourselves of worry and embrace this gangsta status.
We will be like Jay Z who applied what he learned as a low-level drug dealer in the projects to building a multinational entertainment conglomerate that spans sports, music, fashion and fragrance. It is time that we learn from our black hat brethren to develop SEO that will exploit search engine weaknesses for the benefit of our fellow searchers and our client interests. We will be Robin Hood with the search engines as Sheriffs of Nottingham.
It’s all black hat now
Black hat SEO is often described any non-search-engine sanctioned tactic to influence ranking. In essence, the search engines can do what they want, arbitrarily favor brands, obscure user data from site owners, manually demote sites for link infractions assigned in secret. The search engines maintain that they are in the best position to determine what is relevant to user queries. Well, that is one wide net to cast!
Playing "by the search engine rules" has reduced our influence and effectiveness. SEO is now in the position of waiting for the bell to ring so that we can all ask the search engines how high we should jump.
The SEO community is not to "optimize" sites in any way. Google decided that we don't get access to keyword phrase referral data because we do not need it and, oh, by the way, they are concerned for customer privacy.
So, I propose that we stop following the guidelines from the entity that has a vested interest in misleading us. Since the search engines see any optimization as "black hat," let’s all wear black. Because, from the looks of it, this is what we have to do to make sure our clients and their users get what they need from search engines.
Be nimble, be quick
Competitive research supplements keyword research: Google claims there are trillions of URLs, with more coming online daily. There way too many sites to track individually. So, the search engines rely on competitors to do the monitoring for them. Gangsta SEOs elevate competitor research using SEMrush competitor placement information and side-by-side page analysis.
The best defense is a good offense: Gangsta SEOs defensively monitor link profiles for changes or anomalies that could be the result of negative SEO. Google is the poster child for the Law of Unintended Consequences by creating fertile ground for negative SEO ground with its Penguin updates.
Guest posting: I am with my black hat homie on this one: “… Matt’s entire little outburst proves that guest blogging is effective for gaming their SERPs, and that they can't do anything about it algorithmically (or they would have done so a long time ago)…”
Guest posts have been around since the birth of social. If a guest post is well-written, has links out to contextually relevant authority sites, and engages with its readers and passes Google’s algorithmic “sniff test,” who cares about its pedigree? If searchers decide (with their actions) that the post is quality content, then it is quality content. Right, Google?
Work with/learn about user experience (UX): I know what you’re saying: "More research???” or “Those UX nitwits give me the willies.” Gangsta SEOs work with whomever they have to work with to get the job done. Like it or not, UX designers are creating the experience that ranks. No longer can the SEO swoop in right before launch, sprinkle keywords here and there, carpet bomb pages with headings, “craft” <title> and meta descriptions, and call it a day. Page layout counts, conversions contribute and customer engagement with the page content rules. Get used to it!
Rehabilitate good old domain with good authority: Gangsta SEOs see a lot of potential in retired domains that have solid authority. Giving geezer websites another chance to satisfy searcher needs with relevant content is the right thing to do.
(OK, so this is directly from the black hat forums and exploits a big search engine weakness: inherent cheapness in the face of an exponentially growing Web.)
According to Eric Enge in his homage to Google on Search Engine Land, "Google Is Not Broken" indicates that Google has found over 100 trillion pages on the Web. That is one big police state to police. There’s no reason that those who want to recycle domains could not do so as long as it is in the interests of the common good. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
SEO has been static for too long
Today, we’re paying the price for coasting along on the trade winds of easy SEO, keyword “placement,” anchor link “optimization,” text formatting and other tools of our old trade. However, the longer we stay in that place, the more we will miss up ahead.
Google is pervasive, not omnipotent, smart yet without focus, massive and not agile. They serve up the Web and do not control it.
We, the people (and that includes us Gangstas) should control the Web. Not the algorithms or search engine companies with a monetary interest in selling ad clicks. Let's stop whinging, and just do it!
Marianne Sweeny is a Search Information Architect at Portent Inc. She is passionate about optimizing the user search experience on the Web or inside the enterprise firewall. Marianne’s last article for SEMrush was “SEO in 2014: Let Go and Let Google."