Steer Clear Of SEO Penalties
Every search engine has a set of guidelines and practices which it takes into account when ranking websites. Effective SEO inevitably has to address these best practice guidelines when attempting to improve a website’s rankings.
However, different SEO companies take different approaches to the guidelines, and the practice of SEO has a number of related ethical issues about which all potential clients should be aware.
Conventionally, SEO companies are said to fall into one of two categories: white-hat or black-hat. White-hat SEO characterises a set of techniques that strictly adhere to the search engine guidelines. Breaking these guidelines runs the risk of incurring a penalty from the search engines or being banned altogether.White-hat optimisation does not carry this risk, but often takes a very long time to achieve results because of the cautious way in which it goes about improving rankings.
The opposite of this is black-hat SEO which actively attempts to manipulate the search engines in order to boost a client’s rankings. Black-hat SEO utilises high impact, short-term techniques which work against the guidelines set out by the search engines. These techniques include:
These techniques are frowned upon by the search engines and, if detected, could lead to your site receiving penalties that impact upon your rankings. Black-hat often results in short-term benefits for your website, but could lead to it being removed from the index altogether. It is generally recognised that the compliant practices of white-hat SEO are preferable to the high-risk tactics of black-hat optimisers.
However, this conventional categorisation is in danger of oversimplifying the ethical issues related to SEO. While the classification of white-hat and black-hat SEO is useful, it is not always clear what constitutes acceptable practice because each search engine has different and sometimes contradictory guidelines. Effective SEO requires a flexible approach to the use of white-hat and black-hat techniques, one which is responsive to both the needs of the client and the requirements of each search engine. The ‘ethics of SEO’ relate more appropriately to two key concepts: ‘risk vs. reward’ and ‘transparency’.
Black-hat techniques inevitably carry some risk, but they could also offer valuable benefits to companies who want to quickly establish an online presence. For start-ups, black-hat techniques can boost rankings for a site in a shorter time-frame, addressing the needs of the business at that time. If they do get penalised by the search engines, there is a relatively minor impact on their unknown website and fledgling brand.
On the other hand, if you are an established company with a strong brand, the risks could potentially far outweigh the rewards. If black-hat techniques were applied to this website and the site was ultimately banned, it would have several major impacts on the business. It would not only be detrimental to the company’s reputation, but it would leave them without a visible web presence, thus severely undermining their brand. In this situation, sticking with white-hat techniques minimises the risk and is more suitable for companies that do not need to instantly boost their rankings.
Responsible SEO understands the balance of risk and reward and recognises where it is appropriate to use certain techniques. It knows how to work with the search engines, but it also knows how to work around them for a more effective approach. Most importantly, it knows how far to push against the search engines and when optimisation is working in the interests of the client.
Above all other ethical issues, transparency and close client consultation is the approach that every responsible SEO company should adopt. While it may be necessary to utilise techniques frowned upon by the search engines, doing this without the client’s knowledge is never acceptable. If an SEO practitioner applies risky techniques to a client’s website, then the client must be fully informed and in complete agreement with the work. Regular, honest client consultation ensures that optimisation meets the company’s needs and that an SEO company isn’t taking unauthorised risks with their web presence. This is the most important issue to consider when choosing your SEO company.
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