Ethical SEO

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If you’re new the world of search engine optimization (SEO), you may ask, “Is there really a difference between ethical SEO and unethical SEO?”

Since the beginning of SEO we’ve divided SEO techniques into two camps: White Hat SEO (the good techniques) and Black Hat SEO (the bad techniques). Remember in old Western movies, the sheriff always wore a white hat and the bad guys always wore black hats? You get the picture.

White hat techniques are those that don’t try to trick the search engines (or the visitors) into believing your website is about a specific topic when it’s not.

While no one is 100% certain of the exact algorithms that search engines like Google use to rank your site, we’ve been able to do a fairly thorough dissection of search engine ranking results and have an educated guess about which techniques do work and which techniques don’t work. Along the way, that dissection has lead some people to figure out that they can trick the search engines into giving higher SEO rankings to sites that don’t deserve them.

Search engines are fighting back by testing for those Black Hat unethical SEO techniques and either reducing the site’s ranking or removing them from the search engine database completely. Think about it: Google has millions of dollars and millions of technicians to throw at this problem. You will be caught if you don’t follow the rules.

Google makes it clear in their article on ethcial SEO what is acceptable and what is not. For example, they say:

  1. No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.
  2. Be wary of SEO firms and web consultants or agencies that send you email out of the blue.
  3. Be careful if a company is secretive or won’t clearly explain what they intend to do.

I might add for #3: “…and they explain things to you in a clear, easy-to-understand, non-technical way so that you have a good chance of actually understanding their techno talk.”

Good, ethical SEO works through a proven path of techniques to assist you in getting higher search rankings for your site. And good, ethical SEO will also tell you when a search phrase/keyword is too competitive and you don’t stand a chance of a listing on page 1 of the search results. When we do SEO work for our clients, we tell them that there’s no use in wasting time and money going after a keyword that you can’t win with.

Bruce Clay says that ethical SEO should always include the motto “do no harm.” When you hire someone to do SEO work for you, they should be looking out for YOUR best interests. Shoddy practices that get your site banned from the search engines reduces your chance of a successful internet marketing campaign.

In addition to Black Hat techniques, there are some “gray” areas that you should be aware of. SEO is a series of techniques that looks something like this:

  1. Keyword gathering
  2. Keyword selection
  3. Adding keywords to website page text
  4. Adding keywords to website page headings
  5. Adding keywords to behind-the-scenes coding
  6. Garnering incoming links from a variety of legitimate sources
  7. Creating an ongoing strategy for continued SEO success

I’ve seen some people offer to do steps 1 and 3 and call it “SEO”. While doing these two steps won’t harm you or your website, they’re not going to help very much either. It’s like saying, “I’ll put shampoo in your hair, but I won’t rinse it, cut it, or blow dry it.” What’s the point?

Another gray area is choosing unpopular and off-topic keywords to go after, then saying, “Gee, look, we’ve gotten you a #1 ranking for the phrase Clown Publishing!”

When you’re looking to hire an ethical SEO consultant, make sure that they are willing to step you through their process, that they explain WHY they choose the keywords they choose, and why the discarded ones that you thought were really important. Tell them clearly that they must follow all published search engine guidelines from Google, Yahoo and MSN. And if something doesn’t “feel right” to you, you have to bring it up to them immediately.

Here are the guidelines that are published:

Google’s Guidelines on SEO

Yahoo’s Guidelines on SEO

MSN’s Guidelines on SEO

Our commitment to you: we ONLY use ethical SEO techniques and we communicate with you every step of the way.

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How to Choose the Right Keywords

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man drowing in keyword choicesI was emailing with a colleague the other day, and she asked, “How do you pick keywords that will help, without drowning against the 40 billion other people who are using those same keywords? And, if you pick ones with less competition, then no one is actually searching them, right?”

Great questions! Here’s how I answered her:

When I teach my 16-hour SEO workshop, we spend about 4 hours on this very topic. It’s an art and a science.

Using some of the SEO tools is helpful, and deeply dissecting your competition’s website is helpful as well (it will tell you whether they’re an “accidental SEO success” or if they’re really skilled at it). Many websites will rank well for a short time, but if they don’t do SEO as a long-term maintenance task, you can jump ahead of them after their rankings start to slip. Learning all the SEO techniques helps you to determine if your arsenal will get you anywhere. Then it’s a stab in the dark.  :)

I rarely go after “long tail” keywords on my main selling pages. But if the keyword is long tail AND somewhat popular, I’ve been known to write a specific page about that specific topic to draw attention. For instance, if you type in “mastermind group” in Google, my one-page article comes up #1.

But since my main service is small business coaching, I really go after that phrase with wild abandon on my main selling pages. When you type “small business coach” into Google, I come up #1 for that. (I’ve been #1 for that phrase for several years now.)

When we do SEO work for clients, the vast majority of our billable hours is in picking the right keywords. I’d say we typically spend 6-8 hours just picking the correct keywords.

If you ever have a grand passion for learning SEO in a hands-on class, I do teach a 4-week teleclass called SEO For Everyone.

There are so many great SEO techniques, when you use the right combination of them, you can rank high for nearly any keyword except the really, really competitive ones. And even for those, with the right domain name (and other factors that you can’t control…nice to know it’s not 100% in your control, eh?), you can still rank on the first page of results. Part of the problem is knowing whether your competition is beatable or not. Some sites, like the Wall Street Journal, you will never rank above, no matter how hard you try.

Do you use WordTracker or Keyword Discovery (the paid versions) when picking keywords? WT is a dog to use, but both tools can help you wade through a stack of keywords to find out which ones have the best chance of success.

I’d love to tell you there is one, perfect, tried-and-true method for getting it right every single time, but there’s not. There are just a bunch of tools and a bunch of techniques to help sift through the massive information…and then you have to trust your gut instinct, your experience, and your intellect to make final choices and implement them correctly. It’s interesting to note that I find that small business owners usually do quite well in choosing keywords; it’s the implementation part they fail at.

A lot of the skill comes with practice, over and over again, picking keywords. With more experience you get better at the “pattern matching” necessary to make it all work. Consider doing an SEO experiment on a topic that you aren’t emotionally connected with, just to practice without needing to get it perfect. If you like detective work and putting together puzzles, you’ll love SEO!

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Article Syndication, Duplicate Content, and SEO

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A few weeks ago, we were discussing whether submitting your articles to article banks is seen as duplicate content, and whether the search engines would penalize your site and/or specific website pages based on this information.

According to Google’s webmaster site:

“Syndicate carefully: If you syndicate your content on other sites, Google will always show the version we think is most appropriate for users in each given search, which may or may not be the version you’d prefer. However, it is helpful to ensure that each site on which your content is syndicated includes a link back to your original article. You can also ask those who use your syndicated material to block the version on their sites with robots.txt. ”

So it seems that Google DOES see syndicated articles on article banks as duplicate content. While they may not penalize your own site for this, putting your article in the article banks probably won’t increase your SEO rankings either. In addition, the search engine may show, in their search results, your article on the article bank’s site instead of on your own site.

On the plus side, having your article show up in the search results often can lead prospective customers back to your site. I’m not abandoning my plans to syndicate my articles, but I will be creating two versions of the same article to avoid the duplicate content problem: a long one to put on my own site, and a short one to put on the article banks and on my blog. Taking the extra 15 minutes to shorten an article seems like a worthwile investment of my time.

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