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SEO: Beware of the dark side

Lamont Wood | June 1, 2011
Search engine optimization offers benefits for those who understand its nuances and dangers for those who don't.

Fox has offered a variety of suggestions in blogs and other venues, including the use of text that is not built into graphics or JavaScript routines where a search engine can't see it, the use of descriptive text to accompany videos, and the descriptive use of HTML metatags. Avoid having multiple sites with the same content, since the search engines don't like that, she suggests. Instead, use redirection to cover multiple variations of the site's name. If there is a FAQ, design it around keywords from questions that users have a history of searching for in your topic, as determined through tools like Wordtracker.

A too-optimistic outlook?

Critics complain that such approaches work mostly for topics that are of interest to bloggers, who link to the material. These are the kind of noncontroversial links that boost PageRank ratings. But more obscure topics, while important in their own fields, develop no following from bloggers and so get no links.

There's no getting around the fact that, at least temporarily, black-hat techniques can work -- much to the disgust of more legitimate SEO advisers who are trying to get their sites higher in the search rankings. "Frustration among white-hat SEOs about manipulative sites outranking them is total," says Fishkin. "By the time Google catches up with one site, there's a new one that outranks you."

Aaron Wall, founder of SEO Book, a website devoted to SEO training, says that conventional white-hat methods (he calls them "vanilla methods") do work, but he admits that they work best for sites with little competition, or for large, established sites with high relevancy.

Even then it may take several years and large sums of money to rise to the top, he warns. For sites in competitive fields, the backers must assess what portion of the desired traffic that site is attracting and what portion can realistically be obtained, and gauge their SEO efforts accordingly. There is no simple answer, he says.

"You can succeed without spam. It will take longer and it will be more expensive, but the trade-off is that it should not all come crashing down," Wall says.

 

Black-hat methods

J.C. Penney was accused of involvement in a so-called link scheme, but other established black-hat techniques include content schemes, cloaking, and outright hacking. But whatever they're called, all black-hat methods share one basic attribute: They are based on gaming the system, with no thought of providing any benefit to the site's visitors.

 

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