- by Dustin Williams
It's difficult to stay on the path of righteousness when it seems like there are tools that you could be using to reach your goals much faster. Just as the Jedi in a galaxy far far away were constantly faced with temptation, anyone who's trying to market their business will hear whispers of how effective it can be to take shortcuts. While this kind of approach can bring results in the short term, it's a path that leads to ruin.
The Light Side
SEO strategies can be roughly divided into white hat SEO and black hat SEO. Something is considered to be white hat if it complies with the rules laid out by the search engines, both in spirit and in the technicalities. It's focused on providing great content and marketing it to real human beings to build up an appreciative audience, who will then go on to recommend that same content to their own friends and readers. Over time, this kind of effort builds on itself and can even create a powerful and self-sustaining community around a site.
The Dark Side
Any SEO strategies that involve trying to gain traffic and improve a ranking through some kind of deceit, on the other hand, is considered to be black hat. This is a trap that people fall into when they start looking for quick results over quality. An example like keyword stuffing is borderline, because it only involves using terms a lot more often than is really necessary.
What it also represents, though, is the decision to make your content less useful and interesting to people in the interest of tricking a computer into believing that it's more interesting. Search engine algorithm updates have made this kind of approach worse than merely ineffective; obvious keyword stuffing will actually harm your rankings. The algorithms that power search have learned to watch for things like hidden links, redirects that a human visitor would never encounter, white text placed on a white background. They've also learned to recognize pages that have no purpose other than serving as doorways to the content people are really trying to promote.
Quick Results at a Terrible Price
Sometimes making the wrong choice does pay off for a little while. People who have paid for large numbers of links, spread spam comments across blogs all over the Internet, and took advantage of other questionable tactics have managed to improve their search performance. They've done so at a heavy price, however.
Search companies are always watching what designers and marketers are doing and what strategies seem to be working. They employ experts in the field to spend their time doing nothing but monitoring these issues and studying ways to identify people who are trying to cheat the system. In some cases, they simply render the tricks useless and leave sites starting from scratch in their effort to attract traffic. In others, the behavior is extreme enough that they'll actually remove a site from the search index entirely. For most sites, that's basically a death sentence.
Never Give in to Fear and Greed
The main reasons that Jedi fall to the dark side of the force is that they've failed to control their natural fear and greed. This is also what leads marketers to do things that can actually harm their own sites. Search engines, like Google, design their algorithms with the goal of helping people to find the most valuable sites available on any given topic. The more confident you are that you're building a great site that people will genuinely value, the less tempted you'll be to resort to SEO shortcuts.
If you use the right SEO strategies, your aims and Google's will be in harmony with each other. You want a lot of traffic, and they want to guide people to great websites so that they remain the primary portal to the Internet. If you provide a great site and market it with legitimate tactics and honest effort, you'll get great search rankings. Even better, you'll do it without having to take the kind of shortcuts that leave you wondering when the search engine update will come along that invalidates all of the progress you've made.