I gave the keynote talk at the SMX Conference in Stockholm today (slides here), and what I had to say doesn't jive with what many smart SEO people advise. Basically, I told people that all of the tricks and optimizations and clever tactics are a waste of time for the average marketer. Despite the millions of pixels that have been used to explain all of these clever techniques for worming your way to the top of the search rankings, I think that most search marketers would do better to steer clear of them, because they work for only a short period of time.

seo block

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These kinds of techniques go by many names, such as black hat SEO, spamdexing, or simple spamming. And many techniques that clever people use aren't expressly against the search engines' terms of service, anyway. So, it's not a question of morality here. You are free to do what you think is right without any advice from me.

But I am going deeper than that. My opinion is that most search marketers need to pursue approaches that work for all three parties in the search transaction: the searcher, the search engine, and the search marketer. Now, most of us have no trouble pursuing tactics that work for us, the search marketers, but we sometimes forget that our tactics need to work for searchers and for search engines, too, if we expect them to work long term.

Techniques that help search marketers but nobody else won't last. Eventually Google will shut it down. Don't believe me? Google stopped keyword spamming and PageRank sculpting already. And PageRank sculpting was never against the terms of service. If paid links get to be enough of a problem, Google might stop using links altogether.

Now, many people can make a good living fooling Google and searchers and everyone else, and if you can do that, more power to you. But most people will never be that clever and don't even have the time to devote to such a pursuit—they have businesses to run. And if you are running a business, you might not want to be so clever, anyway, for several reasons:

  • It's not your image. If you have made your business special by serving your customers above all else, then this goes against your brand image.<.li>
  • It's not your speed.. When the algorithm changes, invalidating a technique you've incorporated, you need to move fast. Is it realistic that your business can change that rapidly?
  • It's not you. These clever tactics require a lot of work to keep up with what's going on and it requires a stomach for risk. You need to decide if you are that kind of person.

I am not here to give you advice on what to do here. I just want to share my opinion that doing whatever works has a dark side, where you have more ups and downs. Just go in with your eyes open.

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September 28, 2010

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


I've been saying this for years. The problem is that clients hear about these techniques and ask that we use them. Quite often when we explain what is involved and what benefits they deliver and what risks they encompass coupled with the actual cost of implementing the changes to their sites, most clients thankfully decide against using them.

We've always espoused a common sense approach to SEO. Get your content right, build links naturally as and when it is relevant and convenient and think about things long term rather than ranking No.1 NOW! Be realistic, aim for a top 5 position, update your site often and keep it on point. Longer term we've foung that this is a much more effective approach than the short term gains provided by the latest SEO technique vogue.

Thanks for the confirmation, Paul. I got a few questions from the audience today from SEOs complaining about the pressure they under from clients, especially when they see how successful their competitors are by using these techniques. (Paid links seem to be the biggest problem at the moment.)

I think that if an SEO explains all the risks to the client and the client understands them and wants to go ahead, and the SEO is OK with doing it, then it's none of my business what they do. (It's still Google's business, so we'll wait that out.)

Like you, when I explain the risks to my clients, they accept my recommendation (or they hire someone else).

Another thanks, here. I am not an SEO expert, but I do produce written web content. But because I'm a writer and not an SEO--and as I've been working to build a new site--I often wonder if I'm missing something. What seems obvious to me, based on months of reading and study, is that you need useful, relevant content. You need to engage in legitimate link-building. And you need to ensure that your site is user- and search-engine friendly. At the risk of sounding ignorant, is there anything else? Based on your article, Mike, I'd say, probably not. (But please--correct me if I'm wrong!)

This is not to over-simplify the SEO's job. I don't know that I will ever devote enough time to learning SEO to fully understand site architecture and how it works. But your point about the average web marketer and Paul's points validate what I've learned, which all points toward taking the high road.

I agree with your idea of having you SEO tactics so they work for all three parties. The landscape of SEO is always changing, and you will need to be consistent if you want long lasting results.

Simply submitting your web page to every directory isn't going to instantly increase your results. Everything needs a game plan and that includes SEO.

Thanks for the post Mike,

Organic SEO is a long haul not short fix. With help and guidance most businesses could incorporate some SEO into their working routines.
Paid for links are a problem.

I saw an SEO Press release recently which spent 6 days in the top ten serps, the release had lots of links one of them was listed as UNICEF. Not sure how they managed this but morally it is about as low as you can go with SEO. Do you know if Google has any current strategies for dealing with the issue?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mike.

You are so correct, the search engines will simply respond to cut out search results from overegged SEO techniques if they believe that the system is being abused. Becuase there is no real dialogue going on between the Search Engines and the business community, this will be policy made up on the hoof.

My advice to clients here is not to cross the line, but not to go anywhere near the line in order to protect their PR and more importantly their brand. And good page rank can be achieved without spamming the search engines - it takes a little thought up front - before even domains are registered if possible.

Best regards


I think that everything you do in life follows the laws of karma; all good things can come to an end, especially those black or gray hat SEO techniques that many use. I think I read one day that someone lost $4million dollars simply because he trusted a so-called 'expert' SEO service to handle his link building activities... that Google banned his site from the search results. It will take a lot of confession to do when it comes to asking for a reinstatement. Perhaps, for this reason that there is no standard or official rule in SEO or certifications to this date -- because people can abuse it and employ shady tactics to satisfy their clients NOW ( never mind the consequences later ). I still believe in building your brand slowly but surely, which means listening to your customers/fans/followers and engaging in meaningful conversation to gain their trust. Trust = Sales.

Thanks Mike! I have been online all day reading up on google tips for SEO. And so many people are absolutely frustrated with the rapid changes google keeps making. Its too hard for the average person to keep up with. I spent nearly 2 days optimizing my website last week. I got it to 100% relevancy according to the applications I use. I didn't change anything on the site after that and ran the app again today and now a week later I am at 62%. I'm tired of playing the search placement game. Its becoming an internet where big money brands are the only ones who can afford to compete. All others will be left behind. Am I taking all of this the wrong way? I have played all of the games! SEO, fresh and unique daily updated content, adwords, contextual advertising, link building and worked like a dog to improve my Alexa and for what? NONE of that improved sales AT ALL! Any advice would be appreciated to include telling me to quit while I am ahead. Thanks, Dave

Hi Dave,

SEO is extremely competitive these days, so if it is a game, it is a hard one to win. My advice is to forget about all the tiny tweaks and changes designed to "game" the algorithm and instead focus on the basics. Figure out what your customers care about. Explain to them how you can help them. Enough of them will remember to buy from you.

Take my business as an example. I write blog posts constantly not because the average person who reads it will ever pay me to speak or to consult for them, but because a few people will. I know that if I try to help a lot of people, a few of them will buy from me. And that will be enough. You can do the same thing. Good luck.

Great article. I was a bit happy yet in the same breath disappointed to read Dave's comment from October 2nd. Happy because someone else described the same experiences and disappointed (obviously) because of the competition out there to rank well. Thanks for the motivation to simply keep at it, Mike Moran.

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