We’ve been telling you for awhile now that the old-fashioned “black hat” SEO doesn’t work.
The evolution of SEO means that keyword stuffing, buying links, content spinning, and other shady practices just don’t pay off the way they used to.
But Marie Haynes wrote a terrific piece over on SEOMoz about how the wrong kind of SEO isn’t just useless … it’s actively dangerous.
Dangerous enough to destroy a small business, and maybe even a business that’s not-so-small.
Go read the article here, then come back.
Marie’s central point is that a certain stye of “cheap and quick” SEO — the style, in fact, that small businesses were often likely to choose — has now become actively dangerous.
In the past year, Google rolled out powerful updates that have destroyed the rankings for a huge number of small businesses. Those updates are called Penguin and Panda — and they were specifically designed to kill the rankings for sites that went for “cheap and quick.”
Why did SEOs do this stuff in the first place?
Well, it worked. Buying massive numbers of dodgy links worked. Adding hundreds or thousands of pages of thin, lame content worked if it had the right keyword structure. Directory submissions. Automated social media bookmarking. Spamming blog comments. (I have a particular hatred of the last one, as you might imagine.)
But here’s the problem. Some of these techniques aren’t reversible.
In particular, buying a bunch of unnatural links back to your site isn’t just useless … it’s now actively harmful. And try getting 1000 paid links taken off of the offending websites. It’s a lot easier to buy them than it is to get them taken away.
It’s time for small business to grow up
Owners of small businesses never wanted to become search engine experts. Most of us don’t. SEO looks complicated, it changes all the time, and from the outside it kind of seems like rocket science.
But if we want traffic from search engines, we need to grow up and face the new search reality — not the “Just trust us and we’ll build you 500 backlinks a month” message businesses are getting from some SEOs.
First and foremost, your site needs to be meeting the needs of your readers and customers.
You know that when you “stuff” your search keywords into a one-page article 52 times, that’s no good for your customers.
You know that putting 1000 pages of crap on your site isn’t good for your customers.
You know that “spinning” content from someone else’s blog isn’t good for customers.
And now Google knows that too. So quit playing silly games. Cheats and shortcuts won’t work, and over time they will hurt your business … possibly fatally.
So what’s a business owner supposed to do instead?
First things first: I believe in the practice of SEO. The good firms are amazingly good at what they do, and they can get excellent results.
But you need to get real. That type of SEO is expensive. If your business has enough revenue to justify the cost, high-quality SEO is a superb investment. The best firms will position you for long-term success that isn’t vulnerable to the Google tides.
(Here’s an insider tip: the best SEO firms are building programs around rock-solid content, smart content promotion, and intelligent strategy to promote social sharing.)
For a lot of smaller businesses, the revenue model just doesn’t support hiring a top-flight SEO firm. That’s why they “went cheap” in the first place.
Frankly, no SEO at all is better than using one of the “quick and cheap” SEO services. Re-read Marie’s article for some good warning signs to steer clear of.
But you don’t have to leave the fate of your business up to the whims of Google. The answer for the small business owner, believe it or not, is that you need to take your SEO in-house and start managing it yourself.
You still might outsource a few things, like content creation. You may very well employ an SEO to help you manage logistics. But you’re going to oversee the process and make sure things are being done properly.
Educating yourself is the only way to be sure you’re not shooting yourself in the foot. And it isn’t as hard as you think it is.
You can handle this
All of the evolution of SEO is actually making it easier for you to manage it yourself. The “signals” are ones you can control, rather than needing a technical expert to manage them for you.
You don’t have to be some kind of expert writer, and you definitely don’t need to be a technical genius.
We’ve created a free educational series for you on how SEO works today, and how to manage it for your business. It’s not going to teach you any ninja tricks. That’s because there aren’t any ninja tricks. There’s solid content, intelligent promotion, and a little bit of smart optimization.
For most businesses, you don’t need to learn to be an SEO wizard. You just need to build a site that works well for your customers, then take some straightforward steps to optimize that content.
Are you sick of the term content yet?
I’ll tell you the truth, we are too, a little. If anyone has a great idea for an alternate term, we’d love to hear it.
But the fact is, evolved SEO and smart business are fueled by the same thing: Strategic, valuable content.
Brian Clark and the rest of the Copyblogger editorial team have been working on a free library to help teach you the essentials. So you’ll know just what we mean by valuable content, how you can create it for yourself, and how you can start using it in your own business.
Whether you’re a solopreneur or you’re in a marketing department of a big organization, this is the path we’re all on for the foreseeable future.
Pick up the first book in the series here (you don’t even need to leave your email address if you snag it this week): The Business Case for Agile Content Marketing.
And stay tuned, because we have lots more coming in this series.