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Whitehat SEO Techniques in 2013: Learning From Blackhat SEO

The phrases “white hat” and “black hat” are loaded guns, and we only use them because they’re so ubiquitous. The truth is, when you tell yourself you are a “white hat,” you can end up fooling yourself into thinking that your strategy will always work, and Google will never turn it back on you. Worse still, you can close your mind off to insights that dramatically improve business results.

Don’t misunderstand us. Ethics are crucial. If you don’t already understand why it’s absolutely vital for SEO to be crystal clear and ethical in the years going forward, take a look at what we wrote over at Search Engine Journal. (Hint: the algorithm is only a very small part of why ethics matter.)

But there’s a difference between ethics and restrictive labels, and if you aren’t learning anything from “black hats,” you’re probably missing some key insights, like these:

1. Testing is Always Better than Blind Faith

Before you head straight to the comment section and write a rage-fueled rant, let me point out the fact that these are generalized statements. They don’t apply to every single “white hat” or “black hat” out there. But here we go:

White hats are less likely to test things than black hats.

This is an unfortunate truth about our industry. While there are plenty of excellent number crunchers on the “inbound” side of SEO, like, say, Dr. Pete, your average white hat SEO is less likely to put things to the test than your average black hat SEO. There are a few reasons for this:

    • Black hats can test some theories much faster than white hats, because they can use automated software and create controlled experiments that aren’t practical with white hat tactics
    • A large portion of white hats are “reformed” black hats who couldn’t stomach tests that kept getting them penalized, and have decided to simply follow the advice of industry experts instead
  • Some confuse white hat SEO for doing exactly what Google advises, and thus don’t bother testing anything

Again, I’m not saying these statements are true for all, or even most, white hat SEOs. I’m simply saying that more white hats are guilty of this particular offense than black hats.

Things don’t have to be this way.

As we’ve said several times, it’s a bit ironic to put the word “optimizer” in your title if you aren’t doing any actual testing for optimization. Even the worst conversion rate optimizers understand this. It’s strange how few SEOs (on either side of the fence) actually test their pet theories about the algorithm, or run the numbers to see how well their cherished tactics and strategies are playing out.

We recently wrote an in depth guide for KISSmetrics on SEO testing. Here are a few of the takeaways from that post:

    • You can test quirks of the algorithm by tweaking single things and measuring how they influence traffic
    • You can put SEO strategies to the test on “real world” sites by running two different content strategies at the same time, and measuring which content group picks up the most lifetime value (note that lifetime value does not equal number of visits, subscribers, etc.)
    • You can use traditional split testing to discover which kinds of pages are most likely to pick up natural links, or links from outreach

We are living in the age of big data. There’s just no excuse to leave money on the table by relying on assumptions instead of hard facts. Intuition is crucial, but it’s most useful when you are also putting it to the test.

2. It’s Okay to Spend Money to Make Money

As we all know, black hat SEOs have no qualms spending money to make money. They will buy links, pay for inclusion in networks, pay for automated link-building tools, buy multiple IP hosting, and buy sites to set up their own private blog networks.

As all white hat SEOs already know, these tactics aren’t worth investing in if you care about long term results. For the black hats who know how to do it, these tactics can make a quick buck, but they are very far removed from the brand building that legitimate businesses need to survive. Sites that rank using these kinds of tactics are short-lived at best, and eventually get struck down by algorithm updates, manual reviews, or user spam reports.

So, what can we possibly learn from black hats on this issue?

It’s a basic lesson that marketers in every other field understand quite well: it’s okay to pay for results. Marketers buy ad space on television networks, they pay per click, they hire talent, and they invest. And there certainly are white hat SEOs who understand just how incredible results can be when you have money to invest.

Unfortunately, the whole “don’t buy links” mentality has really hurt our ability to think of SEO as a “put money in and get money out” field of marketing.

We can even learn direct lessons from some of these black hat tactics:

    • Buying links – While we can’t straight up buy links or even offer “free products and services” in exchange for links, it’s perfectly fine to hire talent from people with influence on the web. The over-emphasis on guest posts and link-begging has led some of us to believe that you just can’t offer money to people when you’re trying to establish an online presence. That’s a terrible way of looking at things. When you hire microcelebrities, influential bloggers, well-known photographers, and so on, you will attract traffic, and you will earn links. You just need to be willing to hire people who always earn natural links, no matter what they do. It’s that simple. Not to mention the fact that buying no-follow links for the referral traffic is perfectly fine, and seriously underrated.
    • Private blog networks – While setting up a private link network of sites that “pretend” not to be associated with you is a terrible idea if you care about a long-term online presence, we can take a page from the basic approach. It’s perfectly legitimate to buy blogs, redirect them to folders or subdomains on your site, and when possible, hire the blogger. This allows you to buy not just a link profile, but mindshare. Conglomerates understand the value of acquisitions. Why do so few SEOs?
    • Pay for inclusion in networks – Joining a link network, especially a publicly advertised one, is an extremely bad idea for brands. But there’s nothing ethically wrong with buying visibility on networks. Advertorials (not to mention advertisements) are an incredible way to increase exposure, when used properly. What many people don’t realize is that you can actually earn links by buying ads. Traffic turns into links, and if the content is better, it turns into more, higher quality links. That’s how Google works outside of the most competitive niches, and it’s a fact that you can use to build entirely natural links with ad exposure.
    • Pay for tools – While fully automated link building tools are an awful idea, tools like Followerwonk can make link building outreach much more effective and efficient. Reporting tools like AdvancedWebRanking make it easier to track and learn from your campaigns, and tools like KISSmetrics can teach us about our individual customer’s behavior. It’s very difficult to do any real optimization without tools in your arsenal.

SEO is business. We need to speak the language of ROI, and think about more innovative and effective ways to spend money, if we wish to be taken seriously.

3. It’s Worth Taking Advantage of What Works Today

White hat SEOs are playing the long game. They’re interested in strategies that will continue to work for years and years, because they don’t want to throw their clients under the bus, and lose their reputation virtually overnight. This is the only smart way to run an SEO agency.

And yet, it’s clear that some black hats can make a lot of money very quickly by taking advantage of loopholes in the algorithm. Sites can rank for ridiculously competitive terms like “car insurance” in 3 days using links from hacked websites. They can rank for terms with 40k monthly visits in 4 days using private link networks.

And let’s all face facts: everybody wants to make money now, not later. So is there something we can learn from the cheaters?

Long term strategy is crucial, but it shouldn’t exist in isolation.

When there’s an opportunity to make money today, you should take advantage of it, as long as it doesn’t compromise the future of your brand. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking advantage of the way Google’s algorithm works today, as long as you can justify what you are doing as legitimate marketing, and as long as you are investing the revenue in strategies that will continue to work for the long haul.

Conclusion

While it can be useful for SEO agencies to distance themselves from spammers, it can also become dangerous if it limits your thinking. Ethics are crucial for the success of your business, but they shouldn’t be used as an excuse to plug your ears and cover your eyes. Open minds are a must if you want to compete in this growing market.

What other lessons can we learn from the seedy underbelly of SEO?

Top 5 Free Press Release Link Building Resources

In order to increase brand recognition and visibility, many businesses are promoting their services and merchandise online these days. Press releases are an effective and inexpensive way to accomplish this task. The Internet provides multiple free sources for the distribution of press releases, but I have listed the top five here in terms of popularity, visibility and general SEO worth to your site.

24-7 Press Release
http://www.24-7pressrelease.com/

Alexa Rank: 15982
Pagerank: 6

24-7 Press Release offers a free press release plan which allows you to post one press release each day. They also have numerous other options for your PR team to consider. Their resources page also has some informative tips on writing press releases.

 

Free Press Release
http://www.free-press-release.com/

Alexa Rank: 4820
Pagerank: 5

This site is a little more functional since their free distribution option allows you to customize your press release with different font styles. They also offer the option to add up to three images to your release for one dollar, so you can really spice it up with your company logo or relevant photos.

 

PR.com
http://www.pr.com/

Alexa Rank: 8892
Page Rank: 6

This press release site is different from most others in that the releases are categorized. This comes in handy when you want to target a specific audience or bring qualified traffic to your site.

 

i-Newswire
http://www.i-newswire.com/

Alexa Rank: 12613
Pagerank: 6

With several distribution channels, such as a ‘new site’ distribution category, RSS feed distribution and search engine distribution; i-Newswire offers users the ability to meet specific needs other PR sites don’t. These specific channels are run by their distribution partners, which are listed on their Homepage.

 

PRLog
http://www.prlog.org/

Alexa: 2731
Pagerank: 6

PRLog is arguably the most functional of the top five, at least with the options available for free. You are allowed to include company logos, clickable links and a host of other options at no additional cost. There is no limit to the number of posts and many of the customizable properties of their formatting are SEO friendly.

 

Each of these sources offer tips on making the most of your press releases. The visual appearance and quality of the release is important but so are the distribution channels — who and how many people it will reach. Your best approach is to try several sites and see which one works best for you. When submitting, don’t forget to also promote your PR’s across social media channels.

Post-Penguin SEO In 2013: Foundational Strategies

According to Matt Cutts, Google’s well-known search engineer, Google’s algorithms change as frequently as once a day. On average, the algorithm changes around 500 times per year. If you think about it, keeping up with this many algorithm changes is impossible. Instead of focusing your energies on Penguin, Panda and other algorithm updates, you need to go deeper and beyond the commonly employed SEO techniques. Let’s take a look at some of them:

Share-worthy Guest Posts

We all know that guest blogging is a hotly debated topic in the SEO community. It is arguably one of the best ways to get traffic, backlinks and improve your social profile, all at the same time. But in the same way we permanently ruined article directories by stuffing our articles with keywords, many people are also misusing guest blogging. There are hundreds of thousands of blogs out there, full of useless, keyword-infused content with no real value.

The links within these so-called guest blogs never get clicked on, and the pages have abnormally high bounce-rates. However, the fact that there are tons of mediocre guest blogs out there makes it easier for you to stand out, especially if your content is unique, original and share-worthy. Truly useful content often gets passed around on social networks, and legitimate referral traffic from social networks is an indicator of human activity. Search engines look for pages with high levels of human activity, and actively measure social signals such as: facebook likes, tweets, shares and comments.

With this said, you have an even greater incentive to write useful content rather than writing content for the sake of it. Think of guest blogging as an opportunity to make an impression on the host website’s visitors. You will only get one chance, but if you write an innovative and unique post with a twist, the host might invite you to write more posts.

Author Rank

Author rank is yet another step by Google towards a better web. The idea is to rank authors based on the authority and quality of their content as determined by Google’s algorithms. So, how does one go about building author rank?

Google+ comes in handy here. Go to the “About” section of your Google+ profile and add links to the webpages you regularly contribute content to. It is important to remember that Google+ plays an integral part in building your author rank, and Google considers many factors to compute it. These factors include: the number of people in your circles; the number of people who have you in their circles; your frequency of content generation, and the level of social activity on your Google+ profile.

This is what you should do to increase your author rank:

1. Create great content regularly
2. Be active on social media
3. Share useful content with people in your network

Co-Citation

Co-citation is yet another hotly debated topic among SEOs, and there seems to be some disagreement on what co-citation is, in addition to co-occurrence. Some theorize co-citation as a step by Google towards a more intelligent and semantic web. The concept itself is pretty simple to understand, and there are real examples in which co-citation has helped websites rank for keywords that were neither in their title, nor in their description tags.

Co-citation can best be explained with an example. Suppose Rob’s Ice Cream Parlor makes great “Blueberry Ice Cream.” In this case, search engines cannot make a connection between the keywords “Rob’s Ice Cream Parlor” and “Blueberry Ice Cream” unless they have been mentioned together on various websites. Google can now spot if there is a connection between two keywords or key-phrases, like the correlation between a company and its products.

There are numerous examples of co-citation that help websites rank for keywords they aren’t even attempting to rank. SEOmoz’s famous, Open Site Explorer ranks for the search term, “backlink analysis,” even though it isn’t mentioned in title, description or the page itself. Google picked up some other article from somewhere else on the web for use in the search snippet and that article does mention “backlink analysis” and “Open Site Explorer” together.

Press Releases

Some things never get old. Press releases are one of the oldest tricks in a SEO’s arsenal, but they still work. A well-positioned press release with useful information about your company’s products or services not only drives traffic to your website, but also helps increase awareness about your brand amongst the public. Apart from usefulness of your content, you can also insert relevant anchor texts where necessary to your home and inner pages. This helps you get backlinks and traffic, simultaneously.

How you distribute your press release is also very important. You can choose to email it to journalists and online news outlets manually, or use the services of a company like PRWeb or PR Newswire. Most of these companies guarantee syndication of your press release to hundreds of online news outlets, so if you know how to write a great press release, it can prove to be a great tool (especially when you’re launching a new product, service or campaign).

It is important to note that Matt Cutts of Google has stated that backlinks from press releases do not contribute towards page rank, but some recent tests have proven otherwise.

Social Media Signals

A couple of years ago, Matt Cutts denied the effect of social signals on rankings, but his denial has now changed into guilty admission. Not only do social signals affect rankings, but Google also made social signals an integral part of their ranking algorithm with the introduction of Google+.

So, what’s all the fuss about? It’s quite simple, really. Social signals, as we mentioned earlier, are an indicator of human activity. The number of times something gets liked, tweeted or commented on becomes an indicator of social value. The more popular something is, the more authoritative it becomes. This means social signals not only have the ability to affect rankings, but also the perceived value and authority of a website in the eyes of search engines.

Google and Bing, both major search engines, actively consider social signals to help rank websites and make SERPs more relevant to the user. Therefore, it is more important than ever to create share-worthy content, which can even go viral if you’re lucky, and focus your efforts on creating value rather than brute link building.

Social Media Marketing Strategies: Why Google+ Communities Is Essential for SEOs

As any business owner with an online presence knows, social media is a key component of increasing your search engine rankings. Unlike some services, social media channels act as a low-cost or free opportunity to increase your visibility to the general Internet public. The goal of using social media is to get people talking about your company, product or services. The more Likes, Shares and +1s you can get on social media, as well as the more people begin talking about your website, products or services, the better your search engine optimization and the higher ranking you can achieve on various search engines, Google in particular.

Google+, Google’s social media answer, recently rolled out Google+ Communities. The initial buzz is positive, and the service can definitely have uses in search engine optimization. The main purpose for Google+ Communities is to allow conversations to be started with people who are interested in what you have to offer. This has the effect of bringing customers, and potential customers, closer to you than ever before. And, similar to Facebook Groups, these communities can be hyper-targeted towards nearly any niche regardless of how small it might be. Best of all, Google+Communities can be used to increase your search engine rankings if used properly.

Google+ Communities allows you the opportunity to grow your market by targeting people who are actually interested in what you have to offer. It’s safe to assume, since people have to opt-in to join the community, this gives you a great opportunity to raise your brand awareness to those who would be interested in your services or products but aren’t necessarily aware of your brand. The potential for mining new leads and contacts through posting information about your services or products, website links and just generally having open dialogues with potential new customers. To get the most out of your Google+ Community, you will definitely want to pair it up with your Google+ Business page.

In addition to attracting new potential clients ore opening the lines of communication better with existing clients, posts to a Google+ Community are a great way to get people talking about your company. As people respond to posts and create new posts your presence on Google+ and, by default your SEO with Google, increases. Furthermore, when a Community member shares a post to his or her Circles and those people share with their Circles and so on, this can increase your exposure and your SEO efforts exponentially.

Google Hangouts, which are integrated right into your Google+ Community page, is another way to interact with your customers and potential clients. It allows you to start up a video chat which will allow you to present your company with a “face,” allowing it to feel like more than another faceless company. By taking advantage of a Hangout, you can get people talking even more about your company, product or service. Additionally, you can broadcast your Hangout on your public profile. This also can allow you to answer questions potential clients and customers might have on a real-time basis, fostering good will and showing that you actually care about what their questions or concerns are. This can create a feeling of goodwill that is difficult to duplicate on other social media channels, which can lead to more discussion in general of what you have to offer among Google+ users.

One of the most common uses for Google+ Communities is the ability to use it as a sort of question and answer platform. This gives you the ability to show that you are an expert on a specific topic. You can use this opportunity to link back to your website or blog, and to have friendly social intercourse with customers and potential customers. You can also use Communities as a way to gauge interest in what sorts of topics you should be talking about on your website or blog, giving you a great opportunity to learn what interests people directly from the members of the Community. From what you learn about the questions people ask, you can plan to create a future blog post addressing questions that have been brought up on your Community. In the future, if those questions are brought up again, you can simply point to the appropriate blog post.

Because Google+ Community content is made public by default this means an increase in indexing by by Google’s organic results. The end result is several great chances to improve on your search engine optimization. These benefits are especially visible when combined with +1s provided by Community members and can definitely have a quickly visible effect on your organic growth. Furthermore, it helps Google find and index your new content with greater speed than before. It shouldn’t be long before you begin to see real, quantifiable growth in your search engine optimization efforts.

Google+ Communities are also a great place to connect with others in your field or industry. Many of these potential contacts are going to be tech-savvy individuals, and they will most likely be active with their own websites and profiles or groups on various social media sites. As you begin to get familiar with people in your Community, you will be able to tell who the truly influential members are. Those people can then be asked to write guest posts on your blog or perhaps you might get invited to create guest posts on their blog. Make a point to share quality content, and you may very well find that the influential followers in your Community will share that content with others. Aside from the potential SEO opportunities, this will provide a great chance for you to network with other industry professionals and networking is rarely a bad thing.

Although there was some criticism of Google+ when it first released the service has come a long way since it’s initial opening to the public. Google has released several features since the service’s inception, and many of those features provide excellent opportunities for business to interact with their customers.

Post-Panda SEO: Stop Building Links, Start Writing Content!

Search engine optimization has long been a goal of virtually every website owner, but recent updates to Google’s search engine algorithms have many scrambling to completely change their ways. In recent updates known as Google Panda and Google Penguin, the world’s largest search engine changed the very structure of the way pages are evaluated, displayed, and ranked during a keyword-targeted internet search. It has had a number of major effects on website developers and marketing professionals, including a strategy that has shifted away from links and toward quality content.

Down with Links: The Changes that are Transforming SEO

Google’s search engine algorithm changes came in two parts. The first was known as Google Penguin, and that update focused on content. Developers at the company found that many websites were taking advantage of Google’s focus on keywords, engaging in an act known as “keyword stuffing” to propel their websites to the top of search result pages. That resulted in a number of spam websites being the “most recommended” website in the eyes of visitors, and it was a serious problem for the company for several years.

The update virtually eliminated that problem, focusing instead on a website’s value, authority, engagement, loading times, conversion rates, and other factors. Excessive use of keywords was punished, rather than rewarded, and habits began to shift.

A second update to the system, termed Google Panda, focused primarily on link spam and excessive outside referrals. Another major way that spam sites were taking advantage of Google’s policies was by building a simply unmanageable link of referrals from outside websites, many of which they actually owned themselves. In Google’s eyes, each of these links was a virtual endorsement of content, improving that site’s authority and sending it upward in search results.

With Google Panda, the emphasis on referral links was greatly diminished. In fact, it’s estimated that roughly three percent of websites saw their ranking change in a negative way after the update simply because they were relying too heavily on link-based SEO techniques. With results like that, website owners everywhere should consider the balance of their SEO between links and content, and make the appropriate adjustments.

How to Live in a Penguin and Panda World: Fresh, Authoritative Content

Since links are now virtually a non-starter when it comes to improving a website’s ranking and performance at Google, website owners have had to look elsewhere in order to make sure that their site doesn’t slip to the back pages of a keyword-targeted search result. That has been a pretty difficult process, largely because it’s new to many websites and they’re not familiar with how to accomplish this.

The operative phrase when making the transition into Penguin and Panda compliance is “content marketing.” In essence, content marketing involves creating robust, authoritative content for a website that is posted frequently and draws visitors based on how informative it is. Instead of luring people into keyword-spam traps, or link-heavy sites that offer no value at all, content marketing proves that a website knows what it’s talking about, carries some authority in the industry, and is worth visitors’ time. When Google gets word of that, they’ll reward a content marketing website with prime placement among their results.

Content marketing might sound like an easy solution to link-based search engine optimization, and it generally is. There are a few guidelines to follow, though, to ensure that these rich articles are not used in vain. To keep Google’s favor, be sure to make a few considerations when writing, soliciting, or posting content marketing articles to an existing website.

1. Focus on Keyword Density

Any search engine optimization professional is likely familiar with the term “keyword density,” but they may not be familiar with Google’s changed view of keywords on websites. While there was a time when more keywords meant a better ranking, that is not the case today. Instead, Google views excessive keywords as spam. If there are too many instances of a single keyword within any content marketing article, it will not help a website’s ranking at all. In fact, it will generally send the website down.

Be sure to focus on density that doesn’t exceed 5 percent, in most cases. This will make the keyword sound natural, and Google will rank the website far more favorably. A few different keywords throughout the article will make this easy to accomplish without sacrificing placement in any current targeted search results.

2. Freshness is a Priority

Articles must be fresh. Content marketing is viewed by Google has a field that is exceedingly dynamic. Information changes every day, and the search engine’s algorithm now accounts for this. Articles that are a few months old do not score highly anymore, and those that are a few years old will probably not appear in search results at all. Instead, focus on fresh content that is posted on a regular basis.

One article per day, or three articles per week, or ten articles per month, is a great way to get started. With fresh content and a predictable update schedule, Google will reward a website with higher rankings.

3. Post Content Marketing Articles on Other Sites

The importance of the “guest post” on outside blogs has become significantly more important since the Penguin and Panda updates. Websites that link to another site as part of a blog entry lend significantly more authority than those sites that merely operate a link list. Therefore, website owners should focus on striking up relationships with others in the industry, exchanging guest posts and creating a rich environment for competition and SEO improvement that Google will view as authority and credibility.

Easy Changes to Make for Penguin and Panda

The changes that need to be made in order to accommodate the Penguin and Panda algorithm updates are actually pretty easy. Most people already operate a blog within their site, and they like to discuss topics relevant to their products or niche. By emphasizing keywords, freshness, and authority, link-based marketing can easily become a thing of the past without harming a website’s rankings during the transition to more modern techniques.

Dominating SERPs In Your Niche (Beyond Your Brand)

Will Scott recently published a post referencing SERP domination as “The Holy Grail of SEO”.  Coincidentally, I recently spoke with a client in the dental industry, they were looking to achieve a page 1 ranking in Google for a geo-modified version of the query “dental implants”.

“Chicago Dental Implants”, for example.

They explained to me that they were working with a limited budget and a relatively new domain.  The solution I suggested?

Utilization of Parasite SEO.  Geo-modified queries such as this as prime targets for promotion via established hosts.  Obviously, the longterm goal for any client is an effective ranking on their target query with their direct site, but true SERP saturation can be achieved in a quick and cost efficient manner by making use of established resources.  My suggestions:

LinkedIn Company Page
Create a company page integrating their target query into the company name.  This translates into your target query existing in the page title of your company page on LinkedIn.  It’s worth noting, LinkedIn allows the crafting of a fairly rich user experience by allowing a textual description of your company, embedded hyperlinks, a video feature, and even any special offers you might be offering at the time.  Promotion (and effective rankings) of these pages takes significantly less effort given their established trust and link equity.

PRWeb Press Release
Don’t believe press releases still work?  SEOConsult.com, referenced in Will’s original article, illustrates otherwise, as does my personal experience.  Leveraging a reputable company like PRWeb ensures you have an additional content source (think: low-hanging fruit) to promote to rank your target query with any copy you’d like.  Ensure the release is drafted with a positive spin, but avoid sales copy here.  Often times, third person neutral or positive mentions referenced from non-company sources can yield more interest than direct promotion.  Even if your content doesn’t get syndicated, your end result is an additional highly-relevant authoritative content source to promote.  Once again, ensure you work your target query into the title of the press release.  Minor linking efforts yield astounding results.  Voila.

YouTube/Google+
It’s not shocking that Google seems to have a positive bias toward effective rankings on pages within their own network.  Utilize unique copy for each, ensure the page titles on your respective profiles include your target query (preferably in a non-spammy way) and create or repurpose existing media featuring your company, product, or service.  The end result?  3 solid (query-specific, content-rich, authoritative) sources to promote via linking efforts that don’t require heavy lifting.

At minimum, using the techniques above, we’re able to generate keyword targeted content that responds exceptionally well to minor external linking efforts.  I have personally used these techniques to achieve non-branded SERP domination in as a few as 14 days.  Hundreds of other highly effective parasite hosts exist.  Invest your effort in creating content that’s compelling about your organization, the rest will fall into place.

Have you utilized this strategy?  What are your favorite content publishing sources?

Contributing Blogger: Zach Hedrick

 

Blackhat SEO vs. Whitehat SEO

Since the late 1990s, SEOs have been identified as belonging to one of two camps – the “blackhats” and the “whitehats”. Progressively, these labels have transformed into little more than exaggerated caricatures, cartoon heroes and villains that merely exist as manifestations of our imaginations, usually embellished to suit our latest marketing agendas.

Under the microscope, even when evaluating specific tactics and methodologies, “whitehat” vs. “blackhat” is akin to distinctions of “liberal” vs. “conservative” – the definition evolves with each year that passes and every person you ask. Undoubtedly, that definition is almost always accompanied with significant bias, assumptions and judgments.

Unfortunately, too many businesses still base their choice of internet marketer on the hat they don, even if that hat only comes out as a flourish for sales calls.

Business owners should focus on educating themselves to the basics of search engine optimization and forming better questions. True tactical and strategic differences exist behind what we often refer to as “black” and “white” hat, and those differences are critical to understand when deciding the right direction for your business.

I won’t tell you how to run your business. I simply want you to ask yourself (and your prospective SEO vendors) harder questions.

Are “cheap” and “low-value” strategies truly saving you money? How much risk are you really willing to stomach? Is your top priority to get up and running quickly and cheaply, or are you trying to build a real, long-term business that realizes steady incremental growth?

 If the best your SEO can do is show you their hat, and they can’t help you answer these questions, then move on – it doesn’t matter what color that hat is.

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