Does An Ethical Approach to SEO Really Work?

by Michelle on May 26, 2012

Ethical SEO

Companies that are looking to build a long-term reputation and a sustainable business both online and in the bricks-and-mortar world will usually consider only ethical (or “white-hat”) SEO methods to promote their company online.

Of course, there are always those in it for a quick buck who will employ unethical methods to achieve top rankings in the search engines through “black-hat” SEO, but then their business models are not about building a sustainable business.

They simply want a quick profit and then move on to the next website so they are not concerned about short-lived rankings and potential penalties from the search engines.

But despite constant algorithm changes designed to outsmart the black-hatters and Google giving away as little information as possible about the factors influencing their ranking algorithm, unethical methods continue to flourish and still, unfortunately, produce top rankings.

SEO Factors & Ranking Influence

Using mass, automated link submissions and link farms to rapidly build up backlinks does work, at least in the short-term. Various experiments on the effects of un-ethical link-building have been done by the likes of the submissions guys at SEOMoz that show a substantial short-term benefit.

But should those businesses taking the ethical approach be unduly worried? I think not – just as there are plenty of examples of unethical SEO methods working there are also plenty of examples of ethical ones.

A question I am often asked is “Why is such-and-such a company ranking ahead of us?” Sometimes a competitor’s site might not be as well designed as your own (from the human perspective); the competitor might not appear to update their content or blog as frequently and have substantially fewer links.

But always, in my experience, when I do some analysis to check out the competitor’s optimisation, a much clearer picture emerges of why a certain site is ranking better than another – it is often simply that they have better quality links and better content.

Ethical SEO Strategy

I always love to use the example of a site I optimized that had 200 links and outranked by several places a competitor that had been around for much longer, had a slicker looking website and 3,000 links. (I know it’s not ALL about the links but…)

If you’ve tried a bit of SEO and not seen great results you might be tempted to think it is only large companies with large budgets and well-known brands who can achieve results ethically.

Certainly there has also been plenty written about Google’s bias towards favoring brands, but I have worked with a small start-up company who have achieved great success in their competitive, niche market with good, ethical SEO plus a large dose of hard work and commitment. They have achieved this success by constantly striving to improve their site.

The company is a UK-based specialist training company – less than 3 years old and they, themselves, have attributed their online success to ethical search engine optimisation and being committed to building up their online presence and authority.

Building Good Content & Quality Linking

Their SEO strategy is based around good content and high-quality links – with the content enabling them to gain the links so they are a classic case of a site following Google’s guidelines. This is done in a number of ways:

  • Publishing content as articles through the usual reputable article directories
  • Writing and distributing press releases
  • Producing unique content for their own blog
  • Writing unique content for external blogs in their field
  • Actively building up human relationships to source unique content from external contributors

All of this effort has ensured that the company are now Number 1 in Google nationally and internationally for a range of keywords with high traffic. In some cases they dominate the Top 5 positions and frequently rank second after related not-for-profit organizations.

For a training provider that started out with just two founders in 2009 this is a great example of ethical SEO at its best and an example of just what can be achieved on a modest budget with the right sort of SEO strategy.

It just takes determination to succeed – one of the founders uses a helium balloon analogy for optimization – you keep pumping gas into it and eventually it will take off. Personally, I like listening to the old reggae classic by Althea & Donna as a motivational theme tune when I need reminding that perseverance will produce top rankings  – do you know the song I mean?

Invest in Long Term SEO Building

But on a more serious note to all those small companies out there concerned about whether they will ever achieve one of the top 3 positions in Google and whether they really can compete successfully online against rivals with much larger budgets – it really is possible with the right SEO and the commitment to drive a campaign forward.

Too many companies seem to give up once they have reached Page 2 of the search results for a few keywords but the benefits of that last push are enormous. Sitting in the Top 3 for a wide range of keywords will increase your visitor numbers by a massive margin compared with position 10 for just a few keywords.

My client is just one example of an ethical approach to SEO on a modest budget being highly successful – why not leave a comment or share your own examples of small businesses on modest budgets competing with, and outranking, well-established websites through the use of ethical SEO?

Image Credit: Gianina SEO

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Article by Michelle Symonds

Michelle Symonds is a freelance consultant specialising in effective SEO, blogging and social media to promote businesses on the internet.

Michelle Symonds has written 1 awesome articles for this blog.

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{ 13 comments }

John Ernest May 26, 2012 at 11:38 am

Through my own ethical standards, I make sure that any random visitor gets what they are looking for. Content is the only thing that will help you rise to the top of any SERPs. Especially with Google’s latest update which is aimed at web spammers, you have to make sure that any outbound links from your site is not harmful or is not a link farm which could penalize your site just as gravely.

Arjun Rai May 31, 2012 at 7:50 am

I agree with you john and i think every blogger should take care of these things to make their site more decent and professional.

ZK May 27, 2012 at 2:08 am

With the Pandas and Penguins out of the zoo and all over the internet, all of us need to be very watchful about out site links and profile. If you are hiring an SEO agency, do a through back ground check about the agency’s work and details about the methods that they use to influence links

Divas Chitkara May 27, 2012 at 1:13 pm

I believe in the “watch and learn” methodology. I’ve seen people doing blackhat SEO and then being caught by Google. It will take just one penalty from Google to ruin your whole “online business”.

Michelle May 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm

It amazes me that people are still doing blackhat SEO and getting away with it – especially since ethical SEO really does work – I have the proof with a number of clients. It is harder work (all that content and having to build real working relationships with real people) but it’s the way to build a sustainable online business.

Nanvy @ CRM Software Solutions May 28, 2012 at 3:51 am

I do agree with you ZK. After these mega updates from Google like Google Panda and Google Penguine it’s not that easy to apply SEO, One must avoid the low quality links and if wants to hire any an SEO Agency then background must be checked.

Ethical SEO Company May 28, 2012 at 4:02 am

I agree that ethical SEO does work, and should be the approach that companies take in order to create sustainable high position rankings. However, it is a relatively slow process, so the danger is that a small company can suffer significantly by doing things “right”, whilst their competitors enjoy their high positions due to more black hat techniques. I believe that Google will eventually manage to pick these up correctly, but I don’t think they’re there yet, so black hat will prevail for some time to come.

Jasmine May 28, 2012 at 4:40 am

Good article. Don’t ever use any black hat methods as Panda and Penguins are keeping close eyes on us!

Nick Stamoulis May 29, 2012 at 10:25 am

What successful SEO really takes is time and dedication. As long as you are willing to work at it, you will improve your search engine presence. It may take time, but you can’t give up or scale back.

Brad Kitson May 30, 2012 at 10:47 am

The comment before mine really summarises what is needed for proper SEO: time and dedication. With these two attributes, any person can succeed in having his/her website listed among the top sites of search engines. The trick, however, is to have quality content that the visitors will read, interact, and visit again. Including social networking widgets like Tweet and Facebook share also help the new updates to go viral if they are considered to be useful and attractive by the web community. Unethical behaviour may work in the short-term, but in the long term, earnings and visitors will go down fast and the website would have tainted its reputation.

Michelle May 31, 2012 at 4:40 am

Thanks for the perfect summary Brad…

It is also important to educate clients, who are maybe seeing slow progress, that the ethical approach to SEO will work and, very importantly, preserve their reputation.

Primero en google June 7, 2012 at 8:59 am

I dont totally agree. I think ethical seo may take a lot of work, but the best thing is to combine black and white seo.

José

Paul Naybour June 13, 2012 at 5:20 am

Hi

Our site is the one Michelle is referring to in this post. It has taken three years of solid effort, creating good content and building relationships with other bloggers and website owners in our sector to get the good rankings we have today. Nevertheless I still worry that any SEO, which is not naturally generated links could be classified as black hat in the future. With every update Google seems to clasify old practices as SPAM.

Lucky we have a few links from places like the major nations news papers and professional bodies. These high authority and high PR sites (PR8 and PR6) are the ones that support our overall SEO ranking.

In the future I convinced social signals will become increasingly important as a way of identifying interesting sites.

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