The SAScon 2014 (Search And Social Conference, just FYI) line-up included a mixture of insight from key figures within the Digital space, with topics covering social media management, white hat SEO, black hat SEO and the intelligent use of “big data”.
A lot of buzzwords, maybe, but there were some real nuggets of information, which kept cropping up throughout the course of the two days. Let’s define some key terms before I go any further, however: white hat SEO refers to all of the techniques that search engine marketeers will use to help your website find its way up Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) in an ethical and honest way, which falls in line with Google’s current terms of service. Conversely, black hat SEO refers to those techniques that are more spammy and seek to “play” the algorithm. The results of “black hat” techniques tend to be very short lived, and oftentimes result in a huge penalty being placed upon your website. The result? A drop off in traffic, seemingly overnight, as your website disappears from the first page or two of Google, into the depths of page 200+.
Perhaps the most pertinent seminar, from my point of view, was that entitled “It’s not all about Google”. Predictably, there was a decent discussion on other search engine providers, along with the reminder that certain demographics still do search on those engines that don’t singularly (nor cumulatively, for that matter) account for the lion’s share of the search arena. However, what resonated with me was the small seminar on “black hat SEO” and its long term viability in such a turbulent landscape of Google algorithm updates. The proponent of such a technique, who goes by the pseudonym @IrishWonder on Twitter, quite viably outlined a series of ways to play along to the algorithm, but in an excessive way that basically amounts to spamming. Now, I’m not suggesting that this option is viable for any clients, based on the brand equity that goes with building a genuine online presence, but the overarching message from that seminar was to hand the power of thought back to search engine marketing (SEM) practitioners in questioning whether or not each and every demand on Google’s “list” is for the benefit of the user—or, in fact, for the benefit of Google.
A very interesting slant, then, on the entire Digital approach, from the moment a website is designed, to its build, to its ongoing online promotion. From my perspective, I do think that a lot of Google’s current stipulations—as far as site structure and optimisation goes—is in the best interest of the user. The other core argument in favour of a “white hat” SEO approach is that Google, despite its power, will live and die by the quality of the results that it serves to users. The current stance of privileging sites with value-adding content and a genuine social presence can only be a good thing in maximising the visibility of genuine businesses, whose interest is in their product and their customers.
To round up my stance on Google’s dominance and how we, as SEM marketeers must respond, I found a nice conclusion in a seemingly passing statement from @Psychobel , where he mused on the ethical responsibility upon us to make sure that what we do, whilst representing Google, remains in the interest of the end user. Well, to quote verbatim would turn the air blue, but that was the core message!
What do you think? Are we whipped by Google or do current guidelines for a “search friendly website” make sense from the your point of view, as the Google user?