In SEO, there are different strategies for building search ranking. One way to classify these strategies is by how ethical these activities are considered to be, such as “white hat” and, conversely, “black hat.” Within each of these classifications there is a range.
For example, some people feel that “white hat” means no effort at promotion. They believe that any form of promotion or effort at gaining ground in search is “beneath,” them, that their articles/products are so awesome that people should just recognize that awesomeness and success will naturally come. Other people view “white hat,” as those forms of link building and site promotion strategies that have been deemed acceptable.
As the largest delivery system of search traffic, it is usually Google that determines what those “acceptable” practices are . . . and that can change. But that is a topic for another day.
Then there are “black hat” techniques which can be destructive, such as hacking sites and phishing through them (I just had a call about this today:) injecting links through insecure extensions; deceptive ads or posts that cloak the target page or hijack traffic, or simply bulk spamming forum, forms, and pages.
In between these two extremes, no promotion and straight up illegal practices, is a wide range of gray.
There may be strategies that aren’t technically “black hat,” but they are certainly a dark gray. They usually take advantage of a hole or a weakness in a social media platform or search engine and exploit it. It’s shady.
One that comes immediately to mind is Google Analytics referral spam, which has been the bane of my existence for the past couple of months.
Encountering Shady People
I’ve been talking so far about SEO strategies, but it’s not just about search. Those tactics are simply a reflection of the mindset of the people behind them. If someone will cut corners and use questionable practices in one area of their lives, I can guarantee you they will do something similar in other areas as well.
As Mark Ritchie so eloquently puts it in his upcoming book, “My Trading Bible,” (pg 39.)
This is true . . . always.
It is true in search. It is true in life. It is true in business.
If you are in business, it is guaranteed that you will come up against people with “a shortage of integrity.”
Shady Takes Advantage of Confusion
In a meeting a few months ago, a client pointed out a couple of things that their closest competitor was doing that my client thought was unethical. The competitor was trying to capitalize and rank on a phrase that was part of my client’s business name. It was something that if the competitor was confronted about, they could probably find an excuse for, but it was lame. It was shady.
After looking at the situation, I told my client that, while it was lame, it was possible that it was coming solely from whomever was managing the competitor’s web site and maybe they were just trying to rank for that phrase. I thought there was a possibility that the business owner wasn’t even aware of it. I would look at the competitor’s site occasionally and half the time it was down. If the owner didn’t even realize their own site was down all the time, there was a strong possibility they didn’t realize how it was being promoted and presented.
Looking again today, the attempt to hijack and latch on to my client’s business name is even more obvious and blatant.
There is no way to confuse the two businesses, but if someone happened to be searching for my client’s business information and if they didn’t already have a strong relationship with them, the competitor might be able to grab a little bit of business that wouldn’t have come to them otherwise.
Is this illegal? I’m not an attorney so I don’t know if what they are doing is enough for trademark infringement. Some people may even argue it’s fair game, they are just trying to get business.
It depends on what standards someone has and what they think is acceptable in an effort to get a buck in their till.
I don’t think anyone could argue that it is shady. I have a hard time believing anyone who saw what the competitor is doing and understood what was going on could walk away without thinking it was unethical and even a little pathetic.
This is the thing to understand about the unethical and the shady, most of the time they won’t lie outright, but they take every advantage of confusion. They may not present all the facts or not acknowledge or give credit to sources. There are a lot of ways that people lie by omission or even use the truth to tell the lie.
In the situation I just mentioned, the competitor has begun to create confusion for the search engine on who someone is looking for when they search for that particular phrase.
Countering Shady People
The way to counter shady people, and businesses, is to remove the confusion.
Be very clear about who you are and what you do, and continue the conversation.
Ten years ago, I wrote an article about focusing on your business. What I talked about in that article is still true today. There will always be people whose idea of a “marketing strategy” is copying whatever their most successful competitor does.
While there may be short terms gains doing this, it isn’t a strategy that will result in long term success. Just as with the black hat SEO strategies that ended up with the promoted site being banned, delisted, and eventually discarded, trying to latch on to someone else’s strategy will result in confusion and ineffectual results in your own business.
There are times when it may be necessary to directly confront someone depending on how egregious their actions are. Part of the responsibility of holding a copyright or trademark is the willingness to defend it.
There may come a point in this particular situation where my client has to seek legal recourse. That part of the equation is not my concern. My job is to make sure it is very clear in the minds of my client’s current and potential customers that there is no substitute for what they sell combined with the service they offer.
For each one of us with a business, that is the goal. Communicate clearly the benefit of buying from or working with you versus your competitor. Sometimes that is about the product or service itself. Other times it has more to do with who you, the person who directs the ship, are as a person and how your business operates.
As someone said to me once, “I wanted to know you were a real person.”
There are a lot of fakes out there. Operating a business with integrity has value.
The most valuable asset in any business is their book of business, or customer relationship. Whether a product or service based business, this is essential
I think that most small business owners know that this is true; however, many times it appears that this key factor is left out of their marketing strategy. If they have a written marketing campaign, often it is a schedule of promotions and ads targeting new customers, completely ignoring the old. Even worse is when thousands of dollars are spent on an ad campaign and absolutely no focus or attention is placed on tracking the response or getting those new customers/contacts on a contact list (email, text, Facebook, etc.)
Growing Your Assets
If the most valuable asset in your business are your current clients and customers, each and every marketing effort that you make should reflect that.
What are you doing to turn each and every contact from your advertising campaign into a new or potential customer?
Do you have a follow-up and development strategy for existing customers or those potential customers that are on your list (do you have a list?
What efforts are you making to connect with current clients, particularly your best ones, to deepen that relationship?
Same Goal, Different Delivery
I think sometimes business owners can get overwhelmed with the constantly changing options for promoting their business. Traditional and online methods intersect and merge.
But while the delivery method may have changed from 30 years ago, the goal remains the same, to connect with customers.
If you keep that in mind, it is easier to focus on what is most effective for your business.
Today on Twitter, I will be spotlighting ideas for lead generation and ways to improve customer loyalty. Follow us on Twitter or join us on Facebook to catch the conversation.
I came across this video today and just laughed and laughed and laughed.
The video is by Scofield Edit, a boutique agency in Indianapolis that provides editorial and editing services. The video perfectly captures some of the outrageous attitudes that clients sometimes have towards service based businesses. The only thing that they don’t reference is where they want you to work for free in exchange for a “partnership.”
For all of my service based clients, the next time someone tries to beat you down on price: step back, watch this video again, laugh and go back and hold firm.
With a Netvibes account full of feeds, I’m getting pretty selective in adding new blogs to follow. However, today I came across a new “Must Follow,” Knowledge Workers which covers topics on “Career management news, tips and advice for people who are paid to think.”
The posts cover career and job tips, business news, writing (it doesn’t matter how profound your thoughts are if you can’t communicate them effectively,) and public relations.
In honor of Earth Day 2009, here are five easy tips for making your business more eco-friendly.
Use Refurbished and Recycled Products
Choose refurbished and recycled products when buying office supplies. There are ever increasing options including: paper, folders, pens, pencils, paper clips, office organizers, as well as office furniture and electronics.
One easy way to save money on office supplies while going green is to buy refilled or refurbished printer and copy machine cartridges. Recycled cartridges are sold on numerous online shops. Stores such as Office Max and Walgreens provide their own refurbishing services. Also look in your local business directory for stores such as Rapid Refill or home based businesses that provide the service as well.
Lead by example and start a recycling program at your business. Contact your waste management provide to find out what recycling resources they offer. Decide on the types of materials you will recycle. Place the recycling bins in an easily accessible space and clearly label them. Finally, let your employees know the recycling guidelines and periodically reinforce your recycling goals. Earth 911 has a detailed guide for starting a program
There are many ways a business can reduce office waste; however, one easy way is to use reusable products instead of disposable. Instead of using styrofoam cups and paper plates, transition to inexpensive cups, mugs and dinnerware. While washing a cup is not as convenient as throwing it in the trash, it can make a huge impact in reducing the waste your office produces.
Many companies have made a concerted effort to migrate much of their record keeping and invoicing to an electronic media. One of the biggest time savers in my own business was when I finally found the right online billing system. My invoices go out automatically by email and I only have a handful of clients that I have to mail a hard copy of the invoice. It saves on paper, postage and time.
Another avenue for cutting down on paper and printing costs is to have a convert your marketing pieces to a digital format. Some businesses only offer digital versions of their marketing collateral, particularly media kits for online publishers and service menus for professionals.
Another method is to cut back on the amount of printed copies and use the digital version when possible. We did this for an event that I manage and it allowed us to contain our printing costs while at the same time expanding the types of pieces we distributed. The majority of the vendor applications, sponsor forms, rate cards, event flyers and brochures were distributed by email. We printed smaller runs of each of the items to have on hand in the instance where a hard copy was needed.
If you are going to transition to a digital format, it is important to compile the files in an universal format. For print, that would be a pdf format by Adobe Acrobat. For multi-media presentations, the most widely used is Flash.
Adobe Acrobat Reader is a free program that allows pdf files to be viewed. However, in order to create a pdf file, either a pdf print driver or Adobe Acrobat Professional is needed.
When you design the marketing piece, you need to decide whether the file will only be distributed digitally or if you also plan to print copies. Files that will be printed need to be created in a higher resolution and set-up to the printer’s specifications for that document type.
If the piece will only be available digitally, there is more flexibility in the document size. A growing trend is to create pieces in a customized landscape orientation to be more easily viewed on a computer monitor.
Also remember that if the piece will be printed, you will need to have a print version and an email version. The email version will be a lower resolution and a much smaller file size.
In today’s online connected world of email, network servers, and online meetings, many businesses are finding it less necessary for all of their employees to be sitting in a chair in the office.
Besides the benefit of increased employee satisfaction, telecommuting and flex work situations also benefit the environment by reducing traffic congestion, fuel consumption, and energy expended at the office.
Flex in the City is an initiative by the City of Houston that encourages businesses to provide at least one flex option that will reduce a commute time.
You know your web site needs help when someone enters your business name and city and you don’t come up in the first page of Google results.
Having a professional looking web site for your business is important. When a prospective customer does preliminary research, your web site is usually the first impression of your company and the service you provide.
Having a properly constructed web site is important as well. Everyone gets caught up in the design, but the code underneath is just as important to the effectiveness of your web site as the way it looks.
I offer niche article advertising opportunities on a local web site that I publish. As a result, I spend a lot of time contacting businesses that are in the particular niche that I happen to be focusing on at the time.
In the process of researching a particular industry, I saw a Google Ad for a business in the niche. It was obvious why they were running an Adwords campaign because they would never be found otherwise.
Their entire site was just images. Not just mostly images . . . all images. There was not one thing on any of the pages that would tell the search engine what the site was about.
I’d post a link, but I didn’t bookmark it and I can’t find it.
Web Site Structure Matters
If you’re sitting there wondering, “So what?” Search engines crawl text. An image to a search engine is like a painting to a blind person . . . completely irrelevant.
So remember, if it is information that you want someone to find, don’t create a pretty graphic and put it up on your web site . . . put the text up and use CSS to make it look pretty.
If your web site is not getting the results that you think you should be getting, here is a little exercise that I want you to try. In your browser, go to View => Source (Page Source for Firefox). Look through the page that comes up and see if it is easy for you to tell what your site is about.
If not, then it might be a good ideal to do a web site overhaul.