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.
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.