Anne Holland

The Ugly Side of Search Optimization

December 11th, 2003

A MarketingSherpa reader (who asked to be anonymous) called me up
last Friday afternoon to say, “I’m sorry – I just hired the bad
guys to do my search engine optimization.”

He explained he was apologizing because the firm he hired was
using a pretty slimy practice, that our Buyer’s Guide had
recommended against, to get his Web site lots more rankings.

They were putting hidden (aka invisible) links on all their
unrelated client’s sites that pointed to other clients’ sites.
The theory is that Google and other search engine robots would be
fooled into thinking each site had fabulous link popularity, and
they’d rank the sites higher.

The thing is – it was working. He was getting great rankings.

He asked me, “I know it’s wrong, but I need the traffic for my
business. I’m only showing up in search engines for terms that
my company should have been in all along. So why is this so bad

I’ve interviewed loads of search experts for our Buyer’s Guide on
this topic, and many have told me that there’s an ugly
underbelly to the search business. It’s a bit like the junk
email industry — people know they are spamming, but for many
it’s profitable enough that they keep doing it.

And, like junk email, search engine deceit is rampant in some
parts of the affiliate world. Which is infuriating for merchants
who practice honest search optimization, only to see their
rankings beat by their own affiliates.

So, what should you do?

I urge you to keep to the straight and narrow with your
optimization. It’s not about morality – it’s about business

If you get caught doing something that’s against Google’s
preferences, they may cut you off from being listed entirely.
(They don’t *have* to list you, you know. There’s no law forcing
them to list anyone in the organic non-paid results if they don’t
want to.)

How can you be caught? Well, a competitor may report you. Or
somebody may report your optimization firm and hence all their
clients. Or Google’s frequently updated programs may spot the
problem automatically.

Once you’ve been cut off, it can be very difficult to convince
Google to let you back again. Ever. I know one company which
has been trying to be re-listed for more than a year now.

Is quick and easy traffic now worth the risk of losing all your
listings in the future? It’s your call to make. It’s your
business at stake.

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