Don’t plant bombs in the basement

I met up with a successful business owner this week who recently hired a outside SEO firm and wanted to get my thoughts on their progress. We’ll call him Tom.

I quickly unearthed that Tom is paying $1,500/month for basically spam.

Spam that is 100% working. For now at least.

And for what he is paying, the results are sadly impressive.

grey and white hat risks and cost in SEO

I don’t really care what (legal) tactics SEOs use to get results. But when the client has been sold that these tactics are safe, when they clearly are not in a Panda/Penguin world…that makes me want to punch things. Pre-2010 this type of SEO work was mostly harmless. Unless the SEO was really agressive, Google gave a pass to low-quality tactics and content. No longer.

As we look into 2013 low quality SEO tactics can now have very long-term consequences to your website. Google warned for years, and now the stick has come out. But the tactics still work. And SEO firms will still sell them as “standard SEO stuff” to unknowing business owners. And that’s a damn shame.

If you’re using grey-hat tactics for your clients and they fully realize the potential consequences (and also potential gains), all the more power to you.

But if you’re using tactics that Google has clearing cracked down on and selling those services as “safe”. Shame. On. You.

My friend Tom had no idea about the potential penalties his website might receive because of the tactics of his SEO firm. For some reason they failed to mention that in their pitch.

A Simple Definition of SEO Hats

seo hats definition
Here’s a simple way to define white-hat, grey-hat and black-hat. It’s not everyone’s definition. But I think the lines have gotten clearer this year.

White-Hat = Within Google’s Webmaster guidelines.

(example: creating a killer blog post and email your customers to check it out)

Grey-Hat = Outside Google’s guidelines, but not illegal.

(example: Paid links. Spammy comments on blog posts. Link farms.)

Black-Hat = Tactics that are illegal.

(example: Hacking websites to place links. Negative SEO?)

With this definition business owners have two very clear options:

1. Stick completely to Google’s guidelines and probably avoid any penalties in the future. At the risk of my competitors ranking above me, or not seeing results as quickly as I would like.


2. Use grey-hat tactics to compete, with the knowledge that it could damage the future value of the website.

And the decision of which path to pursue needs to be in the hands of the business owner. Too many businesses have been burned and the lack of disclosure I hear about on a weekly basis is appalling.

You’re taking care of their house

When you take care of someone’s website it’s a bit like renovating a house. They have entrusted you to make improvements, and improve the value of the home. If in six months the bomb you left ticking in the basement torches the house into a burning pile of ashes…and you failed to tell the house owner about it, that’s just a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Bottom line: Don’t plant bombs in the basement without telling the owner they might need fire insurance.

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