Going From Black Hat To White Hat SEO Doesn’t Mean Google Will Like You. Matt Cutts himself shared results this week from a survey he conducted, finding only twenty percent of people in the U.S. have ever heard of SEO.
Much of the chatter in the SEO community over the past month has been on Google’s efforts to level the playing field for ma & pa vs professionally operated sites, comments to this effect by Google’s Matt Cutts at SXSW have indicated that Google is working on things that would make it so people who over-optmize their sites don’t necessarily rank better than others who haven’t put a thought into SEO.
Chris Crum from Webpronews.com says Google has been working on this approach for some time, the Panda update was certainly designed to make content quality matter more. But Google also regularly gives tips about how to optimize your site better and releases lists of algorithmic changes, which practically beg webmasters to try and exploit them. Google, of course doesn’t take this stance, but when they release the signals, people pay attention, and try to play around them. Google knows this, which is why they won’t release their entire list of signals, let alone talk about how much weight certain signals have compared to others, although if you pay close enough attention, you’ll sometimes catch hints at this too.
It’s clear Google sends mixed signals to webmasters. Danny Sullivan – Editor in Chief at Search Engine Land & speaker at SXSW: Dear Google & Bing: Help MeRank Better!– asks if Google’s over-optimization penalty is its “jump the shark” moment. He makes the case that it’s more about PR for Google to indicate they’re actively working on making results more relevant. The whole de-indexing of paid blog/link networks plays to the whole making over-optimization matter less concept, but based on Google’s webmaster guidelines, it seems like doing so would have always fit into the company’s policy.
“Paid links drew much attention last year, after Google penalized JC Penney, as well as Forbes and Overstock for using them. Google even banned BeatThatQuote over the issue, one of its own companies.” SearchEngineLand
When you play the black hat, or even grey hat game, you’re taking a big risk of being dealt a damaging penalty. Google didn’t even hesitate to penalize its own site for violating guidelines (at least after they were called out on it), which may have even cost Chrome some browser market share.
Going white hat after playing it at a darker shade in the past isn’t necessarily going to help your rankings either though, as one blogger flogged in a recent post at SEOBullshit, Gey Hat to White Hat Disaster:
“I did paid links, paid reviews, and never, ever did any shit like “cloaking”, “spam”, or “stuffing.” Hence, the “grey” hat campaign type. I had awesome content. I had a crawlable site. It was perfect in every way. I used paid links and reviews to scream at GoogleBot, “Hey, notice me! I’m right here! I have killer content and reputable sites link to it.” The results were great. The money. Terrific. I left the competition scratching their heads since my site was HTTPS, it was hard to reverse engineer as most link-finding tools couldn’t really find my backlinks.
However, the stress of running a grey-hat campaign eventually wears on you and you long for the peace of a white hat campaign. So, I hatched a plan to wean my site from grey and pray that the results weren’t too bad. I expected a 15-25% drop in SERPS and traffic which I could then recover by getting a big relevant, content piece linked up to the pages where I removed the TLA’s.
Fu**ing failure. Total and monstrous failure.”
The blogger continues by saying that his total traffic drop was -72.5%. “About 10 days after the first phase of removing TLA’s, I saw the first hit to my SERPS. It was bad. Way worse than I had imagined. Then when phase II came around 30 days later, it was nothing less than a total disaster.”
In the lead-up to all this we get a picture painted of just how gnarly Googles changes will get. Grey Turns to White “So the time has come, sleepless nights, the wondering, the fear, your grey campaign is milking years off of your life. You’ve weighed the negatives, the positives. You wanted to stand tough.”
“But there was one factor that tipped the scales. The domain. Google basically gives you one ‘get out of jail free’ card in regards to paid links. Yes, you can ride the grey, get caught, and beg for forgiveness promising never to do it again and thou shall be saved. But, you only really get one bail out. Even if you tried it again on another domain, and got nailed, I doubt that the Google gods would be as forgiving on your 2nd and subsequent requests. So, throughout your whole life, you get one and only one pardon.” KD http://seobullshit.com/grey-turns-white/
Every time Google makes big adjustments to its algorithm, sites pay the price. Sometimes that price is deserved, and sometimes it’s not. I find that often, people tend to think they didn’t deserve to lose their rankings. Even with the latest Panda refresh, we had sites telling us about ranking declines.
Cutts says “The idea is basically to try and level the playing ground a little bit, so all those people who have sort of been doing, for lack of a better word, ‘over-optimization’ or overly doing their SEO, compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site, we want to sort of make that playing field a little more level. So that’s the sort of thing where we try to make the website…the Googlebot smarter, we try to make our relevance more adaptive, so the people who don’t do SEO, we handle that, and then we also start to look at the people who sort of abuse it, whether they throw too many keywords on the page or whether they exchange way too many links, or whatever they’re doing to sort of go beyond what a normal person would expect in a particular area. So that is something where we continue to pay attention, and continue to work on it…we have several engineers on my team working on that right now.”
In a recent Entrepreneur.com article – Can Too Much SEO Be a Bad Thing? – AJ Kumar sums up the conundrum of the small business perfectly: “As a small business owner using the web to reach customers, you’ve surely been implementing search engine optimization tactics to make sure your site turns up high in web searches. But just when you might feel like you’re starting to get the hang of this SEO thing, it appears that search giant Google might start penalizing websites that are over-optimized.”
We understand that there are plenty of white hat SEO tactics that Google not only is OK with, but encourages. However, most people simply don’t know what SEO even is. Matt Cutts himself shared results this week from a survey he conducted, finding only one in five people in the U.S. have even heard of SEO. It’s not surprising that sites would be tempted to go for the darker hat techniques. But as Google continues on this new (same) path of leveling the playing field, however, it may be more playing with fire than ever. And once you start, engaging in SEO’s dark arts, you may have a hard time returning to the lighter side, should you ever choose to do so.
source: search engine land
image via www.andrewskelly.com