Monday, May 29, 2006

Your SEO Service, Ethical SEO, and Competitor Monitoring

According to Scott Buresh as posted on his article
-"When a company undertakes a search engine optimization program, whether it is performed in-house or outsourced to an SEO service, most of the attention (and rightly so) is focused on the company website. This is the one aspect where there is a feeling of control—once a website is released into the wild, the company will have to see how its site fares against all the other websites out there, whether the other sites are using ethical SEO tactics or not.

Apart from changes made to the company website, the assumption is often that the company and, if it is using one, its SEO service, has zero control over what appears in search engine results. However, this is not usually the case. Often, you or your SEO service can have a direct effect on search engine results by monitoring your competitors and reporting them to the major search engines when the SEO techniques used on their site fall outside what is popularly referred to as ethical SEO. (Please note that while I believe that the word “ethical” is tossed around too often, “ethical SEO” has become the standard phrase to describe white hat techniques, and so it is the phrase I use throughout the article.)

Primary Competitors

To start with, let’s define competitors. Almost every company has at least a handful of other companies that it considers to be primary competitors—the ones that sell the same products and services, that are of similar size, and so on. It is important that the SEO efforts (or lack thereof) of these competitors, whether they are using ethical SEO techniques or not, be monitored on a routine basis. If they have not hired an SEO service of their own, or if they have not started doing SEO in-house at all, you will have peace of mind knowing that the use of this channel, for the moment, is yours. If your competitors begin an SEO campaign, with or without an outside SEO service, you can learn much about their sales and marketing tactics by evaluating the keyphrases that they target. And you can also investigate whether they are using ethical SEO practices in their campaign.

Your Online Competitors

It’s important to keep in mind that it is unlikely that searchers are going to decide only between you and the primary competitors you have listed. They are going to consider any company that matches their particular needs and that shows up for their search term. This is why your criteria for a competitor online should broaden to encompass any company that offers products or services like yours that outranks you for any of your targeted keyphrases. If your in-house staff or your SEO service not only continually monitors your search engine positions but also analyzes the companies that appear above you in search results, you can often identify forward-looking competitors of which you were previously unaware—your primary competitors of tomorrow.

Violations

This brings us to the key issue of ethical SEO. Search engine optimization is still a very new concept to most companies. Even the most respected companies can make mistakes in this arena, either by choosing the wrong SEO service, or by trying to avoid hiring an SEO service altogether by bringing it in house with well-intentioned but unqualified people. For example, BMW’s German site was recently removed temporarily from the Google index for using doorway pages—something that is not considered an ethical SEO practice. It stands to reason that your competitors are also not immune to violations.

Monitoring

A thorough SEO service will monitor not only the handful of competitors that you deem crucial but also the sites that appear higher than you for any of your chosen search phrases. This may be somewhat controversial, especially to any SEO service or webmaster that uses tactics forbidden by the search engines’ terms of service. However, many white hat SEO service firms consider it an obligation to their clients to routinely monitor the sites of any competitor found on the engines to be sure it is using ethical SEO techniques.

There is a reason that every major search engine has a form to report sites who do not use ethical SEO tactics and who violate the terms of service so that these sites can be subsequently penalized or removed. Spam filters cannot catch all violations without also removing a large number of good sites. Search engines rely on their users to help them to keep their indexes clean and free of sites not using ethical SEO tactics. There are many techniques to spam an engine—far too many to list. However, a good SEO service not only knows what all of these techniques are but knows how to identify them when it sees them so they can be reported to the engine accurately.

The engine also benefits from users reporting violations. Engines do not like people trying to trick their indexes, since there might then be pages showing up for particular search terms that are not actually relevant to those terms. Clearly, search engines understand this benefit—if the engines thought they could weed out all the spam themselves, they would not provide a reporting system. Supporting such a system, after all, is not free. Real people employed by the engine have to visit the offending pages to confirm that they are not using ethical SEO tactics.

In the notable example cited earlier of the firm that got most of its clients penalized, the owner of the SEO service in question was quoted as saying, “Google can kiss my ass. This is the Wild Wild West.” He may be right—maybe it is the Wild Wild West. But there are a whole bunch of new sheriffs in town—and they are wearing white hats."

2 comments:

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