Naughty or Nice SEO?

The chasm between sites that are naughty and nice, as far as search engines are concerned, is growing. Some companies’ goods and services are naturally worthy of top search listings. Other companies will earn a lump of coal in their proverbial stockings when it comes to search engine referrals this holiday season.

What will your company do to bring more prequalified, natural search traffic to your site in the New Year?

Perhaps a little story can help send your company on a path to improving your site’s search engine performance in 2006 and beyond. Consider, gentle readers, a tale of how two companies pursued different paths on the road to top search engine positioning.

Earning Search Traffic

Company A’s goods and services are naturally worthy of top search listings. The company took the time and made the investment to create unique, rich Web content. It regularly updates the content, organizes it in a hierarchical manner, and manages the content in a search-engine friendly way free from frames, dynamic page generation, and session IDs.

The company’s goods and services deserves top search results for relevant keywords and keyword phrases because the site was designed to be nice to the search enginesand to provide desirable good and services to its target market.

The company’s site is easy to crawl and index, so search bots return to it repeatedly, efficiently noting all that’s new and relevant to the site’s search engine positioning. Over time, a pattern emerges; other sites link back to the good, fresh content the company provides on its Web site. The site grows page depth and becomes a trusted online authority, garnering its fair share of customers and clients from the marketplace.

The price the company pays to maintain its search engine traffic diminishes over time because the company invested in building a long-term search marketing strategy. It’s not very sexy, and top search positioning isn’t attained overnight. Yet the company’s profits from search engine traffic continue to grow at a healthy pace month after month.

Driving Search Traffic

Company B loathes the fact its rivals’ Web sites that offer similar goods and services have better search positioning than its own sites. The company borrows other people’s content. In so doing, it confuses search engine algorithms into believing its sites are relevant for highly competitive, profitable keywords and keyword phrases.

To obtain top search positioning, the company builds Web sites that show search bots something different from what visitors see. The company stuffs, stacks, and hides keywords and links in alternative tags, hidden fields, and layers of code. Search referral traffic spikes, then quickly diminishes.

The company produces page after page of duplicate content and mirrors its Web sites across a series of domain names. All the company’s sites were once quickly crawled. But they failed to change over time, so search bots return less frequently. To fix the problem, the company swaps other people’s content for its own. Search referral traffic spikes again, then slows to a trickle.

The company decides to use the old sites to redirect unsuspecting visitors through hundreds of doorway page to a series of similar sites. In a short time, a large influx of links point to some of the sites to keep them in top positions. But a back-link pattern begins to emerge, connecting the sites to link farms, guest books, and ad-scraping blogs. Once again, search engine traffic begins to erode.

The price the company pays to maintain its top positioning increases over time because it must keep building new sites to engender short-term bursts in search-referred traffic. Yet as long as search referred traffic keeps coming, the company continues to profit.

Dumb Bots, Smart Strategies

Both the naughty and nice companies in this story attain top search engine positioning because search bots aren’t particularly sophisticated. But because search engines continue to refine their algorithms to index more relevant results, only one company will maintain its top search engine positioning in a cost-effective manner over an extended period.

Nearly anyone can temporarily fool search bots into indexing a site for something it’s not. It’s equally possible to create relevant, well-organized content searchers actively seek. That’s why the SEM (define) industry is inhabited by characters referred to as white hats, black hats, and gray hats; each hat color aligns with its preferred method of optimization wizardry.

To the average searcher, top search positioning is considered to be a direct reflection of the organization that attained the results. There’s really only one question a company must answer before initiating an organic SEM initiative: what price are you willing to pay for top organic search results?

When you initiate an organic SEM initiative, you hang your company’s reputation out on the Web. Your reputation is based on the tactics you’re willing to employ to attain top results. Match your company’s reputation with your SEM strategy if you truly desire to earn — and keep — your search-referred customers.

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