Inbound marketing certainly gets a lot of hype these days. In fact, just like SEO a few years back, it seems like the latest bandwagon for marketers to jump on. Is this a good move? Will we see loads of SEO companies rebranding as inbound marketing companies?
A few years back, SEO was the new kid on the marketing block. Many people who knew how to amend a few meta tags were promising top rankings on all the major search engines (yes, there were several giving Google a run for its money in the mid noughties). Most people didn’t know what the acronym SEO meant, and those that did, had difficulty seeing past it being a tool to get top of page 1 of the search engines.
Black hat SEO companies were taking advantage of this by promising rankings for cash. They’d tell the client that they would get their site top of the first page, and when that happened, they’d be paid. And they’d deliver. Top of page 1 was easy. Pick an uncompetitive term that was never going to bring convertible traffic, use black hat methods that the search engines weren’t smart enough to pick up, and make sure you got paid before you got found out and the client’s site got blacklisted.
How I remember those days – we could almost make a full time business sorting out companies who had been blacklisted by search engines, due to black hat techniques being eventually discovered. Cloaking, doorway pages, link farming, page-swapping and keyword stuffing were all used regularly by these unscrupulous and shameless black hat practitioners.
Is it surprising that SEO started to get a bad name for selling smoke and mirrors? Over the next few years, the search engines got a lot smarter, especially Google. Black hat techniques had to change, but their effective life became shorter and shorter as Google released new algorithm changes. These black hatters had to change tack, but whatever they did, it was always going to give short-term results. Because results were short-lived, they needed paying quickly for a one-off effort, so they continued to sell on promised rankings.
Now, SEO has become more mainstream, and businesses are beginning to understand that it’s not about rankings — it’s about long-term conversions, more sales, more profit. Selling on rankings alone is starting to become a failed technique. However, we all still get plenty of SEO spam mail promising just that, which doesn’t help the image of an industry that has many highly professional practitioners producing great returns for clients.
Great SEO is capable of making significant improvements to a client organization’s online effectiveness. Black hat SEO is becoming less and less effective.
SEO becomes even more powerful when integrated into an inbound marketing strategy. It is the key element to the “get found” stage of the inbound marketing process. So are we going to see those that can’t do it right move to black hat social media or black hat blogging?
In social media, it’s already happening. Buying likes, fans or followers is common. Running competitions outside of an app on Facebook is against their rules, but has anyone yet been penalized?
What about blogging? That should be relatively safe – after all, it’s about adding great, relevant, unique and valuable content, and that’s more difficult to fake. Let’s hope so, because for everyone that does things to the best of our abilities, there’s always another trying to take shortcuts, at the expense of their clients and our industry’s reputation.
Once again, it’s down to us, the practitioners of white hat techniques and practices to rally against these practices that get our industries a bad name. We need to keep pushing to educate potential clients to the risks of black hat practices, especially in the non-SEO elements of inbound marketing, where they are just beginning to make their presence known.
Image: Black Hat by Shutterstock