The short answer is no – there are no SEO shortcuts these days.
But bad SEO techniques will punish your business – find out why and what you can do instead.
What is black hat?
As soon as Google started to become popular people began to look for ways to get their sites to the top of the rankings – for obvious reasons.
A great early example was writing keywords hundreds of times in pages, but in the background colour so that they were invisible. Another was link building – paying for someone to set up thousands of links that pointed to your website to make Google think it’s popular.
These techniques began to be known as ‘black hat’ – techniques that tried to beat the system, as opposed to ‘white hat’ – techniques that improve SEO but aren’t frowned upon by Google.
What’s wrong with trying to beat Google?
Every time a technique becomes popular, Google penalises sites using it. The algorithms are changed so that sites using particular techniques drop out of the top pages.
For example the ‘Florida’ update in November 2003 suddenly kicked out all the sites using invisible keywords, hidden links and a number of other questionable techniques.
Because of the damage this caused, with many businesses going out of business, Google became more transparent, announcing updates and the techniques to be targeted, in advance. This allows webmasters to change sites before updates take effect.
Google penalties – to be avoided at all costs!
More recently, with the Panda and Penguin updates, Google sought to put a stop to poor quality content, excessive poor quality inbound links, ‘keyword stuffing’ (mentioning keywords too many times) and other related tricks.
Sites using ‘black hat’ techniques might achieve a high rating initially but will suddenly drop like a stone. This usually happens when a particular update is run, but sometimes Google will manually penalise specific sites. If this happens, you (or the person running your SEO) will get a notification from Google telling you why and what you have to do to fix it.
Once the work has been done, you can resubmit the site to Google to see if it will be reinstated in the listings.
Watch out for the con-artists
The reason it’s important to understand this is because you may get occasional emails from people who say they’ve looked at your website and can get you to the top of Google. They may mention specific issues they have spotted while examining your site (guess what – they haven’t).
These are just spam. At best they’ll get you to sign-up for a programme that doesn’t really work, and they’ll be in a different country so you won’t be able to get your money back. Usually they are just trawling for suckers and will sell your information to other people who will try and sell you quack SEO remedies.
Think about this – if these SEO companies are so good, why the unsolicited emails? Surely they’d be getting masses of clients through their own excellent SEO work?!
No short cuts
As we said at the beginning, unfortunately there are no shortcuts – at least none that won’t get you into trouble. Google is getting better and better at spotting tricks and the only way out is to demonstrate you are worthy of being at the top of the SEO rankings for what you do, where you do it.
So do by adding well-crafted content, in a range of formats, that delivers useful, relevant information for people. It’s the only way.