There are a lot of ways to get your site to rank at the top of a search results page for your targeted keywords. There are also a lot of ways to make a million dollars. There are even more people that want to profit off of your desire to achieve these things. Case in point: “get rich quick” schemes advertised all over late-night TV that promise to let you in on their secret formula for creating millions in free cash flow without ever having to get off your couch. Sounds too good to be true, right? Hopefully you are nodding your head in agreement. Everybody knows that making (not winning) a million dollars takes hard work, discipline and a little bit of luck.
The same rules apply to Search Engine Optimization. Unfortunately the same types of people want to sell you “get your site ranking #1 in Google quick” schemes that “guarantee” a top ranking as long as you keep subscribing to their supersecret, back-alley, “I know a guy who knows a guy at Google” techniques. The problem with both of these scenarios is that if it really is so easy and they have a competitive advantage over everybody else, shouldn’t they want to keep it a secret and get their own networks of sites into the most profitable positions? Why would they help you?
Obviously the search engine marketing world is not this black and white. There are multiple shades of gray to choose from. “Black Hat” SEO’s are the ones promising better rankings and they can sometimes achieve them for a limited time by gaming the system and tricking the search engines into thinking their client’s site is more popular/credible/authoritative than it actually is. Many good Black Hats keep their methods to themselves and find markets to exploit for profit. I actually admire their ingenuity and coding prowess, but don’t think I could deal with the frustration each time one of your moneymaking schemes gets effectively shut down by an updated ranking algorithm or a spam report. I also recommend against jeopardizing your site’s rankings by working with a Black Hat. If your business depends on search engine traffic, don’t do anything that could potentially get you banned from their results.
White Hats are the more legitimate version of a Search Engine Optimizer. They take the long-term view and set their goals on continued success, even if it takes longer to get there. They know plenty of ways to get short-term results that won’t get your site penalized. More importantly, they know that there is no substitute for authoritative content and steady growth of high quality inbound links.
Gray Hats dabble in a little of both by taking advantage of new techniques that may not yet have been qualified as “spammy” by the engines. A good Gray Hat will learn from both camps and apply the appropriate level of SEO to a particular project or client. Everybody benefits from pushing the envelope and testing new strategies to improve rankings, but not at the expense of a valued client’s site.
Be sure to consider your company’s objectives when choosing a search engine marketing firm or consultant. Check references. Ask about previous experience and trust your instincts. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.