Gaming search engines is like lying on your profile on a dating website.
You might get away with it for a while, but eventually, you’ll be exposed for what you really are.
Posting a picture of a gorgeous model instead of your own? Falsely representing your wealth or your humanitarianism?
The temptation may be strong, but you must resist if you want a long-term relationship.
Cheating the system might get you a lot of attention, but it only results in bitter disappointment, a loss of trust, and that dirty feeling you get when you’re caught in a lie.
And you will be caught – either by the person who takes the bait, gets to know the real you, and then heads for the hills, or the system itself, which might just ban you all together.
Search engines work the same way. Except the visitor can just hit the back button, and Google can just let you know you’re no longer welcome to show up in their index.
Just like doctoring your online dating profile to get more responses, black hat SEO techniques – or gaming the search engines – results only in temporary victories.
When you’re gaming the search algorithm you’re manipulating a metric that will inflate your perceived value as a resource on a given search query instead of focusing on serving solid content and winning on merit.
And this kind of deception has been going on in dating – and SEO – for a long time.
Back when on-page optimization factors seemed to carry the most weight in Google’s search algorithm, webmasters would use tricks like keyword stuffing and placing white text on a white background to include more keywords that humans couldn’t see but search engines would pick up on.
Since then, meta keywords have become virtually worthless and sites with the white-on-white text have been penalized, sometimes by being removed completely from Google’s index.
And more recently, as outlined in a story on NYTimes.com, a major retailer manipulated inbound links as a ranking factor, hiring a less than scrupulous firm to build inbound links on low-quality “doorway” websites that gave the impression to Google that the retailer’s site was valuable, since a ton of sites were linking to it.
The short-term result? A #1 ranking for thousands of highly-competitive terms (#1 organic results get about 35% of all clicks). The long-term result? Google has already tweaked the algorithm and for most terms, the retailer has dropped several pages (and less than 6% of users ever go past page 1).
So what is the correct approach to SEO? How can you employ the proper techniques without setting off a red flag to Google’s web spam team? By creating content that matches up with a human need and labeling it honestly.
In other words, don’t try to fake out the algorithm, instead, make content that makes a human fall in love with you.
Think about it: Google’s business relies on returning results for a user’s query that satiates their desire (for knowledge).
If every piece of content you create aims to do the same – for a given search query – you’ll be on the right track.
Here are some tips to being a worthy candidate to be on the receiving end of Google’s matchmaking service.
1. Have quality content. This would seem like a no-brainer, but it is often ignored. How can you tell if your content is high quality? By asking yourself if it answers a question. Each piece of content you create should answer a specific question someone might have. And each piece of content you create should be worth passing along to another human.
If you can’t imagine printing it out and handing it to someone as a resource, it’s probably not high-quality content.
2. Label it accurately. Once you figure out the term you are targeting – or the question you are answering – follow basic SEO best practices by including your term in the title of the page, the meta description, and throughout the body copy of your article. Make it natural and useful to a human.
If you can’t imagine reading the title aloud to someone in a conversational tone, it’s probably not labeled correctly. (Think “how to tie shoes” instead of “Shoe Tying | Tying Shoelaces | Shoelace Tying Guide | Guide to Tying Shoes”)
3. Organize it efficiently. Put your content in categories that make sense and make sure each individual article is easy to scan, key parts are bolded, copy is broken up by logical headings and relevant links are sprinkled throughout. If it’s useful for a human, it will perform in search … eventually.
If you do this, the humans who will come across your content will be satisfied: your content will be worth engaging with; it will match what they were searching for in a genuine way.
Satisfied customers will likely share your content with their personal networks which will lead to more naturally-earned inbound links, more sharing on social media, and more return visits to your content.
And Google will appreciate that you are giving their customers a happy ending to their search query. They are a matchmaker, after all.
In dating and in SEO, honesty is always the best policy.