It can be hard to know whether you’re doing things right when you’re walking the fine line of search engine optimization. Search engines, when it comes down to it, sit in opposition to SEO. While a search engine’s purpose is to guide the viewer to the most appropriate site for their search, SEO is all about tricking a search engine into listing your site first. Sure, optimization can be done with the best motives, bringing the right customers to your door. But a search engine’s ideal world would be one in which sites appear on its index naturally, without any SEO manipulation involved.
This doesn’t mean that search engines and search engine optimizers are enemies. In fact, the search engines allow a lot of room for the SEO community to work in. It does mean that search engines are constantly on the look-out for low-down tricks and police optimized sites very thoroughly.
There are a lot of ways of getting in trouble with the search engines, and getting out of trouble can cost a business time, worry and money. Even when a site makes a genuine mistake it can take months to fix the problem and get re-included on the index. Grey hat SEO techniques, or techniques that fall somewhere between legitimate SEO tactics and spam, can easily result in penalties if used without caution.
Grey hat SEO techniques tend to be used when a site is desperate to boost its ranking swiftly. Sometimes patience is all the difference there is between a technique being a white hat technique or a grey hat technique walking on the dark side.
Cloaking is a good example of this. Search engines are understandably suspicious when content is presented differently to the viewer than to the search engine. There are lots of legitimate reasons for cloaking, most notably image-based content and members-only areas. A white hat approach is to contact the search engines directly to apprise them of the situation and wait for approval. This, obviously, takes time and a lot more effort than simply publishing the cloaked content. Rushing ahead, however, can end up with your site being sandboxed and your business having to wait while you apply for re-inclusion.
The tricky areas of SEO are what make it an art more than a science. An experienced professional will have developed a feel for what is and what isn’t permissible. They are also likely to have developed a personal relationship with the search engines, meaning problems get fixed faster. It is always advisable to consult an expert when you are about to embark on optimization, and you can talk to us at SEO Consult if you are unsure about the grey areas.
Even if your site has stepped within the grey areas of SEO and gone undetected by the search engines, you are still vulnerable to your competitors. The internet is a wildly competitive place, and everyone is looking for an edge. Tattling about dubious SEO techniques is one way of getting rid of the competition, which is just one reason your site needs to be above reproach.