guest post by Nick Stamoulis
As a site owner myself I know exactly how it feels to see your competition doing everything that white hat SEO link building dictates you don't do—things like link exchanges, blog networks, links from unrelated sites, posting content on article spinning sites, general directory links, etc.—and benefitting from it.
It's pretty frustrating, especially if it seems like they've been at it forever and Google hasn't penalized them for it yet. After all, wasn't that what Penguin was supposed to do? Catch our sneaky and spammy competitors that were trying to stay one step ahead of the algorithm and nail them so sites that deserve to own the SERPs, like ours, actually do.
And even in the aftermath of Penguin and all its refreshes, in which a lot of sites were hit hard, there are still a few sites here and there that seem to be riding off into the sunset with the traffic that our sites should be getting.
After a little while it can be pretty tempting to want to test out a few of those grey or black hat tactics for yourself. After all, if your skuzzy competitors can get away with and actually benefit from it, why can't your site?
Let's all hark back to our childhood when our best buddy Tommy was allowed to do something and we weren't. I'm sure we can all remember our moms saying, "Well if Tommy jumped off a bridge, would you?"
The same holds true for SEO and link building. Just because your competition is doing it (and maybe even getting away with it) that doesn't mean you should too. And here's why:
1. You should strive to be better than your competition.
At the end of the day you are trying to beat your competition in the SERPs. After all, there is only one #1 spot and dozens, maybe even hundreds of companies vying for it and the traffic that it can bring.
If you were to somehow reverse engineer and copy your competitions' link building campaigns step by step you know where that would put you—still one step behind them. While you're busy trying to uncover their "secret" to success they are out there getting more links (some good, some maybe not so good), building a stronger social presence, generating content and more.
Your link building campaign should strive to make your website more valuable than that of your competitors. What can you do to help your website stand out? Where are the holes in their campaign that you can capitalize on? What are they doing wrong that you can get right?
There is nothing wrong with using a competitive analysis to give you ideas and help get your link profile on even footing, but just because a competitor has a link from site X that doesn't mean you need it too. You want to build links from sites your competition isn't on and find new places to connect with your target audience and drive them over to your site.
2. It all catches up to you in the end.
I firmly believe that sooner or later, a site that invests in black hat tactics is going to pay for it in the long run.
Google has some of the world's best and brightest engineers in the world working on their algorithm day in and day out, not to mention a human team of quality controllers that manually check up on websites. A website that is trying to trick the algorithm or stay one step ahead of the search giant can't get away with it forever.
And when it catches up to them those sites are going to find the uphill battle to recovery is going to take more time, effort, and money than they saved by using black hat SEO tactics to get to the top of the SERPs quickly.
Every since the Penguin update rocked the world of SEO I've spoken with many site owners that were penalized for things they did (or their black hat SEO firm did) years in the past.
Even though they had been doing things "by the book" for some time their less-than-pristine history was counted against them. Some site owners who purchased pre-existing domains didn’t even realize what a mess their link portfolio was until Google nailed them for it! In my opinion it's not a matter of will your site get caught; it's a question of when.
3. Are you willing to risk your livelihood on a "might?"
If you want to experiment with black hat SEO and link building tactics like your competitors are I say test them out on a hobby website. Don't put your livelihood at risk on a gamble.
Think about it - let's say you give black hat SEO the old college try and your site doesn't escape the Penguin filter. Your site is penalized, your traffic is cut in have and you site is nowhere near the top ten.
How long could your business survive a hit like that? How long could your own finances survive?
If you're a business owner like me your mortgage payments, car payments, college tuition bills and groceries all depend on the long term success of your website.
If a hobby site or test project fails you can still pay your bills! If you main business website gets whacked what can you do? If you've put any time and effort into building your online brand and business it doesn't seem worth putting everything at risk for something that might work. Because if it doesn't work the results could be catastrophic.
As I mentioned before, I know how frustrating it can be to watch the competition get away with link building tactics that you know are supposed to land their website in hot water. After a while it can get pretty tempting to want to try some of those tactics out for your own site but it's just not worth it! Focus on being better than your competition and sooner or later your site will get ahead.
Image credit: Matthew Kenwrick
About the Author
Nick Stamoulis is the President of B2B SEO services company Brick Marketing (http://www.brickmarketing.com), based out of Boston, Massachusetts. With nearly 13 years of experience, Nick Stamoulis shares his SEO knowledge by writing in the Brick Marketing blog and publishing the Brick Marketing SEO Newsletter, read by over 150,000 opt-in subscribers.
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