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Thursday, November 16, 2017 11:20:30 AM

by Jayson DeMers

In SEO, if you use a strategy that violates Google's terms of service, or if you make a move that harms the average user's experience, you could see a decline in your rankings or even face a strict "penalty" that harms your chances of ranking in the future. Fortunately, despite Google's tendency to keep the nature of its algorithm a secret from users, the company is fairly explicit about what practices are good and which ones could earn a penalty--spelled out in its Webmaster Guidelines.
Obviously, there's a sliding scale at work here; making a minor slip might cause you to fall a couple of spots in the rankings, while an egregious offense could blacklist your site, at least temporarily, barring it from search engine results entirely. It's possible to recover even from these extreme cases, but the process is usually slow and arduous.
But what about the worst of the worst? Are there any SEO strategies that are actually illegal?

The Gray Area

SEO is a strategy meant to take advantage of the offerings of private companies (i.e., Google). Accordingly, there aren't any laws that explicitly outline what optimization strategies are allowed or disallowed. However, there are some tactics that could qualify as SEO that violate other laws regarding how businesses are supposed to operate.
SEO tactics will always exist in a kind of gray area since intentions, actions, and effects can all vary significantly. However, these SEO tactics, under the right circumstances, could be interpreted as illegal:

  • Sitting on a trademarked domain. In SEO, you can draw significant power from the domain you choose to use; it's a factor in your relevance to various queries and could attract more traffic. However, if you poach a domain name that's trademarked by another company, and refuse to sell it for a reasonable price, you could be considered to be cybersquatting. Cybersquatting is a complex issue in the legal world, but it can be considered a crime if you do it for the sole purpose of exploiting someone else's trademark for a quick profit. While choosing a strong domain name can be effective for your SEO strategy, it's best to stick to uncopyrighted terms you know belong to you.
  • Negative SEO. Negative SEO is so named because it exists as the opposite of traditional SEO; ordinarily, you take efforts to boost your own domain's rankings within search engines. In negative SEO, you'll intentionally harm your competitors' rankings so you increase by comparison. For example, you might build spammy links to your competitor's domain to cause them to incur a ranking penalty. This can be considered a form of deliberate sabotage and could be considered to be illegal. To further discourage you from trying this, it's also been shown to be not a particularly effective strategy.
  • Pagejacking. Pagejacking is an advanced form of plagiarism on the web. Offenders see a page of a website that's ranking highly in search results and attempt to duplicate it (including its HTML code). Of course, this isn't tolerated by Google's search algorithm and is considered a form of copyright infringement as well.

In general, any effort you make to deliberately damage, defame, or sabotage another business could be interpreted as an illegal action.

Do You Need to Worry?

After reading the headline and learning that some SEO strategies could be illegal, you might be concerned about your own practices and strategies, but don't worry--even most black hat tactics (which I strongly discourage you from using) aren't illegal, and at their worst, will only earn you a penalty.
However, if you're concerned that you've done something wrong, or have committed a misdemeanor by interfering with another business, it's best to contact a lawyer proactively and see if it's necessary to prepare a criminal defense.

In the meantime, you can clear your conscience and reduce your risk of being accused of a crime to zero by sticking to only best practices that fit squarely into "white hat" territory. In general, if you're trying to provide better content to your users, if you're making the web a better place, and you aren't deliberately sabotaging or damaging other companies to do it, you'll have nothing to worry about from a visibility or legal standpoint.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

Saturday, October 21, 2017 2:27:11 AM

by Jayson DeMers

Whether you're attempting to sell the home you reside in, or you're trying to attract new tenants for your rental property, one of the keys to your success is going to be marketing your property. If you're working with a real estate agent, they'll do at least some of the work for you, but you'll still want to make some extra effort if you want to sell or fill your property fast--and for the best possible price.

Traditional marketing methods include direct advertising, which can be effective, but costly. Instead of relying exclusively on these marketing methods, consider adding in search engine optimization (SEO). After all, the more diversified and targeted your overall property marketing strategy is, the better results you'll see.

The Benefits of SEO for Property Marketing

These are some of the most important benefits of SEO for property marketing:

  • Low cost. Unless you're a property management magnate with multiple properties, you probably won't have a large budget for marketing and advertising. Ads will take a good chunk of your budget to start, so SEO can fill in easily as a low-cost supplement; even a few hours of work a week (or a few hundred dollars) can be enough to see results.
  • Low (and changing) competition. One of your biggest hindrances in SEO is the amount of competition you face. Fortunately, there isn't much competition for SEO when it comes to specific properties. Yes, there are many other homeowners and landlords pushing their properties, but few of them are using SEO specifically--and if they are, their highest-competing properties will likely drop from the market once they're sold or rented.
  • Inbound interest. Drawing traffic in naturally, rather than explicitly advertising your property, means you'll generate a higher flow of inbound interest. If you're collecting prospective tenants to screen, that can be a huge advantage.
  • Search capitalization. More than 90 percent of home buyers use the internet to search for properties at some point during the buying process. This makes search engine results pages (SERPs) one of the most heavily trafficked areas for home buyers, and SEO capitalizes on that volume. No matter what type of buyer or renter you're looking for, they're almost certainly using search.
Key Considerations

However, before you get started, there are some important considerations to note:

  • Use SEO as a supplement. SEO is valuable, but it may not work perfectly for all property types. It's best used as a supplementary marketing strategy, to be used in combination with traditional marketing and advertising methods.
  • Nab as many pages as possible. The more pages and sites that contain your property, the higher the chance that it will appear for relevant local searches. Make sure your property is listed on its own landing page, as well as popular listing sites like Zillow and Trulia. Optimize each page with a slightly different set of keywords and phrases, to maximize your potential reach.
  • Consider getting your own domain. If you own a rental property you know will need tenants again in the future, consider buying your own domain. That way, you can build your domain authority steadily over time, and your SEO strategy will grow more effective each time you use it to find a new renter.
  • Use rich media content. Anyone who's sold a home knows the importance of including lots of high-definition images; all these images should display what your house looks like, and be marked up with titles and alt text that makes them likely to appear for relevant searches. You should also include ample written content, describing your house, to maximize its search visibility.
  • Know your audience. Finally, make sure your SEO tactics are focused on one specific target audience. If you try to optimize for everyone (a general audience), you won't have the same relevance, and you'll rank for fewer keywords.
Is SEO a perfect strategy for every homeowner or landlord? No. Is it a foolproof way to sell or fill your property? No. But as a supplementary, low-cost strategy, it's all but guaranteed to forward significant additional traffic to your property listing.

It won't take you much additional effort, but it could help you target your specific audience, and get the sale price you want faster.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 7:01:45 PM

by Jayson DeMers

Search engine optimization is popular for its cost and time effectiveness; because all the assets you create and changes you make are semi-permanent, and because your domain and page-level authority will grow consistently over time, there's no upper bound to the results you can see.

The flip side, of course, is the time factor; many newcomers are reluctant to approach SEO, and even experienced search optimizers lament having to spend hours of time on things like keyword research and ranking analysis on a regular basis.

Fortunately, there are some ways to mitigate this time loss, and improve the total ROI of your SEO campaign.

Major Sources of Time Loss

These are the areas most responsible for wasting time in an SEO campaign:

1. Initial momentum.

First, if you're building domain authority for the first time, you can expect a massive holdup at the outset of your campaign. Before you can start ranking for keywords that get any kind of significant traffic, you need a decent authority score and relevance for a handful of target keywords. According to SEO Mechanic, that could take anywhere from 4 to 8 months, depending on what you're targeting, how much effort you're putting in, and who you're competing against. Unfortunately, there's not much you can do about this hurdle.

2. Feedback delays.

You'll also lose time to feedback delays. SEO is an ongoing experiment; you'll make efforts, wait to see results, and then adjust those efforts based on the results you see. Unfortunately, it takes time for Google's index to catch up with your changes, which can push your response time back up to 60 days. These days, predictive analytics software like Market Brew can simulate results in the span of a few hours, so you can cut that time drastically if you skip ahead.

3. Content creation.

Content is your most powerful ongoing tool for SEO, but it's going to drain your time quickly. According to Buffer, a high-quality blog post (of roughly 1,500 to 2,000 words) takes somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5 hours to write, depending on what resources you rely on, how in-depth you go, and how fast you can write. Ultimately, you want your posts to be high-quality no matter how much effort it takes, but if you haven't optimized this process, you can end up spending far more hours than necessary.

4. Link redundancy.

Inbound links are the best way to build your domain authority, but if you get stuck building links on the same domains, or pointing to the same internal page of your site, you'll end up wasting your efforts. Each successive link on a domain returns a significantly lower amount of authority, so it's far better to spend your efforts pursuing new domains.

5. Link loss.

You can also see time loss if a link you've built--which probably took at least a few hours of effort--is suddenly removed. Some links will be removed due to new policies at your target domain, and there isn't much you can do about these. Instead, focus on producing the best content you can for your external publishers--that's something you can control.

6. Tactic noise.

Your SEO strategy will include dozens of different tactics and approaches at once, so if you see results--or no results--it may be difficult to search out which of your tactics or changes was most responsible for the increase or decrease. You can reduce the time it takes to make this evaluation by trying new tactics and changes out one at a time--provided you have a "control" established at the beginning.

7. Penalties and plateaus.

Finally, if you suffer a penalty from Google or reach a plateau where your results just aren't increasing, you'll spend a disproportionate amount of time digging yourself out of that hole. Fortunately, Google is pretty open about how it penalizes sites, and publicly publishes its webmaster guidelines so you can tell if any of your on-site content is in violation of those rules. Accordingly, penalties are easy to avoid. Plateaus, on the other hand, are annoying, and all you can do to avoid them is keep experimenting and upping your game.

Striving for Efficiency

There's going to be some level of time loss in your campaign no matter what you do; your goal should be to minimize that time loss as much as possible. At the end of the day, your SEO results only matter in proportion to the amount of time and money you spend on your campaign; efficiency is a measure of maximizing results per hour (or dollar) spent.

These highlighted sources of time loss and associated recovery tactics are meant to bring your attention to this area and, hopefully, provide you the groundwork for improving your own efficiency.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.