The Dark Side of SEO

Information security has deservedly received more attention as of late. Once confined to state, financial and industrial secrets, political entities are now at cyber risk as well. While I’m not an infosec expert, I’m blessed to have many friends who are…with a select few in military capacities. Those that serve in an infosec capacity can’t and won’t talk about their work. At most you’ll get a one or two word reply like: “cryptography” or “Western Europe”.

I respect these people immensely. Enough so that I won’t go into any more detail about them except to say one night, I angered one when arguing that SEO and counter surveillance were essentially the same thing because:

  • Both deal with groups of people searching for information.

  • Both require advanced research that profiles these information seekers.

  • Both involve using that research to manipulate data so their searches return your information in them.

My friend was angered partly because they couldn’t argue back (can’t/won’t talk about it) but also because I was right and that fact scared them; signal intercept and information retrieval disruption are core skills of SEO. This is at the root of the reason why SEO is sometimes perceived as a “dark art”.

But there’s more. In some West Wing-esque news, the search mothership herself was accused of political tampering in the search results. While Google’s rebuttal was generally accepted by the SEO community, it still requires us to ask: if a search engine’s owner manually altered the organic results, what would the impact be and how would we ever know? Remember when Facebook tried something similar?

But SEO doesn’t have to be deceptive to be successful if you apply some creativity.

For marketers addressing SEO, implement programs that focus on improving customer experience first. Make online and offline interactions as seamless as possible. An early example I always draw on was my virtual tour business in 2005.

We created virtual tours of homes with web addresses. Those tours were designed to market the home and the agent selling the home. And they did. Homes with a virtual tour closed over 40% faster. They also gave us a backlink. Hundreds of virtual tours websites later, all those backlinks helped us rank specific websites for very competitive phrases.

For the general, media consuming public, develop a better sense of media literacy in yourself and those around you. Use a diversity of search engines and information sources. When presented with facts, ask for the source. Above all, when presented with information after clicking on a search result, ask yourself, “what is this website’s motivation for providing me this content?”

The important take away here is that the best campaigns are authentic and sustainable. Sure, you can put energy into gaming the system and interfering with how Google ranks websites but that path is a treadmill leading nowhere. It’s like lying. You have to spend more and more energy just to stay in place.

A better route…the route we take at here Enventys Partners…is to create authentic campaigns that educate, inform, and entertain. In the long run, you’ll earn more trust from both your customers and Google’s algorithm.

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