Monday, October 08, 2007

SEO Practices: Black Hat vs. White Hat SEO

Before selecting an SEO consultant you should that there are two sects
so to speak and are usually referred to as Black Hats or White Hats.

The difference between the two is a long discussion on ethics and risk calculation which I will try to summarize and provide additionally reading for.

There are numerous SEOs, blogs and websites that support the use of typically black hat practices. I personally am not one of them.

There are challenges when trying to measure the validity of using black hat practices when regarding a website. Jill Whallen at as this insightful article.
I don't have to keep up with every tiny algorithm shift, or the latest technique that the engines haven't caught onto yet. It's completely irrelevant to what I do. In my biz, I simply have to be aware that search engines exist, understand how and why
people use them, and fix my clients' sites so that there's a good fit between the site, the user, and the search engine.
The above is true and poses two major problems for a small business that might be considering an SEO that is offering fast, simple results.
  1. If the SEO is really that good this is going to cost you a bundle because their service is in high demand.
  2. If the SEO is cheap, free or doing this "on the side" what guarantee do you have they are keeping up with all the latest algorithms? What is your recourse if a method they used today gets you banned in six months?

When selecting an SEO consultant you should take the time to follow up on what they've told you they know and what they will do for you. You should do as Google says and not only ask for references but, "talk to many SEOs, and ask other SEOs if they'd recommend the firm you're considering."

The consequences for not following the above suggestions as well as each of the ones mentioned here can be great.

Example #1: The High Cost Knowledgeable Black Hat SEO

The SEO: You've found the budget and land the best SEO consultant that knows the ins and outs, has the references and results, as well as respect though not agreement of practices from white hats.

The War: Six months after creaming your two competitors in the search results things couldn't be better. Until one of them hires another black hat to counter your ways. You can now add to your budget time for espionage and counter attacks. Additionally you can be certain that your competitor will use this,

Example #2: The Not So Well Known SEO

The SEO: You settle for the SEO that has had some success doing this on the side and was not able to answer all of your questions. This SEO will likely not discuss in detail the SEO practices they use and use the term Meta Tags often. They also will not provide industry information for you to review. But, they sounded knowledgeable enough and promise its only a few changes and you'll see some great results.

Banned: This not so well practiced SEO created a doorway page for your site that pushed you right to the top. What you did not know is this part-timer didn't check the site in all browsers and that the search engines don't see things the same as Internet Explorer. After a short time at the top the site was further reviewed and banned. This can be best illustrated by Google's Matt Cutts, here.

In conclusion there will be SEO's that can ague both sides of the coin, all I ask as a fellow full-time business owner is that you find an SEO that is willing to talk to you about the risks you will be taking with your business' Internet presence.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Can someone please think outside the box?

A partial casualty of the recent Hillsborough County budget cuts is our public access station, known also as Speak Up Tampa Bay or the Tampa Bay Community Network.

When I read the St Pete Times article, "Group sues as TV fund is cut" in early October I was very aggravated by the complete lack of innovation our growing government is enabling by funding some non-profits.

My commentary on the article that day:

With outlets today such as YouTube and the numerous other places to post video for free online there is no longer a need for the government to underwrite public access. Private industry has done so on its own and in a far better way.

A good topic can go a lot further on YouTube then a fixed programming schedule on subscriber based cable. Public access is a dinosaur of technology and TBCN should try to innovate rather then sue.

TBCN's take of course is that this is censorship of the community's public access. This is completely untrue however, as many of us know that the blogoshere in Tampa Bay went nuts during the recent EPC uproar and a certain YouTube video got more views then any recent TBTN broadcast.

So tell me again is the public being denied access to get a message out?

No, TBCN is just another non-profit too used to government funding and unwilling to innovate.

Did you know that if a citizen had an issue today it could take a month or more for them to get that message out via TBCN? While uploading and emailing a video on YouTube is free and instant.

Please don't give me the "put its not free" talk because I could work at WalMart less hours for pay and an employee discount to buy my own camera, then the volunteer hours TBCN would require to get my message out. Unless of course they agreed with me then it would be instant.

Monday, October 01, 2007

SEO Practices: Flash Websites

A discussion I regularly have with clients, potential clients and other website designers is how they can make their site(s) better with Flash.

Especially on the client side because they would love to have an intro movie that really highlighted their company before bringing the visitor to the actual website home page.

By default I suggest not creating a complete Flash website or even a Flash intro. Instead I suggest they use Flash sparing as on-page accents.

Supporting Points

Complete Flash websites are very cumbersome to design, difficult to update and extremely expensive to have developed if quality is one of your concerns. Flash websites are also make SEO more difficult and expensive as well, usually requiring a complete HTML website also to be built. They are best suited for the websites of movies and pop stars that have the budgets to support site creation and mass media advertising to drive traffic directly.

Flash Intros are short movie type presentations that highlight the great points of a company visually before bringing you to the regular HTML website. Problems posed by intros are long load times and customer dissatisfaction proven through the high use of the "skip flash intro" button that should accommodate any site with an intro.

This article from Idaho State University, Office of Web Communications gives some good supporting arguments to the above points.

My typical suggestion of using Flash as on-page accents is well supported by this Google Webmaster Central Blog.

Try to use Flash only where it is needed. Many rich media sites such as Google's YouTube use Flash for rich media but rely on HTML for content and navigation. You can too, by limiting Flash to on-page accents and rich media, not content and navigation. In addition to making your site Googlebot-friendly, this makes you site accessible to a larger audience, including, for example, blind people using screen readers, users of old or non-standard browsers, and those on limited low-bandwidth connections such as on a cell phone or PDA. As a bonus, your visitors can use bookmarks effectively, and can email links to your pages to their friends.
SEO & Flash Sites/Intros

In addition to all of the above arguments when considering the creation of an all Flash site or even just an intro you must consider that even if you get the site to rank well for desired keywords, that in doing so the site visitors that you get would never see the Flash site or intro.

So the visitors you are seeking will completely miss all of the time, energy and money that was spent on the Flash work.

Why is this so?

When someone searches to find something the search engine results do not direct the visitor to the home page (in the case of a site using an intro) or the Flash version (in the case of a full Flash site).

Take this Google search for, Constant Contact Tampa. In the results Dynamic Creations shows up (at the time of writing) on the first page with a link.

Notice however that the link directs people to the Internet Marketing page and not my homepage.

Had I had a Flash intro this visitor would never see it. Had the site been completely Flash the visitor would have not only have missed the Flash site, but would have been directed to the HTML site which likely would not have received the same design attention as the Flash version.