Ditch the Spam: Creating an 'Ethical' SEO Strategy While many entrepreneurs may look for shady tactics to increase traffic in the short term, it isn't a viable long-term solution. Here is how to remain ethical and stay in the game.

By David Mercer

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Anyone with online business interests, especially small to medium enterprises, will likely be aware that Google is continually updating their algorithms to improve the quality of their search results.

SEO, as a result, has become a bit of a dirty word with many webmasters shying away from it entirely for fear of being slapped with a penalty and losing valuable organic traffic. But that doesn't have to be the case.

Entrepreneurs can still create a high-quality user experience on their site using ethical SEO strategies, while avoiding practices that may end up doing more harm than good.

Here is how to do it:

Focus on the user. Google wants everyone to focus on providing a great user experience.

So before each and every change you make to a site, ask yourself this: Does this change make things better or worse for my visitors?

Related: Sending Out an SOS: How to Avoid SEO Disaster

In SEO terms, the happier people are with your site, the more likely it is that Google will give your page rankings a boost, and the more traffic you'll get.

There are a number of algorithmic updates tasked with measuring the user experience directly. A good example is the page layout algorithm that penalizes sites with too many ads above the fold.

It makes sense to enforce a limit on the amount of advertising that can be crammed into the top of a page because otherwise visitors end up having to search for the content they want, which can be infuriating.

Improve technical and structural SEO. Many businesses are not reaching their full potential because of unnecessary technical issues that they may not even be aware of -- even if Google is.

Even seemingly small technical issues can lead to large losses in traffic. Many smaller sites tend to have bad performance, leading to slow server response times and page load times. In addition, many business owners don't have sufficient technical understanding to ensure that their sites return the correct server response codes.

Make sure you understand your web platform and that Google is crawling and indexing it correctly.

Generate only original, quality content. It is far better to have one great article that gets to the top of the search results in its particular niche than to waste time generating tens or hundreds of mediocre articles.

Related: 5 Dead-Simple SEO Hacks to Save You Time

But, at the same time, be aware that Google is simply not able to understand what you've written. It can't make any judgment about the intrinsic quality of what you have said, so it gets things wrong frequently. The problem here is that because Google cannot decide if your content has value, it relies on a host of other signals (like domain authority) instead.

What this means is that the greatest articles in the world won't be ranked well unless other people read them and talk about them.

This sets up dangerous, honeypot conditions for content creators and writers who try to attract an audience by writing guest blogs or allowing content curators to publish their material.

Don't fall into the trap of sharing your content with curators. While Google supports many curators with high rankings, it may well penalize you for duplicating content or simply rank the duplicate version above the original.

It is only worth creating content for other people if there are significant benefits in terms of exposure and visibility. There is little to no search benefit in guest blogging and article marketing anymore.

Avoid paid links. Most webmasters mistakenly assume that just because they haven't paid directly for a backlink, it's not a "paid link".

In fact, any link that is not an editorial decision (i.e. one that is placed by the author because it is beneficial and relevant for the reader) can be thought of as a paid link.

Related: Why the Rap Genius Story Is Really About Google

Keep in mind, you can only earn backlinks, you can't buy them.

Many small enterprises have been caught unawares after hiring a $5 an hour offshore SEO agency to promote their site. The only thing that can be bought for $5 an hour is thousands of low quality backlinks that will land you with a Google Penguin penalty.

Penguin penalties are extremely difficult to get rid of. Not least because once your backlinks have entered into the toxic, spammy underbelly of the web, they continue to persist and grow long after you've discontinued payments.

Steer well clear of link schemes and anything to do with paying for backlinks.

Don't focus on search. The current state of affairs tends to infuriate newcomers to the web.

Google can't recognize quality content directly, and it won't rank that content highly without other strong signals like plenty of visibility, trust, authority and backlinks. But, you're not allowed to build links artificially, so it's difficult to build domain authority.

The answer is to treat SEO and Google like the icing on the cake. Build your business on the strength of relationships and face-to-face networking and marketing (or at the very least via social media).

It takes a long time to do things like this but those companies that build their own authority and influence are the ones that ultimately do well in Google.

Related: Bring Traffic to Your Site With These 4 Blogging Alternatives

Wavy Line
David Mercer is a best-selling author of programming, Web and business books, which have been translated into over 13 languages worldwide.. He is a tech entrepreneur and he contributes to SME Pals, a blog dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and small business owners thrive online by turning creative business ideas into profitable startups. 

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