Online Marketing Tactics: The Good, The Bad and The Grey Area


Want to take risks in marketing? With great risks come great rewards. With digital technology there are always new online marketing tactics being discovered and tested out. There is often a period where an unfamiliar approach can reap big rewards before it becomes popular. Then after the tactic becomes popular and exploited for either the audience’s good or to the detriment of the audience, it settles into being categorized as either “white hat” or “black hat”, either good or bad for your brand’s long term credibility and rank. But before that happens, the tactic exists in a lucrative “Grey Area”.

Depending on whether you’re in it for the short game or the long haul, it’s important to understand whether the tactics you’re using today are going to be safe tomorrow, whether they are in the white, black, or grey.

Getting good search engine rank has become a complex game where SEO experts deftly navigate your online presence and content towards better results. This game has, for a long time, involved rules that are precise and mathematical, but implicitly hidden from everyone. The only way to discover the “algorithm,” or rules of the game, is to play and test the rules empirically. And the fun part is how this algorithm is often updated.

What works today is not guaranteed to work tomorrow. In fact if what’s working for you today is not really providing your audience with value, and not helping Google deliver quality results to their audience, then perhaps it’s worth being concerned about whether these tactics are worth continuing.

Will what’s working today be a detriment tomorrow?

I like to envision the landscape of tactics as having two major sides, white hat and black hat. Between them this Grey Area exists, but only for a short period. It’s as if we’re riding along with a zipper that slowly closes in front of us, forcing tactics that are in the grey today into either the white or black tomorrow.

Where it’s the job of someone to protect a brand into the future, risks can’t be taken as much. The temptation of following the crowd and doing what everyone else is doing today should be tempered against the knowledge of where the tactic sits. It’s highly recommended to take the time to find out whether a tactic you’re uncertain about  sits in today’s Grey Area.

Content Marketing can be thought of as one of the most purely white hat tactics, publishing features that are truly of value to your audience. One of the safest strategies a brand can follow is to keep putting relevant, keyword sensitive content into a website frequently. Google loves sending their users to good content – if you help them out they’ll help you out.

Sending out SPAM e-mails is inarguably black hat marketing, but effective – and that’s why spammers keep doing it. Someone only concerned with short term gains , having no real brand to protect might opt to go in this direction, but for real businesses this tactic is too detrimental, and you’ll have people coming after you. Trust me – don’t do it.

An example of a tactic that was once in the Grey Area yesterday, but is now considered black hat today, is keyword spamming on a webpage, repeating a keyword over and over within pseudo-random text that makes no grammatical sense. This provides no benefit to any audience. It was used to trick the search engine robots into ranking a site high, but it doesn’t work any longer. Now it will hurt a site to engage in keyword spamming just to trick the robots. The robots got smart; the algorithm changed and what was in the Grey Area became black hat.

A tactic that I’m keeping an eye on that seems to be moving from the Grey Area because it’s over-exploited is the tactic of commenting on other people’s blogs. I’ve written about how much the problem of Blog Spam, unwanted comments on blog posts, is growing. It’s been a long standing trick of the trade to get cheap inbound links to a site by making blog comments that include a link. We already know that yesterday’s tactic that was practiced with blog comments, putting the keywords that are important into the link text of the inbound link, is already beginning to count against search engine rank. The tactic that’s still working presently is having the inbound link created by virtue of the commenter’s name being a link to their site.  Although this is still very effective today, it may not be tomorrow. I’ll keep an eye on it and let you know how it pans out.

What other tactics are working today that you suspect may not be tomorrow?



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