Dishonest. Sneaky. Unethical. Call it whatever you want, but the strategy remains the same. When businesses manipulate SEO practices to deceive consumers, they risk harming their reputations and customer base.
Unethical SEO practices extend far beyond Black Hat SEO techniques like keyword stuffing and paid backlinks. They are more duplicitous, often deliberately misdirecting consumers to websites or other digital content that have nothing to do with their user intent. These tactics blatantly violate search engine rules and best practices.
What is SEO?
SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization. Great, so what does that even mean? To make it simple for those outside the industry, SEO just means you’re engaging in certain strategies to make your digital content more visible to your target audience.
SEO keywords are one component of an overall solid SEO strategy. Using specialized software can help identify which SEO keywords you should be using for your brand. Long-tail keywords often correlate with questions consumers type into search engines when they’re looking to solve a problem.
For instance, if you wanted to know if it was safe to take Tylenol and Advil together, you might ask Google, “How much Tylenol and Advil can I take together?”
Why do businesses use bad SEO practices?
Bad SEO practice cuts corners and cheats the accepted code of conduct with one goal in mind: to achieve immediate ranking results.
Sometimes the purpose of bad SEO is even more nefarious. Some businesses use SEO keywords that have nothing to do with their industries to deceive consumers into thinking they’ve gone to a site that has what they need.
What are popular bad SEO strategies?
Like every industry, there are bad apples in SEO. They don’t want to take the time to organically rank well in search results. To do so requires content development, keyword research, and on-site optimization.
There are many bad SEO strategies companies can use to cheat the system. Here are two of the most deployed tactics.
Blackhat Google Ads
Google Ads is a marketing service that allows businesses to pay to boost their rankings in search results. When you pay to boost an ad about your business, it can appear in Google search, Google Maps and across all partner sites.
Google Ads clearly are marked as such; however, some consumers don’t notice or don’t understand the designation when they see it. They trust they’ve been directed to a reputable site with information relating to their search.
The problem is that Blackhat SEO practitioners use a technique called cloaking. It tricks crawling bots on search engines into promoting sites containing specific keywords. Users can find themselves on a website that has nothing to do with their original search query because the website used cloaking to trick Google into sending them there.
Clickbait titles are a perfect example of cloaking. A website may create an attractive headline about a specific topic to attract visitors. However, the content below the headline has nothing to do with the title.
Negative SEO campaigns
Negative SEO campaigns target competitors to tarnish their reputation and steal search engine rankings for important keywords. Sometimes this Blackhat SEO technique involves hijacking a website with questionable banner ads. Other times, it can be more complex and sophisticated. Here are a few other ways negative SEO campaigns work.
How do search engines spot bad SEO?
Search engines like Bing and Google have ways to spot when a web page is deceiving an end user. We already discussed cloaking, which is one of the most common forms of deception. If search engines catch you cloaking your site, they can penalize you. In Google’s case, its PageRank algorithm can downgrade or delist your site from its search engine.
Another way search engines discover bad SEO practices is through reports from end users. If you suspect clicking fraud, you can file a webspam report. Suspected negative SEO campaigns can be reported using the Disavow Links Tool.
Sometimes businesses unintentionally cloak their websites. For instance, they may be using alt text for images on pages that do not accurately describe the content on the page. Check your alt tags to make sure you’re not an accidental offender.
How can you spot deceptive SEO companies?
Deceptive SEO companies exist, and they entice businesses with promises of quick results. When asked about their methods, they may mention some of the following bad SEO practices.
Bolded text signifies to a search engine that the words are important for your readers. Maybe they answer a direct question. Maybe they are a critical SEO keyword. Using this technique isn’t bad unless you overuse it.
If your SEO provider is bolding entire paragraphs or multiple sentences throughout the copy, it can ruin the user experience. Write for people first and search engines second. It’s our mantra here at The Write Reflection® for good reason.
Complicated link schemes
Linking schemes come in many variations. Any SEO company that guarantees they can get you thousands of links back to your site in a few days is using deceptive SEO practices. Some companies have networks of blogs that exist for the sole purpose of supporting these complex plots.
Another devious SEO technique is hiding links in the code or footer of a website. They’re hidden because coders make them the same color as the website background so they’re not visible to the naked eye. They often are unrelated to the website on which they appear and can get you banned by Google in a hurry.
Yes, my friends, there is such a thing as too many keywords on your site. How do you know if an SEO company you’ve hired (or are thinking of hiring) engages in keyword stuffing? Well, the practice seriously downgrades the quality of your copy.
There are only so many times you can use the same long-tail keyword in a 600-word piece of copy before it becomes unnatural sounding. Keyword stuffing also makes it difficult to provide value to your end user.
What’s the best way to use SEO?
If you’ve found yourself involved with a company that does any of these things, run – don’t walk – away from them as quickly as you can. White Hat SEO may take longer to achieve results, but it’s worth the wait.
Here are just a few of the ways The Write Reflection® uses SEO best practices to grow your audience and boost your search engine ranking.
Claim and maintain a Google My Business listing
If local search is important for your brand, a great way to achieve results is by claiming your Google My Business (GMB) listing. Make sure all the information in the listing is accurate. It should include hours of operation, your website and contact information.
GMB listings also can support customer reviews. That’s another White Hat SEO way to attract more visitors to your website. If you or someone from your business takes the time to respond to customer reviews, it can boost engagement and your brand reputation.
Focus on mobile first
Roughly 90 percent of Americans access the internet from mobile devices. If your business hasn’t updated its website to prioritize mobile quality, you’re hurting your SEO ranking. Google has emphasized mobile-first websites in search results since 2016.
Most website development platforms automatically optimize your website to provide a smooth experience for mobile users. If you’re not sure how yours is performing, access it from your own mobile device. If there are too many display ads or email opt-in pop-ups, you could be annoying the crap out of your website visitors.
Prioritize people, not search engines
Google and other search engines have finally come around to the notion that it’s best to reward quality content over keyword-bloated drivel. Consumers don’t want to be directed to a website that is full of a keyword but doesn’t answer their query.
At The Write Reflection®, we strike a delicate balance between using the appropriate number of keywords and crafting high-quality content that adds value. We satisfy user intent and leave your visitors eager to return to your site.
Need help figuring all this SEO stuff out? You’ve come to the right place. Drop us a line. We’d be happy to schedule a hassle-free consultation to discuss your SEO needs.
Unstuff Your Website Without Compromising Ranking
SEO keyword stuffing happens. A lot. I should know because SEO copywriting is my forte. I’ve been doing it for more than 25 years.
Every good SEO strategy requires the right combination of keywords to get your digital assets found online. Do you know what doesn’t work? Telling an SEO copywriter to use as many industry-relevant keywords as they can squeeze into every piece of copy written for your brand. It doesn’t help that many SEO keyword tools still push this narrative, forcing you to create copy that can sometimes be downright unreadable in the pursuit of squeezing the predetermined number of SEO keywords in.
I’m not going to tell you that there wasn’t a time when keyword density mattered. Once upon a time, the king of all search engines – that would be Google, by the way – decided that if you wanted it to direct searchers to your website, you had to use the same three keywords in every sentence. OK, well maybe not every sentence, but close to it. If you wanted to rank, you had to play the game.
There’s only so many times you can use the longtail keyword “car repairs Pittsburgh” before it becomes repetitive and boring. Yet, if your SEO copywriter followed Google’s old requirements, you likely ended up with gibberish that didn’t add much value to your target audience. Thankfully, Google has seen the error of its ways and no longer rewards websites that overuse keywords. Now, they value quality over quantity.
The Write Reflection® already was ahead of the game on quality vs. quantity. As a trained journalist, I’ve always been keenly aware of the value of storytelling in any copy. My clients have been getting well-crafted copy that adds value to their target audience since I’ve been in business.
Why do we need SEO keywords, anyway?
SEO keywords refer to the single words and phrases people use when searching for something online. Maybe they’re looking for a new dining room table or the latest trends in fashion eyeglasses. They type in what they want to know, and Google spits out some possible places to find the information they seek.
Single words or complex phrases can be used for SEO purposes depending on your industry. For instance, if you repair automobiles, you might want to include “mechanic,” “automobile repair near me” or “how do I find a mechanic to fix my car” strategically throughout your digital copy.
SEO keywords still are a necessary component of any digital content. I’d be lying if I tried to convince you otherwise. The key is to balance SEO keywords with informative copy that converts. SEO keywords might help users find your content, but they won’t help you build a target audience or transform casual visitors into brand loyalists. For that, you need to understand user intent.
What is user intent?
User intent trumps SEO keyword stuffing every time. Why? Because (you guessed it), Google says so. I’m not shy about disagreeing with Google – which you know if you’ve read my blog or followed me on social media). However, this is one time we’re in agreement.
Now that I’ve given you my trademark sarcastic quip, let me explain the real reason user intent matters. SEO obsesses over numbers and metrics. User intent focuses on the reasons behind why someone is searching for a particular product, service, or topic. After all, you can’t sell your brand if you don’t understand why someone might need it.
There are three types of user intent you must consider: informational, navigational, and transactional.
Informational User Intent
Informational searches happen when someone seeks a specific piece of data. For instance, a student researching a paper on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution would type in a combination of keywords describing their need. Google would direct them to academic studies and other sources of information to answer their search query.
Navigational User Intent
Any time you’ve used Google Maps or another GPS, you’ve conducted a navigational search based on some location you needed to find. Maybe you’re visiting a new city during a job interview and have an urge to satisfy a caffeine craving. If you asked Google Maps to plot out coffee shops near you it would generate a list based on your location.
Transactional User Intent
Transactional searches happen when someone is looking for a specific product or service. Let’s say you need to buy a new swimsuit for vacation. You’d likely type “women’s swimsuits” into Google’s search bar and wait to get a list of all the brick-and-mortar and online retailers that sell swimsuits.
Does ignoring user intent hurt your ranking?
Some SEO experts would argue that it doesn’t, but I’d wholeheartedly disagree with them. Failing to consider user intent when crafting digital copy can weaken your SEO copywriting strategy. You’ll end up with catchall content that speaks to everyone and no one at the same time. Visitors to your webpages might end up confused.
I frequently tell my clients that without user intent, I can’t structure a landing page experience that serves their target audience. Keywords are great, but you must understand why someone is typing in a specific keyword if you have any hope of creating content that speaks to them once they arrive on your page. Otherwise, it’s just another missed opportunity.
Be realistic about SEO keyword stuffing
Let me be very direct. You can’t fool Google’s algorithms. They’re so sophisticated they easily can spot SEO keyword stuffing junk vs quality content at a quick glance. That’s why at The Write Reflection® our motto is, “People first. SEO second.” We specialize in writing content for people, not search engines.
Your digital content should never compromise on readability in favor of SEO keywords. It’s a recipe for failure every time.
“Who is the hero of your brand story?”
I innocently asked this question one day on social media, complete with a cute graphic to illustrate my point. My intention was to tout the importance of storytelling when establishing brand authority. For the record, a company’s CEO or product is never the hero of a brand story. It’s the customer. There, I saved you a lot of Googling (and wondering).
It wasn’t long before I got utterly thrashed by other content marketing professionals who disagreed that every brand story has a hero. I was reminded there are several different brand archetypes, and “The Hero” was only one of them. They insisted that a hero doesn’t fit neatly into the other archetypes. They’re wrong.
Storytellers know that no matter what your brand’s personality may be, there always is a way to turn it into a compelling story with your customer as the hero. Don’t believe me? Keep reading, because I’m going to walk you through the other brand archetypes and create a compelling hero storyline for each of them.
What is a brand archetype?
Before I get into the nitty-gritty, some of you may be confused by the term brand archetype. To make a long story short, it’s marketing jargon. Brands associate with certain human characteristics to establish their brand personalities. Their personality then determines their brand archetype, which they use to guide their marketing strategies. Brand archetypes include:
Also known as “The Innocent,” brands that align with this archetype offer a product or service that caters to a simple way of life. One popular brand that does it and does it well is Coca-Cola. Their “Real Magic” campaign is a perfect example.
If you watched the full commercial, you might be thinking the hero of this story is the little boy who encourages his neighbors to build the “gift shoot” to cheer up an elderly shut-in. I can see why you might think that, but you’d be wrong.
The real hero of this brand story is the building security guard. He sees on the monitor the group is one box shy of its goal. He rushes to the rescue with his box (which just so happens to be an empty Coca-Cola container). Coke gets its brand recognition and turns this ordinary person into a hero in the process. It’s pure genius, really.
Everyman branding requires a marketing strategy that builds connections and promises a place where all belong. Its intent is to help customers find common ground with the brand. So, how do you find the hero in an everyman scenario? Let’s look to IKEA for the answer.
In its “Fortune Favors the Frugal” ad campaign, IKEA appeals to every man, woman, and child in the world to do their part to stop global warming. We then see a montage of people using IKEA products to live in moderation – one of the greenest ways of living. The ad makes every person using an IKEA product a hero, saving the earth together.
Nurturing brands encourage people to take care of others and themselves. Self-care products and services fit neatly into this brand archetype. You know what else suits this archetype well? Heroes. Just look at this 2018 commercial from Johnson and Johnson.
Nurses are caring by nature. It’s what makes them valuable members of the healthcare community. This brilliant commercial from J&J goes through several health crises in history, showing how nurses advanced patient outcomes through their nurturing and compassion. Boom. Drop the mic. Heroes. Every last one of them.
Brands that want to make their mark on the world fancy themselves as creators. They often produce experimental marketing campaigns that push boundaries. Their products and services promise to unlock your creativity and encourage self-expression. One of the brands that do it best is none other than Lego.
Check out this commercial from 2014, designed to inspire imagination and independence. If you’re thinking the little girl is the hero in this one, go back and look again. Her mom plays the role of caped crusader here. Unlike in other hero storylines, mom’s superpower is a little more subtle.
Sure, she could swoop in and save the day every time her daughter struggles. Instead, she turns to the power of Legos to help her daughter become more independent. Mom’s superpower is giving her daughter the freedom to make mistakes and be the hero of her own journey. The tool she uses to do it is Legos.
Who doesn’t like a good adventure? Products and services geared toward helping people make new discoveries and live their best lives tap into this brand archetype. A lot of outdoor and sports-related companies fit this archetype nicely. GoPro is your typical Explorer archetype brand.
While most of its commercials feature athletes performing daring feats, one commercial from 2013 played the hero storyline perfectly. There’s no fanfare or fancy stunts. Just a fireman using a GoPro to find a tiny kitten in a housefire.
It’s not looking good for the kitten, but the fireman doesn’t give up. Through the lens of the GoPro, we watch him bring the kitty back from the brink of death. Why? Cause that’s what heroes do. Well played, GoPro. Well played.
Deep down, we all just want to be loved. Some brands build entire product lines and services around this deep-seated desire. They promise if you buy their stuff, you’ll instantly be more emotionally and physically attractive, helping you to get the love you so desperately seek.
When most people think about love, Hallmark immediately comes to mind. Heck, they have an entire channel devoted to love story movies. Their commercials for their trademark greeting cards tap into our desire to belong and to be loved. This gem from 2018 has a very subtle hero storyline.
Did you figure it out? It’s not the persistent family that continues to shower its grumpy neighbor with acts of kindness. The active hero in this commercial is the grumpy neighbor’s deceased wife. Every time he rebuffs his neighbors’ efforts to connect, she stares at him from the photo on the wall. It’s the memory of her that finally convinces him to stop being such an old crank.
Cutting-edge brands that want to change the world and the lives of everyone in it often pair their brand personality with a hero storyline. We don’t need to look any further than the iconic Disney to find the perfect example.
Check out this quirky Disney Paris commercial from 2018 titled “The Little Duck.” It’s hard to imagine Donald Duck as a hero, but that’s exactly what he is in this short from Disney. Not only does he inspire the baby duck in the commercial to be the best duck he can be, but it also caters to the “meeting your childhood heroes” storyline when that same baby duck overcomes adversity to later meet Donald in person.
Most luxury brands fit into this archetype. They appeal to customers who expect only the very best in life. One of the best examples of a brand fitting this personality is Mercedes-Benz.
In this extended ad from 2012, the luxury carmaker introduces a hero – doubling as an accomplice – for a little boy who keeps exercising his independence in the most unusual way. It’s not the first time they’ve tapped the hero’s journey for a commercial.
This gem from 2010 turns the tables on Death himself when the car’s driver outsmarts him and saves his own life. How? Because he was smart enough to know he deserved the very best luxury car with brake assistant features.
Want a third example? In this Mercedes-Benz ad, this woman literally has two heroes from which to choose to save the day. Clearly, the marketing department at Mercedes-Benz understands you can be king and a hero.
It doesn’t take a marketing guru to figure out what this brand archetype is all about. Helping people have a good time while bringing a little joy to their lives is the target for brands with this personality. Marketing efforts usually embrace adventure and humor, which makes it ideal for inserting a hero or two.
A company that does both well is Skittles. This oldie but goodie from 2007 has a reluctant hero storyline. We’re introduced to a guy who can turn everything he touches into Skittles. Others think it’s the coolest superpower ever. Him, not so much.
Sage personality brands position themselves as experts that appreciate truth and wisdom. Growth and knowledge go hand-in-hand in their marketing campaigns. They operate under the premise of keeping you informed.
Google is one of the brands that play the Sage archetype well. In this 2021 ad, Google helps transform the dad of an easily bored child (with a slight obsession with octopus) into a hero in his son’s eyes.
Find your brand archetype and its hero
Who said you can’t have a hero in every archetype? Content marketers who don’t understand storytelling, that’s who. If you want to connect with your audience in a way that makes them the hero of your brand’s story, contact The Write Reflection today. We’ll be happy to help you craft your hero’s journey.
Aspiring writers frequently ask me about the secret to my success. Most of them seem shocked by my answer. I won’t keep you in suspense by making you read an entire blog post before I make the big reveal. The secret to this writer’s success is her mom.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. My mama. If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ve likely heard me mention her influence on my life more than once. She’s an awesome woman (and I’m not just saying that cause she’s my mom). It’s not shocking to those who know my mom why I give her so much credit. She’s earned it.
Long before there were life coaches, there was my mom. She’s been my number-one cheerleader my entire life. Having her in my corner has made everything I’ve accomplished possible. This is the story of our journey.
Gripping a pencil – and my future
Since I was old enough to hold a pencil in my hands, I knew I wanted to be a writer. There was something indescribable about the feeling it gave me. To this day, I struggle to find the right words to capture the awe I felt (which is saying something for a professional writer).
My mom was the one who helped me discover my love of writing through her eagerness to teach me before my kindergarten years began. It’s one of the clearest memories I have from my early childhood. She would patiently draw letters for me to trace and correct how I held my pencil when experimenting with my grip.
Once I learned how to write, I couldn’t stop. I would trace letters, write my name, and practice the words I knew. To this day, I still prefer the feel of a pen or pencil in my hands to a keyboard when writing. I’ve written entire novels by hand. Don’t get me wrong. I like technology. Still, it’ll never replace how I feel when cranking out inspirational thoughts by hand.
My Kingdom for a squirrel
Between the ages of 10 and 13, I spent a lot of time in my backyard. Fellow Gen-Xers won’t find this astonishing because that’s just what we did when we were kids. However, one of my favorite activities while outside was making up stories about the things I observed. I made up an entire adventure series about a squirrel that lived in our giant oak tree.
No matter what I created, my mom oohed and ahhed about it. Every time she congratulated my work, she gave me the encouragement I needed to keep writing. The more I wrote, the better I became at my craft. By the time I was in high school, I was taking journalism classes and advanced writing courses intending to make writing my lifelong ambition.
Lots of people told me I was foolish for thinking I could make a living as a writer. Not my mom. She taught me to follow my heart. All my heart wanted back then – and still to this day – was to write.
Just a writer in training
When it was time to go off to college, there was little doubt about my major. It had to be something about writing. The more I looked at writing careers, the more depressed I became. Our friends over at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) informed me that employment opportunities for writers weren’t all that great.
I’m a stubborn gal, so I didn’t want to hear it. My life was going to include writing, and that was that. After much consideration, I settled on journalism. I’d dabbled in the craft during high school, serving as the editor of our high school newspaper, the Blue and White Star.
I knew that I’d at least have a chance of earning a living as a journalist once I graduated. Back then, digital media outlets weren’t as popular as they are today, so lots of print newspapers and publications were thriving. My other option was advertising, but I wasn’t exactly a fan of that style of writing back then (oh how times have changed).
Questioning all my life choices