I read an interesting blog post recently that said that all local SEO was blackhat because it was done for the wrong reasons. I’m afraid I have to strongly disagree. For any local business trying to market themselves with their website, SEO (search engine optimization) is both essential and completely ethical.
Intention is good, but results are better
Some have said that the changes SEO makes to a website are misguided because they are geared towards pleasing search engines instead of pleasing the user. It is absolutely true that your website should strive in every way to be user friendly, but there are a lot of SEO considerations that don’t really affect users. They argue that since the intent is to make a website more friendly to search engines, nothing good can come of it.
We’ve all heard the expression “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” so it might be said that the “road to good user interaction is paved with greed.” If you’re a business, having a user friendly website isn’t really about making the world a better place through better usability–it’s about interacting better with clients and therefore making more money. This isn’t a bad thing!
This same concept can be extended to SEO. Does web compliance make the world a better place? I think so, I’m a nerd but web standards are important to me and to the progress of the Internet as a whole. But why should a business care about it? Well, standards compliance is good SEO so now we have websites striving for compliance because if they don’t the Google bot might smack them.
What about heading tags? Using an H1 for your blog post title is good SEO, but does it help the user? Not usually–CSS can make an H1 indistinguishable from just another div or span tag. But it’s good markup! It’s good SEO when websites follow standards like this, but it’s also good for the web in general. Who cares if the intention is to better highlight your content on Google as long as it’s good for everyone else?
90% of my time in SEO is fixing dumb mistakes
I can’t tell you how many clients’ websites I’ve gone onto where the majority of their content was text stuck inside of images. This is really bad for both SEO and users in general. Is there anything unethical about pulling their content out of images and putting it into text? Of course not. For the sake of standards, I would argue it’s unethical to leave the text in images.
This is something I would fix just for SEO value, but it has quite a few other benefits to usability. Taking text out of an image can make it searchable on the page if the user is looking for something quick. If they want to quote your website, they can copy and paste. If they have images disabled or are using a text-based browser (both unlikely, but it does happen), then the content will show up much better. Blind people using screen readers will also do much better because their software can read plain text.
A few years ago Target was sued for not using ALT tags. When I add alt tags (a descriptor for images) to someone’s website, I’m not usually thinking about helping the blind. Instead I’m thinking about making sure that these images can be accurately found by a search engine and that the content on the page is properly highlighted. The byproduct of SEO is that all of a sudden, blind people can use the web easier! Is it bad that my intention was just to market better? I don’t think so.
If I donate thousands of dollars to a homeless shelter just to look good, is that bad? Maybe my motives aren’t great, but the end result is that fewer people will go hungry. So why shouldn’t we encourage it?
Bad local marketing does exist
Lest I be accused of being one sided, it is important to note that there are bad results from bad marketing. If I do everything to get a page to rank for something that it has no business ranking for, that’s bad. If I hack someone’s website to get links, that’s bad! If I spam a bunch of blogs with useless comments ,that’s bad! If I want to help a local business rank and spam all the other local websites, that will hurt their image. This is especially true in a local market. When Joe the attorney is spamming your family blog, then you’re going to dislike Joe. That’s bad marketing!
Why I do local internet marketing
I do local internet marketing to help local businesses. But I also do it to make a living! I want to make my house payment, and it so happens that helping local businesses for profit is a good way to do that. When we do local internet marketing, it’s good for everyone. It’s good for our workers, and it’s good for our clients. We strive to do a good job for people because we know it will be good for us in the long run. Zappos has great customer service because they know it will make their business great and profitable. Amazon doesn’t have the best selection of books in the world just because they like books (though I think they do, just like I like local businesses). They have the best selection of books because it makes them money, and that’s awesome.
We love local businesses here, but we also enjoy being able to eat. These interests are not mutually exclusive. They actually go together very well–just like our marketing efforts should be good for both our clients and the world in general.