Content strategy and marketing is incredibly important to any company or business looking to improve their Google rankings. With advancements in technology and growth of search engine optimization practices within the last decade, there is an abundance of resources available. However, to what extent can you push the bar of the search engine optimization performed on your website? What is considered good SEO and at what point do your practices become unethical? In this blog post, I will provide examples to ethical and unethical SEO and online marketing practices. I will also share my own marketing practices and examples.
What are Black Hat and White Hat SEO tactics?
Before I get into what content marketing and strategy trends are considered ethical and unethical, it is important to understand what black hat and white hat SEO tactics are. Black hat search engine optimization (SEO) techniques involve using practices that are against or inconsistent with Google’s search engines’ guidelines. Such as hidden text, cloaking, spamdexing, blog comment spam, list links etc.  White hat SEO tactics are the opposite of Black Hat tactics. White hat SEO techniques provide users with quality content that is accurate, relevant, and well-organized. They are consistent with Google’s search engine s’ guidelines. Some examples of white hat SEO tactics are using relevant keywords in the title tag, h1 tag, and anchor text of inbound and internal links. If used correctly they will increase the reliability of your brand.[3, Par. 4-15]
The Good (White Hat)
It is evident in the marketing world that controversy sells content. Influence Agents states, meaningful controversy means going all out with your opinions, and leaving it all out on the table.  They recommend using a headline for an article of yours as an opinion. This will increase your the engagement, audience, and clicks. However, if you want to stay aligned with the ‘good’ and your businesses mission it is important to not take a skewed view. Getting caught out by your customers is not fun or good for the reputation of your brand. Especially, if you are pushing the bar too high with false or irrelevant content.
The content you provide to your customers offline and online often needs to get people talking to get big results. Kelsey Libert recommends creating content that will create emotional reactions with your audience. [2, Par. 4] Playing it too safe with your content, will make it difficult to grab the attention of your users and ignite an emotional response which is important to drive social sharing. Ultimately, you want to attract the attention needed to earn high-quality links.
How to Rank Without Breaking the Rules
Here are a few good content marketing and SEO practices you can consider introducing to your business or company without breaking the rules:
- Use an article headline as an opinion
- Perform A/B tests to find what works best
- Create emotional content
- I like to use Google Keyword Planner to discover the popular monthly search volume of specific keywords and phrases.
- Use social media marketing and advertising to expand the reach of your content, increasing its potential to earn links and social signals. For my personal design work, I like to outreach and explore opportunities in getting my content published on other related websites.
- Remember “Don’t create content for content’s sake,” Rebecca Sentance mentions this in a great article over at Search Engine Watch. In other words, quit writing posts for the same keyword target every month.[13, Par 14]
Contently recommends the following content marketing Code of Ethics:
- Expose the truth as fully as possible
- Adhere to journalism’s core values of honesty, integrity, accountability, and responsibility. [9, Par. 5]
- Minimize potential harm to sources or subjects of stories
- Acknowledge facts that may compromise the integrity of a story or opinion
- Always credit sources
- Fulfill promises made to contributors and sources in the course of reporting.
It is important to recognize that journalists and content strategists have different goals. In exchange their marketing code of ethics is different. I would recommend taking a look at Contently’s code of ethics. They do a great job specifying how you can successfully distribute your content without performing anything unethical.
At Verizon, I currently work on the Communication team. Prior to working on Verizon’s Communication team, I worked on Verizon’s Personalization team. On Verizon’s Personalization team I worked closely with developers, analytics and test facilitators on the user interface and experience on verizon.com. Together we performed A/B tests to collect user research that helped us to optimize our website. A/B testing (sometimes called split testing) is comparing two versions of a web page to see which one performs better. From experience, I have found that A/B tests are a fantastic way to learn about your customers in an ethical fashion. By simply adjusting our messaging, imagery and user experience we were able to learn as a team how we can make improvements to our website. A/B testing is also a fantastic way to increase your conversion rate optimization.[12, Par. 1] By identifying your user’s needs you can serve them the best experience on the web.
The Bad (Black Hat)
- Using fake headlines to drive traffic
- Unrelated key-terms
- Link buying
- Hidden/Invisible text
- Article spamming
- List links
Providing Accurate Content is so Important
When Click-bate Strikes
September 12th, 2018, marked Apple’s first Worldwide Developers Conference hosted at Steve Jobs Theater in New York City. Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference formally known as WWDC is a global event held annually by Apple. This is where Apple releases their newest technology advancements and devices publicly. I am a techie at heart, so I always enjoy following Apple’s public press before the event. This way I can try to scope out the specs on their new device prior to their release.
Although I can suspect a new device will be rolling out, there are no announcements directly from Apple prior to the WWDC indicating anything about their new device. Most of what I find out is based on leaks on the web or word of mouth. From personal experience, I have found there are a number of businesses that use unethical content marketing practices, prior to Apple’s event. It is worth noting that a number of these fake Apple news sites actually look like legitimate news sites.[5, Par. 10] They use their professional look and click-bate headlines to lure you in while convincing you their news is real.
During this exploration, I found that the Apple social media leaks generated more conversations than the online publications leaks. The social media posts had a remarkably higher number of shares and comments than the online publications. While the majority of the online publications had no comments. It was evident that the companies that had the most impressions were using unethical practices, such as click-bate to lure their traffic in.
Keep Expanding your Knowledge
 Casey, Meghan (2015-06-06). The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right (Voices That Matter) (p. 123). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.