I’m sure a lot of small business owners saw The New York Times article this weekend highlighting one company’s search-gaming issues. I talked to a few friends who are business owners and was surprised that some seem worried about their own businesses.
The concern is that if Google decides you are breaking its guidelines, the company can kick your site out of its search results. For any business that relies on search, and most I know do, that can have a significant impact on revenue. That worry I sensed from my friends made me wonder what search tactics they’re employing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue recently; partly because I am responsible for OPENForum.com, but also because last week I attended Signal LA, where Mahalo CEO Jason Calacanis stirred quite a ruckus by claiming some of his fellow presenters had awakened a sleeping giant in Google by gaming the company's search algorithm. One of his memorable quotes was “the one rule of working with Google is don’t make them look stupid." Basically, he called out content creators and anyone that tries to use Google’s algorithms for their own benefit. I won’t say he was prescient because gaming is as old as Google itself, but reading The New York Times article did remind me of its consequences. So what to do?
OPEN Forum gets some decent traffic from Google. While I’d of course like to get more, I also don’t want to jeopardize what we currently get. So I’ve been thinking about some principles to share with my team to ensure we manage the site well, but not so well that we aggravate the search powers. I’ll admit I’m not a search expert, so I welcome any additional suggestions as I create some guardrails for the OPENForum.com team:
1. Develop great content – If we’re developing really good content (in our case small business information and education, but that could apply to products and services, as well) and answering questions our audience truly cares about, the system should work in our favor. The more people link to our content, the better our results.
2. Don’t design for search, but consider it – I think it is fair to review our content with a lens on search. This should happen after drafting, but before publishing. We can’t expect search to work if we don’t let it. At the same time, we want interesting and informative content first, not something created around keywords.
3. Be transparent – And require anyone helping us with search to be open as well. In The New York Times article, the company claimed it was unaware of what its search agency was doing. We have to understand and communicate openly on the work our external –and internal – partners are doing.
Please add your own ideas in the comments section and hopefully the stream will be useful to others struggling to find the right balance themselves.
Image credit: velorowdy