A MarketingSherpa reader (who asked to be anonymous) called me up last Friday afternoon to say, "I'm sorry - I just hired the bad guys to do my search engine optimization."
He explained he was apologizing because the firm he hired was using a pretty slimy practice, that our Buyer's Guide had recommended against, to get his Web site lots more rankings.
They were putting hidden (aka invisible) links on all their unrelated client's sites that pointed to other clients' sites. The theory is that Google and other search engine robots would be fooled into thinking each site had fabulous link popularity, and they'd rank the sites higher.
The thing is - it was working. He was getting great rankings.
He asked me, "I know it's wrong, but I need the traffic for my business. I'm only showing up in search engines for terms that my company should have been in all along. So why is this so bad really?"
I've interviewed loads of search experts for our Buyer's Guide on this topic, and many have told me that there's an ugly underbelly to the search business. It's a bit like the junk email industry -- people know they are spamming, but for many it's profitable enough that they keep doing it.
And, like junk email, search engine deceit is rampant in some parts of the affiliate world. Which is infuriating for merchants who practice honest search optimization, only to see their rankings beat by their own affiliates.
So, what should you do?
I urge you to keep to the straight and narrow with your optimization. It's not about morality - it's about business risks.
If you get caught doing something that's against Google's preferences, they may cut you off from being listed entirely. (They don't *have* to list you, you know. There's no law forcing them to list anyone in the organic non-paid results if they don't want to.)
How can you be caught? Well, a competitor may report you. Or somebody may report your optimization firm and hence all their clients. Or Google's frequently updated programs may spot the problem automatically.
Once you've been cut off, it can be very difficult to convince Google to let you back again. Ever. I know one company which has been trying to be re-listed for more than a year now.
Is quick and easy traffic now worth the risk of losing all your listings in the future? It's your call to make. It's your business at stake.
The views and opinions expressed in the articles of this website are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect in any way the views of MarketingSherpa, its affiliates, or its employees.