Focus On The Things You Can Control

May 31, 2011 by

Twice in the past month I’ve had long conversations with clients about their concerns for the activities of certain competitors.  Specifically, they were worried about the fact that some of the sites who are trying to compete in the same online space are engaging in some unscrupulous SEO and other marketing tactics, such as purchasing links and redirecting blind links from PPC campaigns.

These activities cause concern because I always preach the importance of ‘white-hat‘ marketing tactics, with integrity being paramount.  There are shortcuts that can be taken in order to potentially achieve favorable search engine rankings faster, and there is a degree of ‘success’ than can be had going this route.  But the reality is that ‘black-hat‘ SEO activities have a major downside.  If you get caught – and the probability of getting caught is substantial – you run the risk of being blacklisted by Google and other search engines.  Getting de-indexed is about the worst thing that can happen to your site if you are relying on search engine traffic as the main traffic source for your business.

In both instances, my clients are in exponentially better shape in their respective online spaces than the competing sites they’re worried about.  One client in particular has received organic search engine traffic from over 4500 different search phrases on Google since the first of the year, while the competitor in question only ranks organically for a couple dozen keywords according to the tool SEMRush.com.  And this is in spite of the fact that the competing site has about 30 times as many inbound links to their site because they bought them.  They had clearly subscribed to ‘link farms‘ and other unscrupulous black-hat link-building entities in order to get so many links but that hasn’t helped their site rank organically for the keywords relevant to their business.

Both my clients expressed similar sentiments when referring to their competitors’ shady efforts.  They wanted to undermine them by reporting their activities to Google, to discredit them in blogs and forums, etc.  And while it is admirable to want everyone to play by the same rules, one has to only look to the steroid scandals that Major League baseball has endured for the past decade or more.  The players who were caught cheating suffered irreparable damage to their reputations, the careers and their legacies – not to mention their overall physical well being.  And who came out of it smelling like a rose?  The players who took the high road.  They saw what what was going on and while they knew it was wrong, it only served to make them be the best they could be through hard work and determination.

The advice that I gave to my clients was simple: Focus on the things they can control and the rest will take care of itself. Google consistently makes improvements to their search algorithms and subsequent ranking systems to reward the sites with the best content.  They also take notice of the tactics that are solely intended to game the system and take measures to ‘punish’ those sites.  It is an ongoing cat and mouse game between the search engines and the people trying to manipulate their rankings.

As a webmaster, you can’t control what other sites are up to, but you can certainly spy on them.  You can keep an eye on their activities by simply using a variety of tools such as SEMRush.com and the Yahoo Site Explorer.  You also can’t control how the search engines respond to their marketing efforts, but you can monitor it.  If your competitor’s site isn’t ranking as highly in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) as you are, then why bother worrying about it?  You have a finite number of brain power that you can dedicate to thinking about your web presence – spend it wisely.