Concerning SEO, Honesty is the Best Policy

Our host today is Morgan Griffith. If you're interested in getting in front of the readers of Site Sketch 101, check out our guest posting invitation here.


In his post on the 15 most important SEO factors in 2011, Nicholas brought up a lot of great points and touched on some key steps you can take to optimize any web page or blog post. He also mentioned the tendency for people to question why Google penalizes or bullies some sites and rewards others for their content and SEO tactics.

Today, we saw some big news in the SEO world, when we learned of Google penalizing for their policy breaking efforts to acquire links from .edu sites. Essentially, Overstock lured university webmasters into placing links to its site by offering discounts to students and faculty of the schools that did so.

While .edu backlinks are great for SEO, luring anyone to place a link for any kind of reward is not, and for their mistake, Overstock suffered. Search terms for which they previously ranked on the first SERP, they are now appearing on the 5th or 6th–a big hit for a web-based company to take.

While the situation is obviously unique, the underlying takeaways are not. The only person who gets rich off a get rich quick book is the author. On the contrary, the only group that will benefit from your SEO schemes will be your competitors.

Chances are if your reading this blog, you understand the basic premises and principles of SEO. And if that’s the case, by all means, please employ them and employ them well. But whether you’re noteworthy industry expert, a self-proclaimed SEO “guru,” or a complete newbie to the world of SEO, the rules below apply:

  1. Don’t try to game the system– there’s a 99.998% chance that Google is bigger, smarter, richer, and more capable than the people behind your web site. Whether you’re as big as or as small as, they will find you and they will penalize you.
  2. Do use at least the basic SEO principles. OK, so you don’t have time to fully pour your efforts toward SEO. We are all busy, but the fact of the matter is, if you have time to write a blog post, you have time to infuse it with a little SEO love. Re-read Nicholas’ post for some really easy ideas on where and when to use your keywords, for example.
  3. Above all, if you take nothing else away from this post, remember this: when it comes to SEO, honesty and a little elbow grease is the best policy–no hidden text, no luring for backlinks. Content is still king. Produce strong content for the user that you too will want to read and you’ll come out on top.

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  1. February 28, 2011

    mark said:

    Hi Morgan,

    It seems as though Google has been really cracking down lately. JC Penny, Overstock, and others have been publicly called out.

    I think that is a good thing. Certainly, it sucks for those sites, but there were some deceptive practices being used.

    I loved this line – “The only person who gets rich off of a get rich quick book is the author.”

    Yeah – there is so much of this on the web too. Of course, some of that is just because there is a large group of people who are looking for an easy way to make money.

    Can’t say I blame them. It is hard to make a living. But, it does seem that the people who truly succeed are innovative, thoughtful and hard working. There does not appear to be a secret formula.

    Have a great day!

    • February 28, 2011

      Morgan said:

      Hey Mark!

      I’m certainly in agreement. It’s nice to know that Google is taking an active role in eliminating success from some of the more deceptive SEO tactics.

      Thanks for the compliment on the get rich quick book line! I also love your line, “people who truly succeed are innovative, thoughtful and hard working.” SO true and what us honest SEO folks are always trying to advocate– honestly good content.

      Thanks so much for your feedback and I hope you have a great day as well!

  2. February 28, 2011

    Gabriele Maidecchi said:

    I might add: if you adopt a practice that even smells a tiny bit fishy, chances are that it’s a very bad practice. Before causing a major sh*tstorm and whining about the consequences of your actions, think twice and change practices.

    • February 28, 2011

      Morgan said:


      GOOD point! If you have to pause and contemplate the integrity of your SEO choices, chances are, they aren’t very good ones.

      LOVE this comment – “Before causing a major sh*tstorm and whining about the consequences of your actions, think twice and change practices.”

      Honesty really *is* the best policy.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and thanks for the link!

  3. February 28, 2011

    Thomas said:

    There just aren’t any shortcut for good long term SEO and if you find one don’t use it. It will come back and bite you in the ass. Hard work, patience and honesty are the best SEO tip in the long run.

  4. February 28, 2011

    Ryan Critchett said:

    Hey Morgan, nice to meet you.

    I’m with ya.

    It’s funny you write this post now; I was recently involved in a “super debate,” not just a debate, but a super debate about SEO, best practices and what you might call “grey hat” techniques.

    My point is your point. Why game the giant? I mean.. sure, if you want quick rankings that will inevitably be short lived, go for it but considering long term perspective, brand credibility and a LOT more, you’re right, honest SEO is the only way.

    What’s interesting about these new algorithmic changes is that a common “human” thing is happening.

    People’s beliefs, behavior and standard operating procedure are being challenged! As a result, they’re freaking out.

    As bloggers, SEOs and webmasters, our mission is to do two things, which I know Nick (and obviously you Morgan) know all too well: adapt and overcome. That’s it! We just have to calibrate.

    Great post,


    • February 28, 2011

      Morgan said:

      Hey Ryan! Nice to meet you too!

      Glad to chat with someone who’s on the same page in regards to gaming the system. I often equate it to cheating on a test in high school.

      Students can cheat on each test throughout the year and probably perform pretty well in the short-term (guilt associated with cheating aside). But when it comes time for the final exam, they’re screwed. No foundation for success has been laid.

      I completely agree with your notion of “adapt and overcome.” We must constantly adapt to stay relevant in the Web world. As long as we do so in an honest and user-centric way, the ‘system’ is designed for success.

      Thanks for some GREAT feedback!

  5. February 28, 2011

    Danny @ Firepole Marketing said:

    Great post, Morgan! Sometimes I feel like people really don’t get SEO – they think it’s about finding a way to trick the search engines into ranking you.

    The search engine algorithms are written around the idea of delivering good stuff to the people who want it – gaming the system to look for loopholes just doesn’t make sense!

    • February 28, 2011

      Morgan said:

      Thanks, Danny! And I agree! Most people really don’t *get* SEO. They pretend to get it by talking the jargon-filled talk, but it’s usually these same people who are looking for the SEO loopholes to which you refer.

      Unfortunately, I see this all too often with agencies ‘reporting’ on metrics that seem to strategically leave out info that would show any sort of SEO slippage. In reality, no SEO strategy, even if fully supported and constantly improved, is perfect. I cringe when I see such reports that show “stellar numbers!” but are missing key data. And often, the client doesn’t know any better.

      My advice? Trust only those who will engage in an open and transparent dialogue on the topic. Those who are willing to be challenged and answer questions.

      Oh, and you’re spot-on with this assessment –> “The search engine algorithms are written around the idea of delivering good stuff to the people who want it – gaming the system to look for loopholes just doesn’t make sense!”

      Keep up the good work!!

  6. February 28, 2011

    Dennis Edell @ Direct Sales Marketing said:

    I’ve been preaching this since the beginning of time…my time blogging that is, lol.

    Mainly because I just don’t get most SEO, so I barely bother with it.

    I don’t mind Google at all, they took me from a PR1-3 in the last recent update; all I did…wrote, 70 something posts in 2 months or so.

    OK before someone jumps all over my second paragraph, I have started outsourcing it, so at least there will be some. 😉

    • February 28, 2011

      Morgan Griffith said:

      Hey Dennis,

      If you keep reading Site Sketch, you’ll definitely start “getting” SEO pretty quickly. Nicholas does a good job of keeping core principles top of mind.

      Congrats on the increase in PageRank. Remember though, PageRank is less an indication of success in organic search rankings than it is an indication of backlinks garnered. That’s not to say that the two don’t correlate to some extent.

      Congrats on so many blog posts in such a short amount of time! Certainly a huge accomplishment! Just the volume of content alone (assuming it’s solid) gives search engines a good reason to keep coming back for more. Follow some of Nicholas’ advice for where and how to optimize, and you’ll be golden!

      Thanks for reading and for the comment!

      • February 28, 2011

        Dennis Edell @ Direct Sales Marketing said:

        Honestly, all I really care to do is write, give the readers what they come for, and such.

        All design work has been outsourced for a while, and SEO is to follow as soon as I can afford it on a consistent basis.

        I agree with you on Nick’s stuff here, and when I pick up those easy-peazy 10-second nuggets, I will implement them personally…otherwise they are emailed to the outsource. 😉

        As for PR, I know it I know it, I just like the warm and fuzzies of the lil green bar. Woot!

  7. March 1, 2011

    Jason Acidre said:

    Been employing a lot of “trust” with my SEO methods for the past few months, I guess I’m on the right track. It’s good to know that Google is being fair when it comes to penalizing sites due to violations. It just proves that there’s no really way to gaming their search engine.

    The only absolute way to win their hearts is to still provide highly relevant content and to make it popular through natural linking (or links/recommendations/citations from real and satisfied users).

    • March 1, 2011

      Morgan Griffith said:

      Hey Jason,

      You most certainly are. The overwhelming takeaway when talking with those who have employed successful SEO strategies, is that honest tactics that provide legitimate benefit for the user are what works.

      “The only absolute way to win their hearts is to still provide highly relevant content and to make it popular through natural linking (or links/recommendations/citations from real and satisfied users).” <– agreed. Also think social media and friendships via SM have to be considered here. Especially with the new social improvements to search algorithms.

      Thanks for your feedback!!

  8. March 1, 2011

    Emily said:

    I don’t worry about rule #1. I wouldn’t know how to mastermind Google if my life depended on it! Thanks for the great post!

    • March 1, 2011

      Morgan Griffith said:

      Hey Emily! Wish more thought like you! Even those who think they know how to “mastermind Google” usually don’t, so not to worry!

      Thanks for your comment!

  9. March 2, 2011

    Shree said:

    Using the basic SEO principles really help. Our site has got good SERP in the targeted keywords and that too in three months time. Having good content helps a lot.

  10. March 7, 2011

    Pete said:


    It’s true. I focus hard on putting together thorough and informative content and the hits come in! There’s nothing more to be said. : )


    • March 19, 2011

      Morgan Griffith said:

      Hey Pete!

      So glad to hear it! Honest efforts towards providing true quality content is always the best bet. Glad to hear you’re seeing good results from doing so! Thanks for reading and for your feedback.


  11. March 7, 2011

    Greg said:

    Excellent post Morgan, it’s unfortunate in business there are lots of companies who think you can get them to the number 1 spot overnight as well.

    So many factors contribute to rankings such as the right name, the right content but many companies just don’t understand this unfortunately.

    • March 19, 2011

      Morgan Griffith said:

      Hey Greg,

      Your comment couldn’t be any more relevant right now. An organization I work with recently had a problem with a vendor claiming to be able to do just that. We must always remember, as is true with anything else, you reap what you sow. If you employ faulty one-time tactics, you’ll get back equally as faulty results. True dedication to crafting useful and quality content is SO important.

      I also agree that there is fundamental misunderstanding in the SEO space. We can do our part by continuing to educate with our own quality content and by sharing our experiences on blogs such as this one.

      Thanks for your dedication to doing the right thing.


  12. March 8, 2011

    ah hong said:

    Great post Morgan, read in the latest tech news that Google have penalize Demand Media in

    Is it due to the same reason as well? Moral of the story, focus on the content rather than black hat technique 😀

  13. March 8, 2011

    Ken said:

    Hi Morgan,

    Great post about SEO. I had no idea that Overstock was penalized for “bribing” .edu backlinks but they got what they deserved if they were trying to game the system. Lately I’ve been getting the reds about all of this stupid “push-button” software that will magically “flood your clickbank accounts with tons of cash overnight”. All this software is doing is practicing shady SEO tactics and spamming social media and web 2.o sites and “noobie” marketers are falling prey to these scams and learning bad SEO along the way. When will people learn that Google can not and will not be gamed?

    • March 10, 2011

      Morgan said:

      Hey Ken!

      Good points, and great question! Unfortunately, I wish I had an answer. I’m of the mindset that people will continue to be oblivious to possible penalties, etc. until they take a vested effort in informing and educating themselves on general SEO principles and best practices.

      If a person has any reason to use the term SEO, or work with web content, there is NO reason that he or she should not make time to do some leisurely learning as well.
      What are your thoughts on this?

      Glad you found the post helpful. Thanks for your feedback!

  14. March 9, 2011

    Helmi Abdullah said:

    Hi Morgan,

    I totally agree with you. The most glaring thing that I see happening everywhere is people know the importance of SEO but they put little effort to learn and know inside out about it.

    Most of bloggers out there too “eager” to earn their first dollar. They have no idea the impact on their blogs of becoming good with SEO and how it will determine how much can they earn in future.

    That’s the truth and it is a sad truth.

    • March 10, 2011

      Morgan said:

      Hey Helmi! I wish I would have seen this post before addressing the comment above! You’re spot on with your logic here. People rarely invest themselves self-education on the topic of SEO. It’s almost like they’re looking for a workaround before even knowing what it is they’re working around.

      I agree with your sentiment, it’s a sad truth. All we can do is continue to promote good content around the subject and help people educate themselves.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts!

  15. March 15, 2011

    Aaron Kay said:

    Yeah you can’t really fool Google for long can ya? They’re like a giant beast with many MANY eyes.

    I’m glad it eats sites up when they’re doing stuff like this, makes more room for us.

    • March 15, 2011

      Clark Hetherington said:

      I totally agree with you Aaron. Google has its way to know spammers and dishonest people. Google also keeps changing its parameters to make it difficult for spammers to get inside. Thanks Google!! Cheers!

  16. March 15, 2011

    Andrew @ Blogging Guide said:

    I agree. Honesty should always be practiced and should come inherent in us as we do SEO. I really hate it whenever I see posts that are totally spammy… It’s clear that people’s urge to get ranking is eating up best practices adding to the tons of garbage that we have online.

    • March 19, 2011

      Morgan Griffith said:

      Andrew, I too get frustrated when seeing spammy posts. Especially those that are written in English, but really not in English at all. Spammy posts really will never achieve anything on the poster’s behalf… if only they recognized that.

      Thanks for the feedback. -Morgan

  17. March 18, 2011

    Marcelo said:

    Also, SEO is not for lazy people. It requires hard work to do it right.

  18. March 20, 2011

    Axel said:

    “Produce strong content for the user that you too will want to read and you’ll come out on top.”

    Do you really get a better rank if you have quality content? Or does it just improve your CTA ?

    Can google sense if the visitor likes your content by analysing time spent on page?

  19. March 24, 2011

    Joe said:

    Great post! As a small business owner I’ve been tempted to do a little seo slight of hand like my competitors, but I’ve noticed their ranks drop drastically lately.

    • April 2, 2011

      Morgan said:

      Hey Joe,

      Good call on your part! Don’t try to game the system. It’s inevitable that you’ll eventually be penalized for doing so. Keep up the honest work!


  20. March 29, 2011

    Vins said:

    Hi Morgan, regarding your 3rd rules that content is the king I totally agree with this I’ve seen a blog where in her blog post was about relationship is the king, only the content is the queen. He emphasized that socializing with others is best that content, but i still believe with the power of unique contents.

    • April 2, 2011

      Morgan Griffith said:

      Hey Vins,

      I agree with you, as it can be difficult to truly nurture a Web relationship without quality content.

      On the flip side though, in many cases, a strong relationship can do a lot for raising awareness for and around quality content, especially for a newer site.

      I still believe quality content is king.

      Thanks for your comment!

  21. May 25, 2012

    Mega said:

    Hi Morgan, I totally agree with your position about clean and honest SEO. I am an artist, and not an expert, but I created my website and blog by myself and learned practices I wanted to share.
    I created a list of transparent and efficient SEO practices to create a SEO-friendly here:

    What do you think of having this list on my art blog. I’m not sure because and art blog should talk about art, not SEO. But the idea was to share honest informations with my followers…