One of my biggest online failures was years ago and with SEO, or search engine optimization.
I know many business owners won’t ever do SEO or don’t care about what SEO is. That is a topic for another post.
There are, however, many business owners out there that are DIYers or don’t have the budget to hire an inbound marketing agency and will decide to try their hand at SEO for their small business website.. Even if I reach one business owner and stop him or her from going down the road I did years ago, this blog post will be worth it.
My failure began with trying to apply SEO with an old niche site of mine. I was really new at the game and only knew that I had to do SEO and doing so can catapult my site to the top of Google and increase traffic significantly.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that Google frowns on you trying to manipulate their algorithm and the strategies I were using were based on Blackhat SEO tactics.
What is Blackhat SEO?
Blackhat SEO can almost describe any SEO strategy or tactic. According to Google, we should “avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings.”
The truth is that many of us do some sort of SEO in an attempt to rise in the ranks of Google. If we didn’t no one would ever find our sites.
Blackhat SEO, however, is the extreme use of SEO to manipulate Google’s results. While it is impossible to know all the ranking factors of Google’s algorithm, Blackhatters usually have an above average understanding of it works and how to manipulate Google’s rankings.
In the past these techniques included link exchanges, paid links, link wheels, blog networks, article marketing, etc.
I didn’t set out to become a Blackhatter. Like I said, I didn’t realize that Google frowned upon the tactics that I started using. My problem came after I became addicted to SEO, set out to get my money pages ranked on the first page of Google’s SERPs (Seach Engine Results Page) and learned I could actually rank for almost any keyword on autopilot.
I started by setting up my own link wheel.
This strategy was used by many in the SEO world as well as some of the most reputable internet marketers. While this strategy is technically frowned upon by Google (and some will say it is outdated), a small link wheel was usually considered to be in a gray area when it comes to SEO – Grey Hat if you will.
I saw some nice results after starting my first link wheel. My posts were getting indexed quickly and ranked nicely. My traffic started to increase which resulted in more opt-ins on my email list. But everything changed for me once I started to see the money come in from affiliate earning.
What was once a trickle started to become a small flowing creek. This led me to analyze and optimize my site over and over again to rank higher for the services that I was promoting. Within a couple of months, I had two pages ranked in the Top 5 for two major keywords for this service.
This significantly increased my earning potential even more. I started looking at the sites above me, one competing site in particular, and vowed to out-rank them. I knew that they were making a nice income promoting the same service and figured if I ranked higher that I could earn even more.
That directly led to my impending failure.
Life as an SEO Addict
The relative ease of increasing my rankings and the corresponding income got me addicted to SEO.
I spent most of my time online researching SEO and started visiting blackhat forums and sites. I did everything I could to understand how to get my site higher in the SERPs.
The thing about Blackhat SEO it either takes a good bit of work or a good bit of money. Most Blackhatters understand that quality and unique content is key. Many actually aren’t trying to spam a bunch of sites with scraped and spun content. Blackhatters spend a lot of time and money on their craft. This is where my life as a Blackhatter changed.
I didn’t have money to pay for articles to be written, so I wrote them myself.
I didn’t want to spend the money to have my articles rewritten, so I bought software to spin my articles myself.
Creating and spinning content started to occupy so much of my time that I didn’t have time to create all the satellite sites that I needed to post my articles. So I started researching how I could automate as much as I could. My research, greed and addiction led me to:
- Listent to and act on some bad advice
- Using Fiverr to purchase link building services.
- Purchasing monthly subscriptions to services that would do EVERYTHING on autopilot
Here’s the thing…
The results were rather impressive. My traffic increased as well as everything that goes along with it such as subscribers and revenue….until April 24, 2012.
How Black Hat SEO Ruined My Site
If you didn’t know, on April 24, 2012, Google released a significant updated to their search algorithm named Penguin.
Penguin is known as the over-optimize penalty and it seemed to target sites that did a lot of blackhat SEO – including my site.
As soon as Penguin was released, my site’s traffic was crippled.
My site didn’t just fall a couple pages in the SERPs, it fell out of Google’s search results altogether for most of my targeted keywords. That included the two pages that ranked in the Top 5 for the service that I was promoting and bringing in most of my money.
Literally overnight, I saw my traffic and revenue stream come to a crashing halt. Money that I was expecting to come in was no longer going to come in. Traffic that converted to subscribers decreased to a couple visitors a day.
These surprising events left me sick to my stomach. I honestly didn’t realize that I was doing too much SEO. After all, I knew of other Blackhatters that were spending thousands of dollars a month. I was only spending $99/month. Surely I couldn’t be doing too much.
What I learned was that what I was doing was completely wrong and raised a huge red flag in the new Penguin algorithm . That is because Penguin looks at your backlink profile.
Two of the biggest aspects of backlinks that Penguin analyzes are the relevance of site from which the links are coming from and and the anchor text of the links – and this is where my demise laid.
This was a difficult lesson to learn. I thought I was on the right track to creating my site into a steady passive revenue stream.
This site that was my baby, my pride and joy, was now a crippled shell of what it could have been. And I had no one to blame except for myself.
Times like this require serious self-reflection.
The conclusion I came to was simple – I lost my purpose. The original purpose of my site was to be something different in the niche. Something more credible in a niche that had a lot of unscrupulous sites feeding off of people’s hopes. It was an outlet for me to showcase my passion.
Sure it was intended to make money too, but somewhere I took a detour and tried to find the easy-button.
I stopped posting regularly and I didn’t have time to do my podcast because I was researching more SEO strategies and tactics. It became all about the money. And the less amount of time that I had to spend working directly on the site and still see money coming in, the better.
The Lesson Learned
I can’t say that I will not work on link-building strategies to boost a site in the ranking ever again. But I know there is a fine line. It is more about deserving and earning the link on a relevant site with quality content.
The fine line wasn’t only with SEO, but also with the intention of the site.
I got away from the message that I was trying to spread with the site – the site’s purpose. Like I said, I lost my purpose and chased the all-mighty dollar.
With minimum SEO, a good message can be spread around the internet, garner attention and create a revenue stream. There is no need need resort to black hat tactics. You simply need to have a plan and you stick to it.
There were methods for me to revive the site, and I did recover the site to a point. But when years of your hard work are destroyed unknowingly by your own hands, there is a certain taste that is left in your month and I eventually shut the site down and moved on.
Though it was a tough lesson to learn, it was also one of the best lessons that I could have learned. Also, while reflecting on everything, I discovered I lost the passion that originally built the site. Instead, a new passion rose from the ashes and lead me to a profession in internet marketing and SEO – White Hat Only!