When it comes to ranking in Google search, many webmasters in highly competitive markets wonder if it's possible to compete against larger, established sites, especially without using black hat techniques. This is the topic Google's Matt Cutts addressed in the latest webmaster help video.
Matt, Does the good guys still stand a chance? We're a small company that hired an SEO firm that we thought was legit, but destroyed our rankings w/ spam backlinks. We've tried everything but nothing helps. What can a company with good intentions do?
Daniel, Miami, FL
Cutts seemed a bit amused by Daniel referring to himself as a "good guy" after admitting to spamming, despite "good intentions."
"Essentially, you're saying do the good guys had a chance, we spammed, and we got caught, and so we're not ranking. And if you take a step back, if you were to look at it from someone else's perspective, you might consider yourself the good guys but you spammed so the other people might consider you a bad guy," Cutts said. "And so the fact you got caught meant hey, other good guys who didn't spam rank higher. From their perspective things would be going well."
Cutts has a fair point. You can't consider yourself one of the good guys, and take issue with the fact you aren't ranking, when you admit to spamming the search results. And he has issue with webmasters trying to tie the two together because they're two completely separate issues.
"I think the good guys do stand a chance, and we try hard to make sure that the good guys stand a chance," Cutts said. "Given this information, trying to make sure they can get information from webmaster tools, resources, all sorts of free information and things that they can do and lots of the advice.
"But the good guys stand a chance if they don't spam," Cutts said. "So my advice is you might have to go through difficult process of reconsideration request, disavowing links, or whatever it is you need to do, getting links off the web, to clean things up."
He also said Google is doing a really good job separating people who spam from people who don't spam comes to ranking, and advised everyone to avoid "hijinks" and tricks" you'll find on black hat forums.
"Our advice has been the same: great user experience, make sure people link to you because you've got a fantastic site, come up with something compelling," Cutts said. "And the number of people who can push that envelope and get away with it is getting smaller and smaller over time. So I absolutely believe good guys do stand a chance, and small sites and small businesses can stand a chance."
And once again, he stressed the importance of high quality natural links, that link to your great quality content.
"Yes, it can take longer to build those links that are harder to get, but they're more likely to stand the test of time, so I would put a little bit of effort into thinking about how you get those hard links, not just how you get the fast links, the easy links, the spam links," Cutts said.
He ended the video by discussing some things that people should consider when hiring an SEO company. So many sites get penalties because of things an SEO company did to the site to see fast results, such as blog spam or spammy backlinks. And unfortunately, it doesn't matter who is responsible for the spam, a site can be affected whether it was an SEO company that did it or someone in-house to was responsible for the poor SEO decisions.
"Before you sign up with an SEO, ask for references, do some research, ask them to explain exactly what they are going to do," he said. "If they tell you they know me and they have a secret in with the web spam team, you should scream and run away immediately. If they will tell you what they're doing in clear terms that make sense, and it doesn't make you feel a little uneasy, then that is a much better sign."
Unfortunately, until this happens, bad SEO practitioners will continue to get websites kicked out of the search results because site owners don't do due diligence, or they just don't know any better about the type of techniques an SEO is going to be utilizing to help their site rank.