SEO and Risk Tolerance - Will Hanke

SEO and Risk Tolerance

Written by +Will Hanke on March 29th, 2014

I’ve got something on my mind, and I want to know what you think about it.

Staying on the “safe” side of SEO is a pretty difficult thing to do.  The entire SEO industry is based on one thing: gaming the search engines to show your website (or your clients’) more than anyone elses.  Sure, there are standards and rules to follow, but if you only follow those rules, you can forget ever ranking.  Honestly, agencies that practice 100% true white hat SEO aren’t really worth hiring – unless you’re a fan of mediocre results (which is the most of them can provide).

Do you appreciate the mediocre? Does anyone? Hell no. People are inspired by those that step out of the norm – the innovators, the risk takers. Those are the people that help the world advance because they push the norm.

Ever heard of Colonel John Paul Stapp? This guy was amazing. In 1947, he decided to test the conventional belief that a human could only handle about 18 g’s before fatal injury.  He thought we could handle more.  In 1947 he built a machine- no, a rocket sled – to test the amount of force a human could take in deceleration.  When no one would volunteer to test it, he jumped on it himself. And sure enough, his test showed that humans could actually withstand forces more than three times what they considered safe.

Colonel Stapp’s findings allowed pilots to feel safer, fly faster, turn harder.  But he helped shape other things, too – such as automobile safety. Seat belts in cars and restraints in other high speed vehicles are stronger and safer because of him.

Because of Colonel Stapp, we now live longer and safer. He went outside what everyone considered ‘safe” and pushed the limits of conventional wisdom.

So ok, back to SEO – should SEOs be any different?  Would you want to  hire a company that only plays by the rules when you’re up against companies that bend them to their advantage?

I should make it clear here – I’m not advocating black hat SEO.  Outright breaking of the law or ethical infractions should be avoided by any business owner. The short term gains there aren’t worth the risk.

What I am saying, though, and I already said it once, is that I don’t think a purely white hat SEO firm is doing their clients justice. They’re taking money for a promise they can’t keep and will never attain (unless of course you have no competition).  They’re counting on a huge quantity of long tail keywork rankings to keep their clients happy – but they won’t go after the ‘big’ keywords because they know they can’t.

They. Can’t.

Unlimited budget and white hat only techniques? You’ll still never get to the top for a single-word difficult term.  Impossible. And if you disagree you’re only fooling yourself.

So what is a business owner to do?  Ask questions. Understand the options. Push the envelope, if only slightly.  Find out what kind of options are available for your internet marketing budget. Are there grey-area techniques that  you should at least have a conversation about?

Maybe you’ll do some, maybe not. But I think business owners should know these things exist – because its very likely that, while you’re being squeaky clean, your competition isn’t.

What I really want to know is whether you agree, disagree, or just don’t care. Do you think putting all your online marketing budget into purely white hat techniques will work long term? Is it enough to make you money and that’s all you want? Or do you have a tolerance for risk to see your business grow? Do you want to test the limits or just play it safe?


Will Hanke is the Chief Search Marketing Strategist at Red Canoe Media, a top St. Louis Search Marketing & SEO firm. In addition to helping some of the city's most recognizable brands with their online marketing strategy, Will also is an Amazon bestselling author, speaker and teacher.


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