6 SEO Jedi Tactics to Try Before Turning to the Dark Side

SEO Wars Rise of the Black Hat EmpireIf you’re an SEO Jedi, black hat tactics undoubtedly tempt you on a regular basis. Before giving in to the dark side, check out these SEO tips to renew your faith in the [white hat] light side of the Force!

In an earlier post, SEO Wars: Forget Black Hat, White Hat – What Color Is Your Lightsaber, I introduced six unique SEO styles (and respective lightsaber colors) for wielding the Force of magnetic content.

“The Force is what gives an SEO their power. It’s an energy field created by magnetic content that binds search engines, web visitors, and marketers together.”

White hat SEOs are called to a higher purpose of serving up quality content that web visitors would value, while [dark side] black hat SEOs are instead focused solely on the power of search rank, leveraging any tactics necessary to achieve it. Both sides of the Force leverage inbound marketing tactics to organically draw users to content.

The lightsaber color symbolism is fun, yet practical, as noted by this tweet:

Perhaps you can relate? The rise of the black hat SEO dark side cannot be denied. However, the temptation and seduction can be …if you’re strong with the Force and leverage the right tools.

Sith Army Knife poster created by Angie Schottmuller

The SEO Jedi Order: A New Hope…

Listen up, fellow SEOs… it’s time to unite! Provide accountability to your fellow white hat SEOs and creatively contemplate ways to wield the Force of magnetic content.

  • Believe in what you’re fighting for…Never forget that the purpose of SEO is to help users seeking your content easily find it. Moreover, search rank means nothing if it doesn’t produce results. White hat tactics fight for the greater good of a quality user experience. Wielding the Force of magnetic content not only boosts authority and relevance with search engines, but it also aids conversion, brand advocacy, and user experience.[Luke:] I don’t believe it. [Yoda:] That is why you fail.
  • Recognize that black hat SEO is not stronger.Although dark side SEO tactics may yield faster results, the tactics are weak – inevitably failing and therefore only yielding short-term gains. For basically every black hat SEO tactic that “works”, there are white hat SEO tactics that work just as well, or better, because they have long-term value. (Check out these 12 examples of black hat SEO tactics transformed into long-term, white hat SEO wins.)[Luke:] “Is the dark side stronger?” [Yoda:] “No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.”
  • Learn from SEO Jedi Masters, not just any SEO.With the abundance of SEO spam on the market, novice SEOs (a.k.a. SEO Younglings or SEO Padawans) easily interpret gray or dark side tactics as acceptable means for achieving search rank. Leverage these SEO training resources and learn directly from the [white hat] experts. (Note: A Jedi Master is one who has successfully trained a padawan into a Jedi Knight.)[Yoda:] You must unlearn what you have learned.
SEO Jedi Masters actively teach their trade and defend the white hat SEO Jedi Order.
(Action-Oriented, Content/Linking) (Strategy & Measurement) (Specialized Skills)
SEO Wars: Jedi Guardian - Blue Lightsaber Badge SEO Wars: Jedi Consular - Green Lightsaber Badge SEO Wars: Jedi Sentinel - Yellow Lightsaber Badge

6 Compelling SEO Jedi Tactics for Wielding the Force

If you’ve been wielding lightsabers of the light side of the Force and fear it isn’t working, check out these tips for inspiration. Each tactic has generally low competition and therefore presents great opportunity.

1. Universal Search Optimization

Leverage the diversity of Google universal search results mixed with videos, images, shopping, books, maps (local), and news. A SearchMetrics study recently showed that video and image formats dominate Google mixed results, yet few sites actually apply SEO to these assets. Include these assets on your pages and step ahead of the competition. Submit specialized XML sitemaps (image, video, news, local, etc.) to ensure these resources are adequately indexed and apply video optimization and image optimization to assets before publishing. Surround on-page images or videos with relevant textual content to help search engines better understand the asset and in-turn boost the relevance of the page as well.

Note: The Google video sitemap content “includes web pages which embed video, URLs to players for video, OR the URLs of raw video content hosted on your site.” The embedded video indexing option allows you to potentially drive traffic and clicks to your site instead of YouTube. Huge!

Tip: For videos, write a blog post with the embedded video and include additional, relevant engaging info like statistics, commentary, quoted responses, or related remarks. Tools like SpeechPad.com and SpeakerText.com can help with transcription. The added value of the content/video combo will encourage users to link to the web page versus directly to the YouTube video.

2. Clever Link Bait

Link bait is a tantalizing “content treat” that web visitors love so much they’ll link to it via bookmarks, social shares, or blog posts. Fresh, unique content with an exceptional educational, entertaining or X-factor twist qualifies as link bait.

  • Noob guide to online marketingInfographics or Industry Reports  (trends, historical timelines, statistics, comparisons)
  • Comic Writing  (humor on brand-relevant topics that ring true for your audience)
  • Comprehensive Guides  (detailed instructions, checklists, “top lists”, training resources)
  • Badges  (awards, certifications, achievements, recognition, identity labels)

Examples of quality link bait include: marketing infographics by Unbounce [Oli Gardner], webcomics by the Oatmeal [Matthew Inman], and SEO lightsaber badges by yours truly.

Tip: Include easy-to-copy HTML source code for your link bait. This makes syndication of your content easier and also empowers you to search-optimize the reproduced content with SEOd URLs, link text and image alt attributes.

Webcomics and humor videos are a great way to show that your business/industry (no matter how boring) can be fun. Every industry has something to laugh about. How does Murphy’s Law apply to your business? What’s a bizarre implementation or use of your product? Use it! For example, how could B2B toilet seat sales possibly be entertaining? Get inspired from this video!

3. User-Generated Content (UGC)

Has the Google “freshness” algorithm update got you flustered? Stop fretting about creating great content yourself, and start brainstorming how you can identify and engage brand advocates to generate content for you. Guest blog posts, crowdsourced content, comments, ratings/reviews, Q&A, testimonials, and user-submitted stories/projects are all great opportunities for building fresh, diverse content that search engines love.

  • Guest Blog Posts. Leverage the expertise, diverse writing style, and social network of influencers in your industry. The authors will help promote their articles for you. Example: Unbounce’s Conversion-Fest Blogging Contest.
  • Crowdsourced Content. Identify top influencers in your network, ask them to answer a few brief questions, and aggregate their responses into one post. The participants will share the content for you! Example: Recent posts on Crazy Egg’s blog.
  • Comments & Reviews. Provide tools that empower web visitors to add fresh, relevant content to existing pages for you. Default the sort to display recent posts first to prioritize those for indexing. Make sure the tool provides a means for the content to be indexed by search engines. Example tools: Disqus, Livefyre, PowerReviews and Bazaarvoice. Note: The March 2011-released Facebook Comments Box plug-in is not SEO-friendly by default, but some hacks have been proposed. (In October 2011, Google began indexing Facebook comments generated by AJAX or JavaScript, but don’t forget about Bing and Yahoo.)
  • Testimonials. Acquire recommendations by following the “give to get” principle. By giving an endorsement, you can also acquire a backlink. In accordance with testimonial best practices, include your full name, company, title, link and photo along with a “product X solved my problem by…” or a similar value-added description. The specifics for identity and experience provide credibility and a mini story to which readers can relate. When requesting testimonials, ask endorsees to use the same format.

4. Microdata Annotations & Rich Snippets

Rich snippets are tiny excerpts of actual content identified via semantic markup and selected to display inline with search results. Star-ratings and reviews are commonly seen rich snippets.

Google Search Result Rich Snippet

Semantic markup and rich snippets work hand-in-hand. Just apply simple HTML attributes in accordance with semantic markup specifications, and you’ll enable search engines to uniquely index that data and potentially display the rich snippets. The common semantic markup formats have been microformats, RDFa and microdata. (These different types of structured formats are also sometimes referred to as annotations or markup.) In June 2011, Google, Yahoo, and Bing came together in support of microdata as the HTML5 standardized format for semantic markup. The recent hype on updates to Google authorship markup reference rel=author and rel=me attributes which are HTML5 microformats.

Apply these annotations to your content accordingly. Seriously, mark everything up! Well, everything relevant where you’d desire rich snippets. There are 100+ new HTML5 markup types documented with microdata at Schema.org, each of them presenting SEO opportunities. Although this tactic is technically purely aesthetic, tests have shown that rich snippets yield higher click-through rates. On the same note, I can’t help but suspect that search engines may boost search rank for “guinea pig” sites to test new rich snippet formats. Be mindful of this, and track your search rank trends and rich snippet displays accordingly.

Tip: Complete the Rich Snippets Interest Form to get your site on Google’s radar, and leverage the Google Rich Snippets Testing Tool to validate your structured page markup/annotations and preview how it will look in search results.

Note: Although some of these annotations have been around for years, a consistent markup format has been lacking along with an adequate quantity of web pages that would justify rich snippet production. The consistent format issue seems to have been resolved. However, this early in the game there’s no guarantee that search engines will display rich snippets, even if annotations have been applied correctly. Be patient, and be ready. Your annotations will eventually bear fruit!

5. Social Media Optimization (SMO)

SMO is the process of optimizing content for social interaction, discussion and sharing. Since social influences are an integral part of SEO strategy from both a causation and correlation perspective, empower social interaction by providing on-page tools to make sharing easy. (Check out my comprehensive blog SMO guide for a plethora of tips and tools to get you started.)

Delicious Save Bookmark with Recommended TagsTo maximize sharing potential, publish new blog content at the start of the day and socially promote it immediately. Date posted plays a critical role in social shares. Share-savvy folks hunger for hot, fresh content… NOT day-old blog bread. Leverage super early publishing times to maximize your sharing window. This will also allow more shares to accrue on social sites across time zones improving the chances of being featured as “top [shared] news”.

Promptly submit content to social sharing sites like StumbleUpon, Reddit, and Delicious to jumpstart the up-vote process. Apply categories and tags accordingly to aid visibility. Delicious recommends tags used by other bookmarkers on new bookmarks, so tag your content wisely to feed suggestions with keywords you want others to use.

6. SEO “Social Networking”

If you have great content, look for new ways of promoting it beyond the standard of social posts and submissions. Start by “networking” with and investigating the social-savvy elite that regularly engage with your content.

Who submitted your content to StumbleUpon? Do you know or follow these people? (Folks you follow on StumbleUpon are denoted by the red person icon.) Be watchful of people with high numbers of “Favs”. Visit their profile and determine if they routinely share “your type” of content.

StumbleUpon People who like SEO Wars

Who bookmarked your content on Delicious? Be mindful of folks using numerous tags. These people likely use Delicious often and need multiple tags to find content. These tags are handy for keyword research too.

Delicious Bookmark history for SEO Wars

Folks using social bookmark/submission sites are likely engaged on other social networks as well – just check their profiles or try their username on other networks. These people are your viral seed planters. Find them, follow them, connect with them, and retweet their content. When you have new content ready to post, notify them. Do this sparingly though. Don’t take advantage of the relationship, and be prepared to reciprocate in sharing their quality content.

Do You Feel Stronger in the Force?

Which of these tips might you pursue? How are you managing to resist the temptation of black hat SEO? If you’re compelled to defend the SEO Jedi Order, share this post! Add your feedback, success story, favorite link bait example, or newly selected SEO lightsaber color badge (just paste the HTML) in the comments below!

Related reading

Google for branding: Getting more from search engine services
The changing face of search: Dynamic content and experiences that perform
Case Study: How BDCenter transformed a reputation from 48% negative on Google to neutral