What Bill Belichick Can Teach You About Blackhat SEO

September 20, 2007: Recently, the local team and a seemingly untouchable coach’s image were slightly tainted when they scoffed at the system and decided to violate specific NFL rules, in an unending quest to finish at the top.

Bill Belichick
(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

There are many similarities that can be drawn from the competitive nature of professional sports and the world of search engine optimization, particularly for the most competitive keyword rankings and profitable online industries. The potential for significant reward plus a system that can be analyzed and interpreted equals the temptation for manipulation and exploitation (or maybe just a tweak or a bend here and there). So if you’re working in these places (or even less competitive markets) and want to learn from (arguably) one of the best coaches in the business, here are some things to consider:

  • Timing and Execution Are Everything
    Mark Clayton of ESPN surmises why a coaching staff would want to video tape signal calls for both the short-term and long-term potential benefits. In an early morning radio call on Mike & Mike in the Morning, he expanded on the complexities and steps involved in the video taping process. The reality was that there are a lot of steps in motion within a very short period of time to make certain that the information obtained can be put to use, as soon as the second half of that same football game.

    Now take into account the speed at which search engines can index web page content and how adept they can be at sniffing out patterns of illegitimacy and it’s easy to realize that a potential strategy to game search rankings must be run quickly and succinctly. Are you covering all of the bases and thinking about all of the potential scenarios leading to error? Remember two things when it comes to executing a potentially questionable SEO strategy: You better know your environment pretty damn well and just because you don’t get caught the first time, doesn’t mean you won’t get nailed the second (or third, fourth etc)
  • Maybe We All Do It, But You Can Only Speculate On The Severity
    Once the cat is out of the bag, there will be no end to the discussion on the usage and implementation of questionable practices and tactics. More importantly, the fact that something of potentially great magnitude has been brought into the open means that anyone looking for an edge will start dabbling in the environment and people that are “in the know” minimize their real conversations and discussions on what may work and what may get you hurt.

    Perhaps, “It” is really the debatable discussion overall. Is video taping a coaching staff’s play calls just as bad as taking HGH or gambling for/against your team while you are playing for that team? Does the system create an environment which is really enabling coaches and players to figure out ways to game the system and bend the rules? Being successful in your optimization strategy (be it on the playing field or in search engine marketing) is about leveraging experience and knowledge to make informed decisions, designed to give you the highest potential for success while minimizing the risk of negative impact.
  • If You Get Caught, Expect a Penalty
    The New England Patriots were fined for their video taping violations and Bill Belichick was personally penalized $500,000 for his role in the operation and responsibility as the head coach. Even if you don’t believe that the penalty assessed was substantial enough, the fact remains that there was indeed a penalty assessed. Perhaps Google and other search engines will try to warn you before they remove your site from their index so you can proactively address spam or blackhat tactics, but they may just decide to remove your site without warning. You should realize that it’s really their call and at their discretion.

    By the way – if you are an SEO Consultant reading this post, and you get caught cheating on a client’s website, it’s reasonable to expect a few personal penalties in addition to the penalties incurred in your client’s search engine optimization strategy.
  • You Can Still Kick Ass Without Breaking The Rules
    There was nothing more satisfying for a New England fan than watching our team absolutely dismantle another one of the preseason favorites last Sunday night in prime time. Does that mean that they already had all of the video tape that they needed the game? I highly doubt it (but then they would be really crafty…). It means that proper preparation, a solid game plan, strong assets and a highly defensible position will usually lead to success and overcome adversity in the long-term.

It’s naive to think that in an environment representing a high potential for reward under extreme public and/or professional pressure that people will not at least investigate everything and anything to gain a competitive advantage. The real question is what standard must be set to deem a practice acceptable or within reason and at what point are we just “gaming” a system for purposes of getting to the top. More importantly, do conflicting interests within an established system unknowingly(?) create and support an environment for exploitation at the same time that steps are being taken to eliminate abuse? We would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on these ideas.

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Melissa Sopwith

"The team at KoMarketing was great at listening to our organization's needs to ensure they wereon the same page with goals and objectives. The provided a clear path for getting to desired results, were fast and flexible when adjustments were needed and above all else, provided the highest level of client service. KoMarketing is a pleasure to partner with!" - Melissa Sopwith, Marketing Manager, Guidon Performance Solutions, a Teletech Company

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