Sometimes an unfair advantage seems like the most attractive path to victory. After all, it’s typically low effort, highly effective, and brings faster results. The only problem is that it usually ends with getting caught; Lance Armstrong was one of the greatest cyclists ever until he admitted to doping, and the Houston Astros were on an incredible win streak until they were caught banging on a trash can. How can you trust those kinds of people?

Even in the world of SEO, there are rule followers and rule benders. It’s easy to accidentally fall into not-so-great strategies unless you know what you’re looking for. But don’t worry, Big Leap is here to give you the lowdown on how to tell the difference between good (or ethical) SEO and bad (or unethical) SEO so you can get legitimate results that will stand the test of time.

Read more about how SEO can benefit your business:

SEO: Right vs. Wrong

The difference between good and bad SEO is pretty clear. While both of these can lead to a higher search ranking for your webpage, bad SEO doesn’t play by the rules and guidelines set by search engines. This leads to some unethical strategies just to get a high ranking. It can produce quick results, but companies that use bad SEO can be severely penalized if they’re caught. Good SEO strategies, which play by the rules, will incur no such penalty.


Search engine algorithms were pretty easy to take advantage of when they first started. Some saw this as an opportunity to get ahead of the competition, manipulating the content of their websites and exploit algorithmic loopholes to get higher rankings. This bred a plethora of unethical and shady SEO tactics.

While this kind of SEO is incredibly risky, people still do it. Why? As helpful as SEO can be for your business, it’s a long-term investment; most companies start seeing results after four or six months. Some companies are looking for a quicker turnaround, which bad SEO can usually do for them. But it comes with a price.  Examples of unethical strategies include:

1. Keyword Stuffing

Businesses that stuff their content with unnecessary or irrelevant keywords are attempting to manipulate where their page will rank in search results. You can usually catch a keyword stuffer if they list random phone numbers, include blocks of text listing cities and states, or if their content is repetitive. For example, if the webpage was for automotive repair, you might see a section like this:

“We’re in the automotive repair business. If you need automotive repair or anyone you know needs automotive repair, all of your automotive repair needs can be dealt by us, an automotive repair company. Automotive repair is what we’re good at, and you should listen to automotive repair companies, like us.”

You don’t have to be an English professor to know that is a terrible paragraph. Fortunately, this kind of content is quickly flagged by search engine crawlers.

2. Paid Links

Since developing a healthy link portfolio is a key component of SEO strategies, some have started buying and selling links to expedite the process. Paid links are strictly prohibited by Google and other search engines.

There are a lot of scammers in the link selling business, so even if you do try to buy links, you likely won’t get anything of value.

3. Link Farms

In another attempt to avoid link building, a link farm is a website developed solely for the purpose of inflating the number of backlinks for a particular site. These links usually have the keyword the site is hoping to rank for, but search engines have become pretty good at identifying link farms.

4. Cloaking

Cloaking involves showing the search engine one kind of content and a different kind to readers. This is done in an attempt to rank high for search results that are completely unrelated to the content and is a tactic most used by spam sites.

Similarly, other sites get into the practice of bait and switch, which redirects someone to a different URL after they click on a link.

5. Bad Content

When it comes to content, websites that focus on bad SEO techniques are usually trying to appease the search engine rather than the reader. The irony is they’ve forgotten that a high search ranking is only part of a full marketing strategy; just having a high ranking won’t get you anywhere if the content is useless.

Bad SEO content is usually repetitive and meaningless. But it could also be content from other websites that have been copied and pasted into a Frankenstein’s Monster of a web page.

Drawbacks of Bad SEO

Search engines get smarter every day and are much better at recognizing SEO strategies that go against their guidelines and terms of use. While you can see quick results with unethical SEO, getting flagged by a search engine can make those results short-lived. Not only that, but search engines will often penalize those websites, making it incredibly difficult to rank in the future for the keywords it tried to exploit.

Overall, bad SEO is high risk and low reward in the long term (aside from being unethical). That’s why Big Leap always supports the use of good, ethical SEO strategies.

Claim Your FREE Strategy Session With an Expert

For a limited time, you can sign up for a 30-minute strategy session with a Big Leap SEO specialist — no strings attached.

Good SEO

Ethical SEO is any strategy that follows a search engine’s guidelines and terms of service to improve a webpage’s ranking. This keeps a site’s focus on the customer that will read it while working to make sure it is also well interpreted by the search engine.

Every business should be using good SEO strategies to boost their rankings. Though it takes some time and effort to accomplish, it’s one of the best ways to increase traffic from interested customers to your website. Examples of good SEO strategies include:

1. Quality Content

Search engines have evolved past just finding keywords; they are now able to know the difference between good and bad content. Good, or high-quality content isn’t just for search engine algorithms, it’s more for the reader. Strive to provide unique content that brings people to your website, while also making it valuable so readers will actually learn something from your page. Providing valuable information for a customer is one of the best ways to increase brand authority, which helps with search rankings.

2. Relevant Keywords

Knowing what keywords to use comes from research and knowing your audience. Try to anticipate what your customers are going to type in the search bar and how your content can fit into the search query. 

A good way to manage keywords on your webpage is by focusing on a single topic and only a few keywords that go along with it. Make sure the primary keyword is in the headline, the metadata, and at least one more time in the body of the content. It’s easy to overlook these steps, but they’re incredibly important to remember.

3. Link Building

Building a solid link portfolio is essential. This takes time and constant upkeep, like throwing out links that don’t work anymore, but it is the best way to increase overall site traffic and will have a fantastic impact on your rankings.

4. Simple Website Design

The best way to not look like a spam site is to have a clean and simple design. The easier it is for people to navigate your website, the higher you can rank in your organic reach. Plus, customers will like your website more if they don’t get frustrated trying to find a certain page!

Drawbacks of Good SEO

I know what you’re thinking, “How could there be drawbacks to doing something the right way?” Well, doing things right often takes more time and dedication than cheating. Good SEO takes a lot of time and maintenance, like building and managing a link portfolio and researching quality keywords. 

On top of that, unique content is hard to come by these days, so it takes a lot of hard work to fill your website with creative and useful information. But all of this extra effort is worth it.

Get Better Results, The Right Way

Trust is more important than ever. Good SEO can instill trust in your audience, but you should also be looking for an SEO agency that is trusted to help companies boost their SEO rankings in an ethical and effective way. Check out our case studies here.

At Big Leap, we weave integrity into everything we do, from our SEO tactics to our client relationships. See how we can help you improve your SEO, the right way.