A recent study by Sterling Sky on the effectiveness of keyword stuffing in the business name on Google My Business brings up a regularly occurring issue in the world of SEO – when is it ok to break the rules to take advantage of flaws in the search algorithm? I regularly have prospects or clients who point out that certain competitors are clearly cheating and it is working.  In this recent study, Joy Hawkins showed that, despite Google having clear rules that the business name on your Google My Business should be the name you use when you answer your phone, it is clear that the algorithm is still rewarding “keyword stuffing” in the business name. Keyword stuffing being including major keywords in your business name. For example, if I used “You Can Be Found SEO and Local Search Consultant” instead of just You Can Be Found. We sometimes see really blatant and obvious rule breakers still showing up in local search results. Joy has even developed a “Stop Crap on the Map” guide to try to fight this.

Flaws in the Google Algorithm

Though what we mentioned above is one specific example, over the years the story plays itself out over and over. Google is constantly getting better at finding and pushing down the businesses that are “cheating” or exploiting these loopholes. Many of them have been closed over the years.  In reality, though, rankings are money and every situation is different. It is important to go into making a decision like that with all of the information.

I should start out by saying that I would always recommend, in the purest form, that you avoid “cheating” at SEO because Google will always figure it out eventually.  They are very smart people.  If you do want to enter the gray area, you should know what the potential penalty could be before you try to take advantage of a loophole. At least make your decision with all of the information.  For example, in local search, you can get your listing suspended for breaking the rules, and competitors can turn you in. Though it is often frustrating when you turn another in and see their listing still live, there is a risk, and a growing risk of getting your page suspended, meaning it won’t exist at all.  With that information, you need to weigh whether the temporary benefit would outweigh the potential loss of a listing at all for some period of time.  Can your business handle that potential loss in income?

Google Algorithm Update TimelineEvery strategy you put into place to try to cheat the system will have the same set of factors. You will want to talk to an SEO that knows the rules at least before breaking them. Maybe you are ok with the penalty and feel the immediate benefit outweighs it, but make that decision with all of the information, because penalties can be harsh. Some businesses have gone under from an algorithm update that suddenly figured out what they were doing with tactics such as cheating and faking reviews or site content.

In general, and more and more, it is wiser to listen to the Google webmaster guidelines and follow the rules, even if it is tempting when you see a cheating competitor outranking you.  It is ok to turn them in if they are gaming the system, but I typically wouldn’t recommend cheating yourself.