grey hat

What was your role, and where did you work?

One of the well-known logo design companies hired me as a search engine optimization manager, and I filled the role for several years before choosing to start my own business. When I was hired we were already ranking very well for hundreds of design-related terms, but were struggling to keep up with the fierce search competition for key phrases like “logo design.”

I worked in the company’s main office with a team of six search managers. There was quite a number of employees that worked in the building with us, including logo designers, sales reps, and a few web designers/programmers. For privacy reasons I cannot give an exact location.

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What tasks were the search team responsible for?

The team carried out several key activities to help achieve and maintain a #1 search engine ranking for the term “logo design.” These activities involved creating keyword-rich pages, submitting the website to directories, and contacting bloggers and design websites for link exchanges (we would link to them from one of our lesser-known blogs or smaller one-off websites and they would link back to our main website with keyword-rich anchor text). We knew we were giving them a link that was of less value than what they were giving us.

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As well as the salaries of the search marketing team, the company would spend an absurd amount of money each month on links from high-profiled websites.

A lot of the search staff clearly had no idea how to optimize a website for the best search results, but because the company was investing so much in search campaigns we were ranking within the top two positions for hundreds of high-volume keywords.

For every dollar invested in a search campaign we would regularly get ten times that amount back.

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Can independent designers out-rank such companies?

Competing for quality keywords would be difficult to do today, but it’s definitely not impossible. After leaving the logo design company I’ve worked with several freelance designers. We’ve found a lot of ways to outrank the big spenders.

The main SEO mistake made by big companies is they ignore the power of great content. Instead they focus on paid campaigns and “grey hat” practices. A small design blog with a remarkably helpful design article (one that is optimized not just for search engines, but real human beings) can very easily outrank most design companies.

Did these grey hat SEO practices ever result in problems with search engines?

The practices were grey hat simply because a lot of them had never been tried before. We worked closely with companies like SEOmoz to ensure we were pushing boundaries as opposed to pushing buttons. Occasionally, however, we’d see some backlash from Google as a result of something we did (embedding actual links in image formats, for example), but we never faced a penalty.

Subscribing to the SEOmoz pro tools helped me several times, although you can find free alternatives elsewhere.

What SEO tips can you offer independent graphic designers?

If you want to win the “logo design” search game against the larger companies, my advice is three-fold:

  1. Focus on building quality content for your website
  2. Network by helping other designers
  3. Hang in there

View the post that led my interviewee to get in touch: The folly of logo design SEO.

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April 19, 2010


Thanks for keeping this issue alive with this insightful interview.

It will be very interesting to see how Google will evolve to deal with sites that are essentially “playing the system.”

At least this is very encouraging – “A small design blog with a remarkably helpful design article (one that is optimized not just for search engines, but real human beings) can very easily outrank most design companies”

Really scary, even designers should look at writing content and creating link-exchange partnerships.

It is interesting to read about a logo design firm undertaking search engine optimisation, as this is obviously a very competitive keyword that is a challenge to optimise for.

Read the article I thought it worth noting the tactic of the company in question, spending large amounts of money on links from high profile websites. This is certainly a costly way of optimising, and although obviously worth their investment I wonder if there is a better method than this.

The key point about companies missing the power of great content is certainly driven home, this is an essential part of any optimisation. I would be interested to read similar examples to this and hear a bit of insight into how other logo design firms optimise their sites.

You’re very welcome, Duane. It’s clearly in Google’s best interests to keep search results as relevant as possible, but I don’t think the reporting of paid links and content scraping holds any traction. We know from the Logoworks acquisition that this is a multi-million dollar niche, so you’d think a little priority would be placed upon it.

Thanks yet again, David, for posting about this issue.

“The main SEO mistake made by big companies is they ignore the power of great content.” — for me, this is a key statement. Content should be king, and, from what we’ve seen with our agency’s marketing, plus that of our clients, this holds true.

Some very interesting insights into the inner workings of the logo mills. I frankly had no idea how much of a staff was involved with these companies and how much effort was made for SEO. So glad you had a chance to chat with this contact, David.

As far as content is concerned, I can believe that there would be an edge for interesting and original content winning out. So much of the information regarding logo design is regurgitated quite a bit throughout the blogs and websites. Not too often is there something new.

This seems much like the world of retail and ‘big box retailers’ like Walmart. Sure, they will get the lion’s share of purchasers and traffic because they can afford to get their message out there en masse, but that is all mass market product where the price is king.

As an individual or boutique design shop, you can’t compete, nor would you necessarily want to. I believe, that if you’re making an effort to share your knowledge and have pertinent and insightful content, your audience will find you and you will get the project.

Thanks for sharing.

My friend has a client who owns thousands of websites for link building. Instead of contacting a blog for a link back to your site, we can build thousands of websites and give the links back to us. What do you think about this technique? Regards.

“A small design blog with a remarkably helpful design article (one that is optimized not just for search engines, but real human beings) can very easily outrank most design companies.”

Should one take it as marketing strategy than a statement from a seo professional?

Should one create original useful articles, publish it through social media (digg, twitter, design bump etc.) and expect high rankings for his keywords?

Can you share few example blogs successfully practicing this strategy?

ps: can you email me the marketer’s contact details, i am considering hiring him or at least consulting with him.

I wouldn’t have thought so either, Leighton (about the size of the team), and I fully agree about not wanting to compete.

Ardian, sounds like a huge amount of time better spent elsewhere.

Rajesh, the man wants to remain anonymous, so no can do. Cheers, though.

I highly recommend authoring a blog and publishing content that’s useful for others within your chosen niche. Don’t put too much emphasis on pimping your own content, though (through Digg, etc.) as this can be seen as spam-like. Instead, focus on promoting others — those you believe deserve it.

We have been struggling on this keywords ‘Logo design’ for long time too. Only within last year or so we have been able to get on get up to Page 3 ( by hiring SEO an expert in-house writing content. We went through years of exchanging links and trying to change keywords on our site to see what happen if we do this or that…. none of them worked.

We believe that it doesn’t matter how much we write etc. it will almost be impossible to go above domains that have ‘logo design’ within. What does ‘ex-search marketing manager’ think… Do we have any chance?

The whole SEO thing seems to get more and more confusing – perhaps its just me… It can be a little disheartening to discover that after all your hard work to build a site and be careful about content, links etc etc that it hardly appears in a search at all – let alone get anywhere near the top.

The brief summary at the end of this blog is helpful though – do this and don’t do that. Just what I need to see, the ‘wood’ and not so many ‘trees’!

It’s worth mentioning, Mark, that there are many other terms potential clients will search for. So although it’s difficult to breach the first page of “logo design” it’s certainly not overly detrimental. In fact, I’m sure that many designers agree that you stand to earn more by focusing your SEO efforts elsewhere.

Wow. Sorry for the necropost, but as a developer, I must say to those worried about SEO; there’s a lot of hype and secret-keeping out there. This post included.

Here are seven strategies you could try for good SEO:

1. Read Matt Cuts’ blog. Google’s algorithm is actually quite flawed. Stay on top of their fixes.

2. Do a true search for WordPress / no-follow tagging.

3. Solicit comment and other user-created metadata.

4. Forget social if you have nothing to really say. We call this the “Huggies Smackdown”.

5. Be clever with meta keys. Don’t spend too much energy fighting the system.

6. Understand that nothing above comes even close to real gray hat.

7. Read the news. Google loves Apple. Google hates Microsoft. Google hates Apple. See the set, not the wave.

But that’s just our opinion. We’re not bigname experts. We’re just well paid.

Best of luck to all!

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