Are you engaged in risky business behaviors?

If you’ve ever been in the restaurant business, you know all too well that there’s no profit in food. The profit comes from the drinks, the $9 alcoholic beverage that costs them $0.80 in ingredients. Drink a few of those and not only do you significantly increase your value to the restaurant, but because your bill goes up your tip goes up commensurately and the serving staff earns more too.
Which is why you just know that the staff at a restaurant just hates to hang this sort of sign up:

Lost Liquor License

How does this happen? Every time I have talked to restaurant employees about this sort of problem, it’s always “because someone underage was served”. And the people at the restaurant are pretty darn upset about their significant loss in income.
My question to you, dear reader, is what are you doing that threatens the long-term health of your business?
A few examples come to mind…


Lack of Differentiation
The first mistake that I see a lot of companies making, even those that have received funding and are media darlings, albeit often temporarily, is that they aren’t bothering to differentiate themselves. I mean, how many “vote for your favorite site” or “link with your friends” sites do we really need?
This is a classic business error, actually, and while it won’t produce virtual “lost liquor license” signs, it will inevitably make it incredibly difficult for your customers to know which service to use (see my earlier article on social network fatigue for an example of what I mean) and likely mean that everyone dies a slow death of unsustainable customer acquisition costs and attrition.
Duplicating Content
Whether you’re taking the lazy path of copying and pasting an article from the New York Times or falling prey to the siren song of article directories, if you aren’t publishing unique, fresh, custom content on your site, you are running some quite significant risks, not the least of which is that the search engines themselves will categorize you as having duplicate content and give you the digital boot.
Even if you aren’t caught out by Google (perhaps because you used so-called article spinning software that takes an existing article and tweaks sentences to change then, though at the cost of readability and coherence) you’re still trying to take a shortcut, a shortcut that isn’t offering up any value to your readers and customers. If you don’t respect them, however, what kind of business are you running?
Succumbing to Black Hat SEO Tactics
There are lots of best practices for making your pages and site more findable, including good use of keywords in your page titles, using a search-engine friendly writing style, and making sure that you use basic HTML to help denote the more important elements on a page, rather than just CSS. You probably know most of them by this point, actually.
But there are lots of other ways that you can try to add some “honey” to attract that ole’ search engine ‘fly”, including having invisible text that’s just a load of keywords, having more keyword-rich pages for search engines than for human visitors to your site, even having bogus sites that exist purely to point to legit sites, and far worse.
Just like using “bait and switch” print advertising or lying about the quality of ingredients on your menu at a restaurant (“really, it’s all organic, that’s why it’s 30% more expensive”), using duplicitous and unethical methods to promote your business online is an invitation for trouble of the worst kind. In the example at the beginning of this article, at least the eatery only has a temporary suspension of its liquor license: if the search engines catch you using black hat SEO techniques, you’re out of the search engine forever.
How much might that cost you? Well, go check your logs to see how much of your traffic is a product of search results versus links from other sites. I bet it’s a lot more than you think!
Theft of Intellectual Property
I know, perhaps forgetting to link back to a source isn’t so bad if you think about it as “inspiration comes from many sources” but when you recognize it for what it really is, it’s never a good idea to steal ideas from other people, whether it be specific blog entries, color schemes, or even complete visual designs.
For the employees at the restaurant – especially here in a college town – the loss of a liquor license can mean a drop of 50% or more in their income (if you don’t think so, ask your next server whether drinks quickly increase the bill, and whether drinkers are bigger tippers). All because of circumstances that are the result of bad judgment on the part of one employee. You can also understand why when establishments do have their liquor license suspended, the offending employee becomes quite hated and summarily fired, even if they were just “cutting a customer some slack because they seemed cool”.
These sort of lapses in judgment, these moments where the desire to earn just a bit more money overrides common sense, can occur with all businesses, so the question I again invite you to ask yourself is:
What are you doing today that might well be jeopardizing the long-term health of your business?

2 comments on “Are you engaged in risky business behaviors?

  1. I have taken time to read a number of books on this subject and your points are well-taken. I realize the value of unique content in its ability to attract repeat website visitors. I’ve also stumbled on some sites which appear to be “farms” and I avoid these tactics like the plague. Its exhilarating to realize that the long-term state of my website and business begin with me, my principals, ethics and ability to stay on top of what is acceptable and unacceptable to search engine robots.

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