I was reading Brandon Shalton's article, "SEO Simplified" in which he discussed the importance of limiting in-bound links from "bad neighborhoods" — that is, from those sites that Google considers to be search engine spammers. Shalton advises webmasters to carefully research and evaluate the sites they want to exchange links with — and I fully agree — but I also will offer that the definition of "bad neighborhoods" needs to be expanded to include sites that offer "questionable" content — and beyond.
While this is an interesting and valuable consideration, it isn't SEO that is on my mind; it's "guilt by association." And just as search engines may penalize websites based upon their associations (links), prospects may penalize marketers for perceived transgressions, whether they do so rightfully and with cause, or wrongfully, mistakenly laying the blame for one problem or another on the site they assumed "caused" it.
An easy example is a surfer who visits a TGP or MGP site and clicks through to a gallery. If that gallery pops a console as the surfer enters it, then he'll likely assume that the TGP site is the culprit. Even though the villain is the gallery poster, who cheated by changing his gallery after having it listed, the surfer will see the TGP as at fault and perhaps never return; thus the actions of another company have caused you to lose a potential customer.
But it wasn't TGP/MGP sites or free gallery submitters that got me started on this new wave of consideration, nor was it SEO — it was "dating sites" and a discussion thread I saw on a message board, where the topic concerned known models and web girls whose images are used in public profiles, such as those geo-IP targeted "meet these sexy girls in your town" ads. The upshot being that when the surfer sees a photo of Taylor Rain and it's identified as "Suzy Snatch from Podunk, Arkansas" then the website displaying that ad loses all credibility.
The problem is when it's your site that is displaying the ad; just one ad out of a hundred that are in rotation, just one ad that only a percentage of visitors will see, just one ad that only a few folks will recognize the model in, just one ad that caused you to lose a handful of potential customers. The problem is, the dating site is your sponsor and your sponsor is costing you money.
Sure, the dating site could be a victim and not the perpetrator. They might not have been using some of Matrix Content's finest to illustrate its bogus profiles, and instead only displaying bogus listings submitted by fraudulent webmasters seeking a free-join payout. Maybe the reviewer just didn't recognize the model and let the profile pass. Who knows?
Viruses, Spam, Blame
Just like it's easy for the surfer to blame your TGP because a gallery dropped a virus on him, or to blame your program because an affiliate spammed him, it's also very easy for a webmaster to erroneously place the blame for one problem or another squarely where it doesn't belong. I'm not going to rush to judgment about adult dating programs and the means by which they bulk up their profile count, nor will I be quick to point out any other "problem area" — other than the problem area of perception.
Dictionary.com defines "perception" as "a single unified awareness derived from sensory processes while a stimulus is present."
The "stimulus" is your website, the "sensory processes" are the visitor's eyes (and maybe ears, too, if you offer audio or video clips), while the "single unified awareness" is the overall feeling the surfer gets while viewing your website — including its advertisements and the other sites it links to.
It may be hard for some operators to take this macro view; for example, those who rely on plugins, feeds or other nonexclusive content, as well as those who may offer advertising and other implied endorsements (such as links emanating from a TGP) may consider these necessary, third-party content elements as being beyond their control.
Regardless of your level of control over any of these elements, you need to consider them and their impact upon your brand and its perception.
If I visit your site and it shows me that Jenna Jameson is waiting for me here in my town, while every gallery link I click tosses me into a console hell, or endlessly redirects me, it's your site that I'll blame and as a result, have a poor impression of.
None of your fancy graphics, stunning photos, hi-def videos, superb navigation or clever approach will matter or be remembered; you'll just be known as the dick who tried to give me worms, and I'll never return.
But none of that was anything you had done; it was your sponsor and a guy you traded links with, and how were you to know? It doesn't matter, worm boy, you lost me.
It's the total approach that matters. Sure, there are practical limits to the amount of due diligence that most operators can perform when it comes to selecting the companies and individuals you and your website associate and do business with online, but even a little attention in this area can go a long way. This is more than a simple "know who you're doing business with," and is based upon a series of complex considerations.
At the end of the day, step back and look beyond the code to the customer: your store is your store and you're responsible for everything in it — make sure that the customer gets what he expects and is treated honestly and fairly; both by you, and your associates.