When a company is first starting to implement an SEO strategy on their site, the tendency is to look for the fastest path to reaching the goal of ranking #1 for your most important keywords. Often this approach can resemble the hare in Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare. The marketing team gets really excited to start the campaign, and with little planning they launch programs to get as many links as possible pointing to the site.

However, this strategy can have disastrous consequences. Often pursuing rapid link growth involves risky tactics that can result in Google penalties that can remove you from the Google index or lower your rankings significantly. Two examples of this are the SEO company iAcquire and the retailer JC Penny who were banned from the Google index for a period of time (they were both able to get back into Google’s good graces).  Google also considers the rate of new inbound links and can be suspicious if you suddenly earn too many links when you normally earn few links.

The better approach to SEO is to be like the tortoise: slow and steady.

Developing high quality content on a regular basis that people want and promoting that content to earn links over the long term is often the best path to success. This means a ton of hard work but over time Google tends to reward sites that consistently produce great content and have a steady growth in inbound links.

A great example of the hare strategy at work is the Everywhereist blog.

Image source: SEOMoz.org

According to SEOMoz, Geraldine spent 3-5 hours a day on her travel blog for years before the site experienced a huge jump in traffic. Most bloggers are not patient enough to keep pushing forward until they get over the hump or what Seth Godin calls “the Dip”. But once you build enough momentum, your site can experience a self-perpetuating cycle of traffic. Since more people visit your site, more people are likely to want to link to it, which increases the authority. Once you build up enough authority, you will start ranking #1 for more and more keyword phrases, and the site ranking #1 receives a disproportional amount of rewards. According to a study by Optify, the #1 ranking in Google receives an average click through rate of 36.4% while the #2 ranking receives an average of 12.5%.

Effective SEO is more like a marathon than a sprint. So think like the hare and your online marketing strategy can win in the long run.