At first blush, it makes no sense. Google’s algorithm represents one of the most powerful artificial intelligences known to man. Why would any company try to cheat that system and not play by the rules? The answer’s simple: companies have tried to cheat Google for the same reasons they’ve tried to cheat in myriad other ways throughout history--to grow, to compete, to survive.

The current digital marketing landscape is one of the most fiercely competitive spaces in business. Around the world, companies spend billions of dollars, annually, to claw their way up through search engines as they try to best competitors (who are often displayed mere inches away in search results).

Companies who tried to burn Google and lost infographic.

In the early years of Google, it was its own version of the Wild West. Google engineers had to work overtime to keep up with enterprising business owners looking for loopholes. Since then, particularly with recent algorithm updates, balance has been restored and Google has begun to crack down on companies that engage in shortcuts, or “black hat” SEO practices. Still, the path to present day is littered with high-profile examples of companies that tried, and failed, to get an unfair advantage.

Among these examples are revered companies, with great legacies--companies like BMW, The Home Depot, The Washington Post, BBC, eBay. And they all paid a price, in one way or another.

Some infractions occurred many years ago, like when WordPress used “doorway pages” in 2005, to rank for high-cost advertising keywords. Doorway pages are sites or pages created to rank highly for specific search queries, which in turn manipulate Google’s algorithm. When WordPress was caught, Google punished them by causing their home page to not rank for its name, for two full days. In 2016, that loss of traffic would equate to more than $10 million in lost revenue.

Other infractions occurred more recently, like when The Home Depot asked recommended providers for hidden links in 2012. The hardware retailer had providers share links to specific Home Depot pages, with recommended anchor text. As a penalty, Google degraded many of the company’s pages from their Page One rank, over the course of two months. In 2016, an equivalent loss of traffic would be worth more than $37 million.

In the end, the lesson is clear: when it comes to an SEO strategy, it pays to play by the rules. And not just because it ensures you’ll avoid penalties--there’s ample evidence that white hat SEO services are not just tolerated by Google, they’re encouraged as best business practices.