Years ago, the search engine optimization (SEO) landscape was a free-for-all. In an effort to get the most traffic possible, many business websites walked the line between SEO best practices known as “white hat SEO” and shady, manipulative tactics known as “black hat SEO”. Then, Google began cracking down on common black hat SEO tactics via penalties and search algorithm filters like Panda and Penguin, which devalue poor content and spammy link building respectively. As a result, it is now much more difficult to spam the Google, Bing and Yahoo search engines.
These days, attempts to manipulate organic search rankings are more likely to get you a penalty and may result in a decrease in rankings and traffic instead of the increases you were hoping to get. In extreme cases, if your business website is engaging in aggressive black hat SEO tactics, then it may even get removed from Google’s index altogether and, in turn, lose all online visibility and organic search traffic. Don’t think it can happen to your business’ website? Think again. Google has already made examples of multiple big brands using black hat tactics like BMW, JC Penny and Overstock by de-indexing their sites or devaluing their organic rankings.
Now, more than ever, it is in your best interest to avoid any black hat SEO tricks on your business’ website. There is much more value in doing things the right way from the beginning by providing high quality content and a strong user experience. Below are a few common black hat SEO tactics to avoid at all costs.
When a webpage repeats keywords or “money” phrases either in the title tag, description tag, or throughout the content on the page to read like gibberish, it can have a negative effect on the ranking. Search engines have been aware of this black hat trick for years and are able to find sites guilty of using this method fairly easily. Very rarely will sites with crudely keyword-stuffed pages rank well in search results.
Instead, write copy that adds value to the reader; and rather than overdoing the keyword placement, use semantically related words throughout the content. Writing for the search engines is a thing of the past, and focusing on providing rich content to readers is an established SEO best practice.
Hidden Text and Links
Hidden text is exactly what you would think it is. It is content that search engines see but is invisible to readers with the idea being that it will help improve rankings in the SERPs. Some sites might have text or links throughout their pages that blend in with the background color or image so visitors will never notice their existence. But the search engines can easily identify hidden text as spam and will therefore treat your website as such.
If you include links on your page, make them obvious to readers and make sure that the links add value. Don’t hide links within your copy by keeping the text color the same throughout. Everything you put on your page should be legible to search engines as well as viewers.
Cloaking and Doorway Pages
Used to trick search engines and users alike, content is presented to search engine spiders in order to increase ranking, but the site’s visitors will never actually see the content described in the SERP because they will be redirected to a completely different page – often times a spam site. Doorway pages are mostly meant to trick search engines, not humans, making them easy to identify by users.
Create webpages that users want and expect to see based on the description listed on the SERP, and fill landing pages with relevant and rich content. This black hat SEO tactic is especially dangerous as Google recently announced that it will update its algorithm to penalize sites with doorway pages.
Also known as page swapping, website owners might change a page entirely once it gets indexed and ranked in search results. It is mostly used for websites that don’t have any real appeal to users. It’s okay to change and update the content on pages as long as the intent is not to manipulate rankings and the overall topic of the site remains intact.
Copying content from another site may have a negative effect on your rankings, regardless if you have permission or not. If your business website features content that search engines found on another site first, then your site will probably get dinged for using duplicate content. If you are going to quote another article or source, do it in small amounts and always cite your source. And if you need to use content that has already been published elsewhere, then consider using a canonical tag as a digital citation for the search engines. In the end, it is always best to avoid duplicating content and create original content that adds value instead.
Keep in mind that you may run into duplicate content issues even if you aren’t copying content directly from other sites. Some content management systems will produce duplicate pages on different URLs for different product categories. For example, if you sell red widgets, you may have the same content on your “red” category page and your “widgets” category page without even knowing it. Implementing good site architecture is a technical SEO issue that you should keep in mind as you build out your business website.
Comment Spam or Blog Spam
Every link on an external site that points back to your pages counts as a ‘vote’ that can help increase your ranking in search results. Knowing this, some site managers might try to cheat the system by posting links as comments on external blogs in order to increase the number of inbound links or ‘votes’.
It is best to stay away from this black hat SEO tactic since it is an easy footprint for the search engines to identify. If you are going to do this, only do so sparingly and make sure the link has some relevancy to the blog or article you are commenting on, at least. Otherwise, post insightful and informative comments related to the article without a link.
Search engines don’t only take into account the number of links a site has pointing back to it, but also the quality of the pages that contain the links. Search engines scan pages for relevancy and when they see links pointing to a business that sells red widgets on a page about different types of coffee, it raises a red flag. Also, never buy links and avoid over-using your top keywords in the anchor text used in links.
Business owners, site managers and marketers may be guilty of practicing some of these black hat SEO tricks without even knowing it. As search engines advance the way they determine a websites’ rankings and value, it is critical for businesses to make sure that their sites are in full compliance with SEO best practices. Keeping up with these changes and making sure your website is following white hat SEO techniques is imperative in avoiding getting penalized by the search engines. Avoid any manipulative tactics and add value via quality content and a good user experience. Your readers and your SEO rankings will thank you for it.