“In the past few years, Google has really thrown down the gauntlet with updates like Penguin and Panda, essentially saying that if you game the system, you’re risking your entire business (because Google has removed and will continue to blacklist websites that game the system). It’s the long-overdue coup-de-grace for grey-hat and black-hat SEO trickery.”
– Ryan Connors, digital marketing manager at Century Bank
Search engine optimization is a core tenant of today’s digital marketing practices. The rules are strict, the competition fierce and the discipline is constantly evolving.
Things weren’t always this way, however — in years prior, SEO was framed more like the Wild West of marketing; a dominion where anything goes. But as the Internet continues to mature and become more sophisticated in usage, search engines have enacted a series of stringent guidelines and algorithms to ensure that users are presented with the most useful and reputable sources on the Web.
Just like in the real world, however, there are the outliers that go against SEO decrees and attempt to get their website ranked by any means necessary. This is what is now known as “black hat” SEO. And following such a course, more times than not, results in Google and other search destinations laying the smack down on site owners by penalizing them, decreasing their rankings, or banning them altogether.
If you find the risks of such shady dealings outweigh the rewards, welcome to the club. Ensure that your site is largely protected from penalties by renouncing these four popular black hat practices that will likely get you in hot water.
1. Keyword Stuffing
This is one of the oldest, not to mention the best-known of the forbidden SEO techniques.
Keyword stuffing is exactly what it sounds like; cramming website copy full of shoehorned-in keywords in an attempt to rank higher for said phrases. This method often results in content that sounds like redundant drivel. Not only will Google throw the book at any website caught partaking in the deceitful scheme, but it will also send today’s more advanced Internet users in search of a more intelligible source.
Keyword stuffing does not just pertain to website copy, however, because the practice can also be leveraged in meta tags and descriptions. Either way, if you try overloading on keywords, it’s going to hurt your site.
Some site owners try to game the system by leveraging extra keyword usage in invisible text that readers cannot detect. The problem is that search engines still can.
No matter how you cut it, keyword stuffing will get you penalized. Just focus on creating stellar content instead of trying to trick Google bots.
2. Link Buying
If you are trying to get your site ranked higher in the SERPs, as most everyone online is, you’ve probably come across at least one “SEO firm” who guarantees some astronomical number of links and first page placement for a nominal fee. Sounds too good to be true, right? That’s because it is.
These types of aggrandized promises are made because the links your site will receive will mostly be from spammy, low-ranking, and contemptible sites.
The advent of Google’s Penguin algorithm officially put an end to the benefits that can be reaped from lousy links. The only links that really matter now are from high-ranking, reputable and relevant webpages. Anything less will result in penalties at some point or another.
In the immortal words of the former head of the Web spam team at Google, Matt Cutts, “The objective is not to ‘make your links appear natural’; the objective is that your links are natural.”
3. Link Bait and Switch
Link bait and switch, otherwise known as page swapping, is another unscrupulous method designed to undeservingly push sites higher in the SERPs.
In order for this practice to work effectively, a more natural page must acquire a fair amount of inbound links. Once it has garnered a decent amount of traffic, the page’s content is switched out from something else entirely; often something transactional or promotional in nature. This tactic is generally leveraged to drive sales or lead generation.
Here’s the thing: If people are linking back to one of your webpages, you are clearly doing something right and can formulate a plan to do more of the same in order to rank higher. By page swapping you are squandering a great opportunity and, ultimately, you will be demoted by Google and have all of your hard work undone. It is also a practice that is likely to upset your link partners. It doesn’t bode well to be on everyone’s bad side.
4. Duplicate Content and Article Spinning
Duplicate content is a banned by most search engines and is another SEO strategy that will result in harsh penalties. Even if duplicate content is posted on two websites owned by a single individual or entity, they are going to incur some unsavory punishment. If content is ripped form a website by someone who is just too lazy to craft their own, this will also bring down the search engine hammer and possibly legal action from the original creator.
One way that site owners and less-than-honorable SEOs try to get around this is with something known as “article spinning.” In this scenario, a single article is created and then has minor variations made to it in order to produce several “different” articles, which are often subpar. Articles like these have begun to quickly sink in the SERPs in recent years due to their lackluster value.
The lesson from both practices is to always ensure that content is unique.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t update older content for a boost in SEO; that is a perfectly acceptable “white hat” practice and should be done periodically.
It is understandable that SEO can be frustrating sometimes due to its capricious nature. Despite the challenges, there is no reason to resort to black hat techniques; you will be caught, and you will pay the price. If you want to build a solid SEO foundation, stick to today’s best practices, leverage the most powerful SEO tools, and keep your nose to the grindstone; it’s the only way to develop more meaningful and durable results.