Everybody knows that feeling deep down inside when our conscience warns us that we’re about to do something that’s not quite right. You’ll get that feeling if ever you stray into the less respectable areas of SEO. The rules of good SEO aren’t complicated after all, we just learned what ethical SEO involves, and it isn’t rocket science!
The techniques we’ll discuss here should be avoided if you’re focused on building rankings that will stand the test of time. Many of these tactics will incur penalties from search en- gines if they’re discovered, and some might lead to the site being removed from the search listings altogether. Black hat tactics, as these are commonly called, should be seen as the mark of desperation: those that employ them do so because they lack the skill and dedication to build a strong SEO campaign.
Search engines dislike being tricked into thinking that a website is more relevant than it actually is. That’s why buying paid links from other websites is an issue: it can have an undue influence on the makeup of a search results page.
Imagine what would happen if search engines openly allowed paid links without any punishment. The company with the deepest pockets would always be ranked first! Fortunately for us internet users, search engines do penalize paid links, so relevance is still the deciding factor in determining rankings.
Make no mistake: buying links is an extremely common practice. Chances are that your competitors have tried it, or are doing it right now. But when those links are ultimately identified as paid, search engines devalue them, and the site’s rankings will decrease as a result.
Writing content can be difficult, even on a good day. But writing totally unique, engaging content that ranks highly in search engines is harder. There are thousands of online services that allow you to syndicate content; in effect, allowing you to populate a website with content from another system without having to write a word.
On paper this technique sounds like a brilliant idea: fill the site with content, because the more content, the higher the rankings – right? Wrong. Search engines have sophisticated systems for identifying and devaluing duplicate content. This means that your website will quickly become little more than a repository of useless content.
There is a place for syndicated content: news streams are a perfect example. Once again, though, use your common sense and ask yourself, “Does adding this content provide value to my visitors?” If the answer is yes, adding syndicated content can make sense.
If you discuss SEO with anyone who built websites around the year 2000, they’ll often have the opinion that the more keywords you add to a page, the more relevant that page becomes to a search engine. The practice is called keyword stuffing: stuffing the page full of keywords for the sole purpose of tricking search engines into thinking the page is more relevant than it actually is. Today, keyword stuffing often makes your page less relevant for a keyword, rather than more relevant.
All the major search engines employ extremely complicated phrase, sentence, paragraph, and page analysis to every single site that they spider and index. Natural language patterns are analyzed, and keyword-stuffed pages – which bear little resemblance to natural language – are devalued. It’s that simple.
When a website presents one version of content to a visitor and a different version of the same content to a search engine, it’s called cloaking. There are dozens of ways to cloak web pages, and quite a few of these methods work very successfully, delivering high rankings for those web pages.
But make no mistake: cloaking is on all the major search engines’ blacklists. This is an extremely unethical technique that will result in your site being banned completely from a search engine if your tactics are discovered. And, given that your competitors are likely to have an eye on the tactics you’re employing and can easily report you, discovery is all but inevitable.
Once again, remember the mantra: develop websites that are optimized for the users’ experience as well as the search engines’ spiders.
Automated Link Building
Hundreds of applications and services on the market today claim to be able to develop thousands of backlinks to your site for next to nothing. This sounds like quite a deal, but as usual, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
Using software or services to automate your link-building efforts is a bad idea. These systems work by submitting your website to tens of thousands of extremely low-quality directories, whose sole purpose is to receive submissions from automated software tools.
You’ll receive the 10,000 links, just like the software promises. However, what those selling the services fail to mention is that one relevant link from a trusted website in your industry can have ten times the impact of those 10,000 links.
Do the math, and it’s not hard to work out that your time is better spent focusing on quality, rather than quantity.