Search engines try to serve the most relevant result that would meet the needs of a searcher. In order to do that, they set guidelines that all websites need to comply with. These search engine guidelines can vary slightly from search engine to search engine. These guidelines provide the framework for SEO best practices. SEO and online marketing techniques that do not violate these guidelines help a website perform better in search engine rankings.
For most companies, marketing teams and online marketing companies, the pressure to perform can sometimes result in short cuts being taken that can violate the search engine guidelines — intentionally or otherwise. When this happens, there’s a chance that search engines would penalize or ban the website from search results. The quest for short term results can result in long term damage that can be difficult to reverse. It is important to be aware of what you should not do in order to either plan a sustainable SEO campaign in-house or to effectively evaluate the work done by your SEO agency.
What is Black Hat SEO?
Any SEO practice that is considered unethical or deceptive is considered black hat SEO. Technically, any violation of a search engine’s guideline can be deemed unethical and so can be consider black hat. All violations are not serious and most search engines tend to ignore minor violations if the rest of the site’s SEO practices are ethical and search engine friendly. However, there are SEO techniques that are considered serious violation of search engine guidelines and can result in penalization. Given below are some of the most serious violations that can hurt your website. These are some black hat SEO techniques you should try and avoid and make sure your SEO agency does not practice.
There was a time not too long ago when many SEO agencies advocated that the only way to acquire links was to purchase them. Many businesses were created and thrived on monetizing purchase and sale of links. These businesses had to wind up or find new avenues after Google’s Penguin update established that this was clearly a black hat SEO technique to be avoided. Even in the days when this was considered a legitimate practice by many, good SEO agencies like Flying Cow Design never recommended this as a way to acquire links, relying mainly on organically building links for clients.
Just as bad as purchasing links is participating in linking schemes like participating in link farms, indiscriminate link exchange, affiliate and advertising links masked as organic links, hidden or invisible links, paid blogging and more. All of these are considered deceptive and not natural linking practices and should be avoided.
Duplicate and near duplicate content
Creating multiple pages with the same or extremely similar content — often with just the name of a place or a few words changed does not add any new value and just crowds search engine indexes. Also creating different pages with only the targeted keyword being slightly different, with no difference in the message conveyed is pretty much the same as duplicate or near duplicate content. Many sites were penalized for poor quality content after Google’s Panda updates started rolling out, making websites thinking about content strategies. You need to make sure that every piece of content you publish on your website has some value to add and doesn’t qualify as duplicate or near duplicate content.
Consider this: Ten writers independently write an article on the same topic with very closely defined focus and message in each paragraph. Since each writer’s style and language would be different, these would all be unique pages. Not only do you now have 10 pages saying the same thing, but through mixing and matching paragraphs from the different pieces of content, you could be creating tens of thousands of pages saying the same thing. This is manual content spinning. The same can be done using tools that replace words with synonyms and creating many pages with technically unique content but no unique value. This is considered a black hat technique that can result in penalization.
A common misconception is that if a keyword appears more number of times in the content, the page would eventually rank for that keyword. This misconception leads to companies and agencies stuffing the content of the page with keywords that make the content read awkward and takes away the reader-friendliness of the content. This is, at best, considered over-optimization and can also be considered a black hat technique aimed at deceiving the search engine. You need to make sure that your content adds value to the reader and isn’t stuffed with keywords aimed at search engines.
This is yet another technique that has often been practiced by web design firms and SEOs. White text against a white background, using CSS to display text so small that it is unreadable, displaying the text outside the visible area of an HTML page, hiding text behind widgets, Flash, etc., have all been tried with short term success by SEOs. All of these are considered black hat. Anything that is visible to search engines should also be visible to visitors and shouldn’t be hidden or rendered invisible in any way.
These are pages created only for search engines and not for visitors. For a long time SEOs used to wrongly recommend that these were the only way to rank for keywords. Any page that doesn’t add value to visitors is unlikely to rank in search results and can at best be a waste of time and a flooding of search engine index.
Cloaking happens when websites display different content to visitors and search engines. This is considered a black hat SEO technique and should be avoided because it can result in penalization.
Ad only pages
Many times, in an effort to monetize their domains and websites, pages get created that contain nothing but advertising messages linking to other websites. These are considered black hat and shouldn’t be used. Google’s latest page layout algorithm also penalizes any page that has advertising in the first fold and content displayed only after scrolling. It is important to have pages with quality content that is displayed high in the page layout.
These are just some of the serious violations of search engine guidelines and also some of the more common black hat SEO techniques that you need to avoid while doing SEO in-house or working with an agency. Partnering with an agency that takes pride in white hat SEO and is well aware of the guidelines is one of the ways to ensure you build a website with sustainable SEO without the risk of penalization, regardless of future changes in search engine algorithms.
Online Marketing Services from Flying Cow Design
When you work with an online marketing firm for the SEO of your website, it is important that your partner understands search engine guidelines and avoids back hat SEO techniques that can hurt your website in the long run. Flying Cow Design has been helping clients build a strong online presence through our design and online marketing services. When you need a website that will improve your online presence through white hat SEO, talk to us about our internet marketing services.
CEO, Flying Cow Design
Attended University of Auckland
Lives in San Francisco Bay Area