You want to improve your business website’s search engine ranking and you heard of some SEO “tricks” that can give you a boost.  Tread carefully, if it is Black Hat SEO tactics, it can get your website search rank penalized or worse – banned.

What is Black Hat SEO

As a business owner, you know what “terms of service” are.  Google, along with Bing and every other search engine, has “terms of service” too which you have to follow or risk losing the Google “privilege.”  Black Hat SEO involves using tactics that may improve your search rank but violate terms of service.

Violation of Google’s TOS can get your website delisted from search and every other associated service like Google Maps.  Even if you don’t get banned, Black Hat SEO can hurt your search rank and damage your reputation.

Recognizing Black Hat SEO

Figuring Google’s methods out is a constant challenge but there really aren’t any shortcuts.  Your website should be providing value to your customers.  If it isn’t providing real information, it shouldn’t be there.  A few years ago, you could improve your search rank by some rote tricks but today, Google is much smarter and can and is on the lookout for SEO tactics that don’t provide value.

If something looks like a “trick,” it probably is and if it sounds or looks bad, it definitely is.  Here are some of the most common (and most damaging) Black Hat SEO practices.

Keyword schemes

Google used to base search ranks on frequency of exact keyword matches.  A search for “cat dewormer medicine” would have different results than a search for “medicine to deworm cats” and the more often you had the right phrase, the better.  Google has learned how to tell the difference between natural language and junk so your text and content has to be real.

  • Keyword stuffing involves figuring out what your potential customers might be searching for and using those keywords over and over (and over and over) even when it doesn’t sound good.  Keyword stuffing shouldn’t be done anywhere – including in your alt image descriptions and meta tags.
  • Doorway or gateway pages.  These are keyword stuffed pages that don’t have a lot of content but are just there to lure Internet users.  Not only are they dishonest, they are ugly and will irritate potential customers.
  • Unrelated keywords.  Everything on each page should be relevant.  Your blog post about deworming cats shouldn’t have extra text about dogfood and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong.
  • Hidden text or links.  Hidden text is exactly what it sounds like.  It is text, usually keywords, that is written into the code of your site but is hidden from normal viewing.  The text is readable by the search engine but hidden from normal viewing because of tiny font size, matching text and background colors, or having text that it actually outside of the margins.  Hidden links like those attached to a single digit or character are also a no go.

Link schemes  

Google wants to see inbound links to your website but they need to be “real.”  

  • Buying links.  Some businesses will try and sell you links.  The problem is that they are most often posted around the Internet as spammy comments or articles or randomly posted on unrelated websites.  Quality is more important than quantity so social media accounts, directory listings, reviews and any mentions you can get on reputable news or business sites are the type that you need.
  • Link exchanges.  You shouldn’t be doing anything “just” to get a link to your website posted.  Don’t agree to post someone else’s link or offer free products in exchange for links.  Don’t post articles or guest blogs just for a link either.  If you are blogging on someone’s site – it should provide value there, too.
  • Link bait and switch.  This is actually the worst of the link schemes.  Link bait and switch is when real content is published but then taken down and replaced with advertising so someone clicks on what looks like an article but gets an ad instead.  This practice can damage both your Google rank and your business reputation.
  • Comment spamming.  Usually involves software or bots that travel around and leave comments with links on blogs or message boards.  Most message boards and blogs have their own rules for link posting which will be in their terms of service or rules but generally, self-promoting links in comments are not cool.  If you have a blog (and you should), you will need a method to fight spam yourself if you allow comments.  Fortunately, WordPress and most blogging platforms have a plugin that will help.
  • Too many links.  Google likes links – inbound, outbound and internal links but too many can be a problem.  Don’t overuse links in bios, descriptions and limit your use of internal links between pages to one or two.

Content schemes 

All of your content should be natural, original, fresh and authentic.  There simply aren’t any shortcuts and, long-term, your customers will only keep coming back if you offer real value on a regular basis.

  • Article spinning is done by software that takes one article and rewrites it several times without actually providing new information.  Article spinning done by software is usually badly written but you shouldn’t “manually” spin articles either.  New content should provide new value.
  • Duplicate content.  This is basically plagiarism of content that is slightly changed to be “new.”  It isn’t okay to use someone else’s or even to duplicate your own content.  What you can do is provide a new angle-like a blog post about “the benefits of natural pet food” that is followed by another post about “the expense of organic dog food.”
  • Content Scraping.  Using content from one website to attract search traffic to another.  Similar to article spinning but is usually done to increase click rates – to improve AdSense or other pay per click revenue.
  • Webrings.  Making multiple websites whose only real purpose is to link to each other.  This used to work but it isn’t helpful today.

Domain squatting

 This is tricky.  It is perfectly okay to think up and buy “good” domain names and hold them to sell later for a profit.  It isn’t ok to buy a domain with the intent of “forcing” a business to buy it from you.  This includes brand names, trademarks, and buying websites that are “typos” of real sites.

Reporting

Whenever a savvy Internet user comes across Black Hat tactics, it can be reported to Google.  Just remember, Google knows who reported it and filing a false report against a competitor is pretty easy for them to identify.  Fake, negative reviews are bad, too, but fake Google reports are dealt with harshly.

Google’s algorithm shifts can leave businesses gasping with efforts to keep up with good SEO practices. Even though it is complex, the rules really aren’t “tricky” like they used to be.  Google gets “smarter” every day with natural language learning and isn’t fooled by those tricks anymore anyway.  You just need to follow some basic SEO practices and then make sure you optimize for local search!

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