There are a number of sketchy ways for you to optimize your website, each one that can cause your site to be penalized by the search engines. Practice any one of these with consistency and you may find your site invisible in Google, controller of approximately 70 percent of all search engine traffic. Naughty or “black hat” SEO practices should be avoided; we name seven egregious examples here.
1. Link Commerce. Search engines, especially Google, value websites based on a number of reputation factors including the sites that link to it. The quantity and quality of links can raise a website’s visibility tremendously.
Links pass PageRank, a Google method for ranking web pages. Links that pass PageRank are in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can adversely effect that site’s ranking in the search results.
Google does permit you to sell links as part of your advertising strategy, but not for helping others game their PageRank position. To avoid being penalized by Google, you’ll want to add a “no follow” attribute to the link tag. Google states that you can also redirect “…the links to an intermediate pages that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file.
2. Link Exchange. The difference between link commerce and link exchange seems, on the surface, to be small. With the former, money is exchanged between two parties; with the latter, no money changes hands, just links.
The problem with link exchanges is that they’re typically done to impart PageRank artificially. Google calls these practices “link schemes” and may penalize your site accordingly. Links that Google deems as intending to manipulate PageRank, including links to bad neighborhoods or known spam sites and are used in excess, can cause your site to take a hit. Avoid reciprocal linking that appears unnaturally such as a list of blogs that you follow in your sidebar.
3. Barter Deals. Some webmasters create complex linking strategies that they think won’t catch the attention of search engines. These strategies are sometimes embraced by small time web managers and, surprisingly, have been used by large companies too.
Let’s take the example of J.C. Penney. In February 2011, the New York Times exposed a practice where the giant retailer was finishing atop of the search engine results pages in searches for words such as “furniture” and “home decor.” They also finished atop for specific keywords and phrases such as “grommet top curtains” and “Samsonite carry on luggage,” the latter beating even Samsonite.com. Turns out that Penney’s search engine company was buying links to push the retailer up to the top of the SERPs. The Times article prompted Google to intervene, effectively burying numerous SERP results for the retailer. Overstock.com employed a similar strategy, but bartered links in exchange for discounts on its site.
4. Doorway Pages. Creating pages to take users from one page to another is a doorway page. Such pages are largely frowned upon, but not always for reasons that you might imagine.
Doorway pages are allowed, but they must contain useful and original content. Moreover, those pages should be filled with “rich information” and contain the usual relevant keywords that is related to your content. Be mindful, however, that pages that contain scraped or automatic generated material will be penalized. Employing sneaky redirects on these pages will have you courting Google’s wrath.
5. Page Swapping. You get a page to naturally rank high in the SERPs, but then you get the idea to change the content completely, perhaps placing a sales or affiliate page in its place.
Certainly, you can and should update your page content when the information changes or more relevant news can be shared. But, those changes must be related to the content it got ranked for and never four new content that is unrelated.
6. Mirrored Content. The search engines prize unique, interesting and well written content. This makes for pages that can rank quite well and raise the visibility of your website.
Sites that make use of mirrored content, material that is found elsewhere on the Internet, can be devalued. Those great articles you found on an article directory may appear on several other websites, effectively diminishing the value of your pages. Avoid spun articles too — material that has been changed slightly to appear unique. Search engine sophistication can pick up subtle variations of text too.
7. Keyword Stuffing. The more you use keywords, the better…right? Wrong. Keywords should appear naturally within your articles or content — a good rule of thumb is one for every 100 words of text written.
It also goes without saying that you avoid placing your keywords at the bottom of your page and either changing the color of the text to make it look invisible or using a smaller font. You’ll get Google-slapped for employing a black hat SEO practice and will have to beg the search engines to reinstate your site once you remedy the problem.
We just went over seven black hat SEO practices, including some of the more obvious ones that are used less often today. White hat SEO practices include guest blogging, using keywords in your headers, making use of meta tags, employing natural link baiting, and making use of relevant press releases. Each of these practices are considered legitimate and can help your website thrive online when embraced in accordance with webmaster guidelines.