Avoiding Penalties

Search Engine Spam – What is it and Why You Shouldn’t Do It.

Black hat SEOWhen we talk about spam as it relates to search engines, we are referring to any tactic or technique used to deliberately deceive the search engines into a false understanding of what a web page or website is about. The intention of course is to get your site to rank higher than it deserves to be ranked. Back in the stone age of web development before Google existed, the search engines available were Infoseek, Hotbot, Altavista, Dogpile and a few others. Search engine optimization was in its infancy and most web designers didn’t take the idea of page rank very seriously. As a result, a lot of trickery was used in an attempt to fool the search engines into listing websites higher on the search results page than they deserved to be. As Google became more and more sophisticated these tricks became less and less effective. These various dubious techniques came to be collectively known as “black hat” techniques and can no longer be used without risking some very harsh penalties. Here’s the thing to remember. You can’t fool Google and although some complain about it, that’s a good thing. Why? Because staying on Google’s good side means your website content is well written, relevant, focused and giving users what they want.

Types of Search Engine Spam

Here are some of the things you can’t do anymore:

  • Avoiding penaltiesKeyword stuffing – this refers to overusing your keywords in the misguided hope that it will prove to Google how relevant your site is for those keywords. There are lots of different ways to do this. One of the sneakier techniques is to use white text on a white page background (black text on a black background and so on). This way you can stuff your keywords to your hearts content knowing that Google will see the words but your visitors won’t. This is considered deceptive by Google and will definitely get your page pulled from its index. Once that happens, good luck getting back in.
  • Cloaking – this is a technique where the content seen by the search spiders is different than the content presented to users. This is achieved by inserting code into a website that detects whether the user requesting a page is a person or a search spider. If it’s a search engine, then a different version of the page is delivered – one that contains different content from the visible page.
  • Deceptive Redirection – this is a technique that redirects a user to a different location than what was expected based on the link that was clicked. For example, you’re a guitar enthusiast so you click on a link that says “learn more about the Gibson Les Paul guitar” hoping to get more details about your favorite instrument. Imagine your surprise – and disappointment – when you find yourself on a site with very questionable content, i.e. gambling, porn, drugs, etc. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most deceptive, this technique is an 11.
  • Link Farms – a link farm is a group of websites that all link to each other. Links to your website from other websites is a strong ranking factor in Google’s algorithm. The purpose of link farms is to generate links back to your site in an attempt to deceive Google into thinking your site is highly relevant or popular. Here’s the problem. While it’s true that links back to your site are important, they must be quality links, meaning they must be from sites that have some relevance to your core business. If you’re a plumber, links to your site from a pet food distributor won’t increase your relevance. Instead, you will likely be penalized by Google.

Don’t Get Blacklisted

There are other types of spam but the point is this. Spamming the search engines is simply not worth the risk. Once you’ve been blacklisted by Google it’s very difficult to get back in. Make sure your website presents content to your users that is relevant, honest and a true reflection of who you are and what you do. You’ll never have to worry about penalties and you can be satisfied knowing that your site ranks well in search results because it deserves to.