Google SEO tricks that will get you blacklisted

Black hats were used to identify the bad guys in old Wild West movies. When it comes to Search Engine Optimisation, the term is also associated with unethical cowboys. The white hats were the good guys in Westerns, just as they are in SEO.

Black hats were used to identify the bad guys in old Wild West movies. When it comes to Search Engine Optimisation, the term is also associated with unethical cowboys. The white hats were the good guys in Westerns, just as they are in SEO.

Search Engine Law. The web has a sheriff. He's big, he's mean and he's quick-on-the-draw. His name is Google and if he was a character in a Western he'd be played by John Wayne. Sheriff Google keeps the internet frontier safe for law-abiding citizens and white hat content creators alike.

While white hat websites work within the law, search engines are locked in an ever-escalating shoot-out with black hat practitioners. Internet users get caught in the crossfire on a regular basis; unable to differentiate between reputable sites and those with harmful, spam-filled content.

This guide describes the best ways to get on sherif Google's bad side...

Bad medicine

1) Keyword stuffing is bad medicine. Proper keyword use is not the concern of this article, so for now we'll focus only on the improper kind. Keyword overuse leads to synonym underuse, and makes for content that's inaccessible to the average human user. Though people might not be able to read your content, search engine robots still will. Oversaturated pages will get you penalised.

The average safe density of keywords should be between 2 and 8% of your total word count. When creating copy you should think of your audience, not of your page ranking.

2) Hidden text is invisible to human eyes. Keywords or links can be camouflaged by colour-matching text to background leaving them unreadable to human visitors, but perfectly readable to search engine bots.

More complex methods employ cascading style sheets (CSS) or layering to hide text beneath surface copy. Such text is also readable to a search engine spider and not a human user. Black hat operatives attempt to fill their sites with hidden content for the express purpose of achieving higher rankings in search lists, regardless of whether their pages are relevant to a user's initial search request.

Google law basically states that you should build your website for users, not for search engines. Ignoring this advice by including hidden text or links is one of the quickest ways to get your site blacklist bound.

3) Doorway/gateway/bridge/portal pages are created specifically for search engine bots. They are designed to target particular keywords or phrases and will usually be extremely user-unfriendly and/or difficult to read. Because they are simple devices used to trick people towards actual websites, they rarely contain anything useful (other than prominent “CLICK HERE” links to the real destinations).

Black hat webmasters create portal or bridge pages that bypass the need to click on a link completely, using fast meta refresh commands that whisk you to another site (without so much as a by-your-leave). For this reason, many search engines now refuse to accept pages that use fast meta refresh.

4) Cloaking can be achieved either through IP address delivery or agent delivery. As with people, bots are identified by their user agent or their IP addresses. Two sets of content are created, one delivered to the Google-bot, the other to human visitors. The bot is deceived by the fake pages (the content of which is usually saturated with targeted keywords) and grants the website a higher relevancy ranking. When the user clicks on what they perceive to be a promising link, they're promptly forwarded to a browser page that's nothing to do with their original search.

5) Mirror websites are two or more separate sites that use identical content, but employ different keywords and meta tags to obtain rankings on alternative searches. This technique violates the rules of many search engines, and will probably get one or all of your mirrored sites banned.

Bad neighbourhoods

6) Link farms, specifically free-for-all link farms (FFAs), are to be avoided like the plague. When Google inevitably identifies an FFA as a “bad neighbourhood”, it will infect any linked pages and eventually deflate their values. Link scheme participants obtain links from farm sites in exchange for fees or backlinks, but in either case it's almost certainly an unsound investment.

7) Independent Backlinking Networks (IBLNs) are an entirely different kettle of fish. Black hatters with cash to burn and time to waste might choose to use IBLNs. A network of sites are set up solely to provide backlinks to the pages you wish to promote, in such a way as to increase your standing in search engine rankings. The process is costly as well as time consuming and, if Google finds out, can lead to you getting your entire network dropped from the index (including the site that you're optimising).

8) Backlink generation is a good thing, but generating them too quickly is not. A new website that suddenly surfaces with an inordinate number of backlinks looks suspicious, and spamming will be suspected. You should build backlinks at a natural pace to avoid incurring penalties.

When attaching backlinks to blog or forum posts, you should always keep your content relevant and attempt to bring something to the conversation. If you don't do this, you will be recognised as the spammer you are and rightfully punished.

9) Scraper sites are the online equivalent of a chop-shop. They are spam websites that steal existing content using web scraping, often to generate advertising revenue or to manipulate search engine ranks. Web scraping works in a similar way to web indexing, which is the process employed by most search engines to create ranking lists.

Unscrupulous black hat webmasters use scraping to gather content, before repackaging it for their own purposes. Using someone else's content (even open content) can constitute copyright violation when not adequately referenced.

10) Phishing pages are (according to Google) “a page designed to look like another page in an attempt to steal users' personal information”. The reasons why phishing will get you blacklisted should be obvious, so don't even think about doing it.

Words: Glenn Jacobs

Glenn Jacobs is a web developer and managing director of Neon Digital, which delivers premium and innovative branding, web design, web development, digital strategy and marketing solutions. This article first appeared in issue 226 of net magazine.

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