Search Engine Optimization strategies are an ever moving target. What was once a crafty method to gain better ranking is now a sure way to get a website penalized and invisible. Avoid these Black Hat SEO techniques and keeping your ranking trend from going negative.
Don’t Pick up Any Black-Hat Tactics on Your Way to Number One
BLACK HAT 101
- Bait & Switch and Click Bait
- Keyword Stuffing
- Over-Optimized Alt Descriptions
- Over-Optimized Headings
- Over-Optimized Anchor Text – Internally and external
- Hidden/invisible text or links
- Copied or Scraped Content
- Content Automation
- Malicious Active Content
- Spammy GuestPost
- Spammy Blog Commenting
- Link Farm
- Shady Redirect
- Commercial Anchor-Text Keywords
- Automated Google Queries
- Site Hacking
- Url Hijacking
- Link (Toxic) Sites
- Negative SEO
- Spamming Social Media
- TrackBack Spam
I. CONTENT SCAMS & WEBSITE OVER-OPTIMIZATION
1. Bait and Switch and Click Bait
The old bait and switch is done by ranking a page for a particular keyword and niche subject matter and then changing the content to something completely different. It used to work well, except the bounces rate start giving a pretty clear indicator to the search engines that something is amiss. In a sense it is misleading people to believe they will find something when they click on your link, only it is not there when they get to your landing page.
In general it is not overly risky legally speaking, but there have been lawsuits that have been generated in some cases.
In 2011, Groupon got in some hot water for a ‘’Bait and Switch’ tactic in Search Ads. The suit brought against them was for running “false and misleading business and advertising acts”
Clickbait is similar to the bait and switch but clicking on the link will take you to a page that is similar to what your may have expected. Usually done with an eye catching headline that indicates something that is not accurate when the user clicks on the site. A headline that says “Britney Spears Dead” is actually an article about Britney Spears being dead set against animal Cruelty. This technique is often used by websites that generate income based on clicks. In the long run it hurts you CTR, Trustflow and ranking.
We also see a variation of this technique (Link BAIT & SWITCH) in where the webmaster changes content to that of an entirely commercial nature after having gained links to the page with content that was not related to the content of the commercial content.
This is the act of using two pieces of content. One is written for the man and one for machine. It is in done in an attempt to gain ranking for the page by appeasing what the bot crawlers are looking for to rank better while serving different (but related content – which makes it distinctly different from the bait and switch) to the human users. While there is nothing morally wrong about doing this, it does violate Google guidelines and leaves you open to a Penguin Penalty. Google views anything that attempts to trick its algorithm as punishable by ranking penalization.
Another similar technique is using Doorway (Gateway) pages. Here the Black Hat scoundrel uses cloaking techniques to send the user to a page unrelated to the query. It is an adaptation of a redirection. In March 2015, Google launched a new doorway page penalty algorithm especially for this type of technique.
3. Keyword Stuffing
In that late 1990’s Keyword stuffing was a popular tactic. Popular because it actually worked, though not in the benefit of the user, which is why it is a bad practice. Google and the other search engines began to notice that the search result were not relevant to the user so they Began to modify the algorithm to deal with this. I personally recall doing a google search for the word “SWORD” and getting a Serp result that included Ufo landings, Tv shows and pornography. The oldest version of the keyword stuffing technique was simply to jam your page full of Nouns that were repeated and somewhat random. (CAR. HAT. BlOND. SOCKS. HAT SOCKS. BLOND CAR etc..) It is easy to see how this fell quickly out of favour and was adjusted for.
Keyword stuffing did still work for a while because site developers and writers began to modify their approach by putting words into sentences and paragraphs. Again though, it was quickly redundant to the user. Paragraphs, like the one below, become useless to the user because they are not passing along any value. In reality who talks like this?:
Unnatural text is a bad user experience that will get your website penalized by the Google Panda Algorithm. It is considered low quality content. If you are not writing in a manner that serves the interest of your reader than you are looking for trouble. Panda will get you and you won’t be ranking at all. It is also important to look out for use irrelevant keywords just to rank. To be clear this usually come in the for of having no relevance to the Niche your are focused on. If you are using keywords to rank about shoes and you sell shoe.. all is well, but ranking for hockey gear and not having on your site will mean your bounce rate will go up and your CTR down along with your ranking.
Its almost as though Google likes taking your site down.
4. Over-Optimized Alt Description
As the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This is true and it is recommended that your do put images in your articles, as well as video’s as is necessary. However, much like Keyword stuffing, you can get into trouble if you are overusing specific wording the Alt description of the picture. This can happen by putting the same description onto several pictures the are visible on your page. While the descriptions themselves will not be visible to the user, the search engine bots while make use of them, for better or worse. Below is an example in WordPress of what not to do….. and no… we didn’t actually tag our photos in this manner.
5. Over-Optimized Headings
How many titles does you page have? There are several different title size designations…. H1, H2, H3, H4 and so on. Guess what folks, you are not going to trick Google by using several H1 titles on your page and stuffing the same word in them.
Using multiple H1s on a page is often attempted to improve on-site SEO. Google will view this as black hat and you will risk a Panda bite.
So while you should write headlines, stick to only one H1 per page, and use the rest of the sizes where appropriate (and without repetition) to improve the content read ability for the user.
6. Over-optimized Anchor Text Internal Commercial/Branded Anchor Text
If every link that come to your website is generated off the exact same anchor (EG. Popeye flatfoot runners) text this is an indicator of manipulation and will quickly get you into hot water. You may not be able to control how other sites link to your but you can make requests during outreach and diversify the anchor text while guest blogging or running advertisements. Where you do however, have more control of your anchors is internal to your website itself.
As an example: you have written in your blog about the awesome new shoe’s you just got and you want to recommend to sell on your site.
Recommended: When your feet are ready to be living the high life then you should check out our catalog of Popeye flatfoot runners while we still have inventory.
Not recommended: If you’d like to have comfy feet, we have a range of Popeye flatfoot runners.
The problem here arises when you are using the brand example Popeye flatfoot runners to anchor to you site from external sites and then doubling up on that anchor text internally also. You might not control the anchor text that come to your site but you do control the internal ones. So make sure you are monitoring to avoid over doing any on keywords phrase. Often this happens for the Brand name or main product.
There are sites with quality content that rank poorly and some sites that rank better, while still having thin, over-optimized content. If you want rankings for the long term you will need to find the proper balance.
We rustled up a couple of examples below to demonstrate:
www.costume-works.com (The good result from Penguin….). Which Result would you prefer?
www.weddingdresstrend.com (The over-optimized bad result from Penguin….)
There are a few ways people try to hide links. Google crawlers can see all of them. Whether you are using the same colour font as the background, setting the size to zero, linking from a single character, or using CSS to position text off screen it will not help your campaign for better ranking.
To be clear, just because a link is hidden that doesn’t mean it will always have a negative effect, but doing it for the purpose of adding links and ranking is a bad idea. Acceptable example of unseen links could be an image alt description, a script for Java or code for Flash files. These can actually improve the user experience and are rewarded thusly.
NOTE: Avoid placing internal links on the homepage for pages like “About us”, “Contact us”, “Products” and so on. Just put them in your Menu bar instead, or link to them from another page that is on the menu.
8. Copied Content/Scraped Content
Again you can attract a Panda bite for this one, or even some legal action. Copying content is as it sounds…. it might be identical content on your website from page to page, or identical content from another website. Either way, Google will be attempting to decide which to rank, and the originator is going to win that arm wrestle. If the content is duplicated on your own site then the search engines will not know which page should be ranked.
Scraping content is a more severe method of “copying” and is much more likely to fall under the domain of plagiarism. Essentially it is using a scripting program to take content from other publishers and post it on your website.It can be the subject in legal action regarding breaching copyright. While legal action is rare, scraping content is still against Google Guidelines. Simply put, consistently going against Google guidelines will not help your online ranking. Avoid this.
Incidentally, ff you discover that people have been scraping your content, there are several different softwares to assist you in tracking who it is and then filing a complaint if necessary.
9. Content Automation
Content automation means using tools or scripts to generate content automatically and publish it on your site without any effort from your side. The automated content is written with no intent for the user, and doesn’t have any format or style whatsoever, without pictures, HTML headings, paragraph spacing, alignment and so on. The reality is that you will have to put in some effort on the important posts. If your creat the content ahead of time, test it and hone it for your audience then you can always schedule the release of it into the future and drip the created posts over time.
10. Malicious Active Content
II. LINK MANIPULATION & SERP SPAMMING
11. Spammy GuestPosting
Guest blogging is a common and beneficial practice for both the article writer and the Website/blog to which the article is posted. The benefits are straight forward; the author is able to reach an audience that they may not have had access to, and the website adds Niche relevant content for it’s readers. However, spammy attempts at this accomplish neither. Spammers looking for links will often try to get other bloggers to publish irrelevant articles full of links. These links will often be to risky sites that are selling products (or profiting from clicks) that are not connected to the niche or benefiting the typical audience of the existing blog.
These type of links can actually hurt site ranking if they link to sites that have a bad user experience.
This is an example of an email that we received:
“Hello Team! My name is XXXXX and I am a writer. I found your site and I think it is very interesting. I have an article to guest post? My articles have 400 – 500 words, depending on what you want. If it’s ok the article will have a to add a link to our site”
This generic email, likely sent to 10,000 others, does not:
- mention subject matter (how do I know if it is relevant?)
- Indicate the website to which it will link. (could be elephant hunting for all I know)
- Give any examples of other articles written, for quality.
- Give any assurance that the articles will be original (not scraped or plagiarized)
- Nor give any indicator that they have any capacity to give value to my audience (what can you actually teach in 400 words?)
12. Spammy Blog Commenting
Anyone who operates a website or two is likely to get some people commenting in the comments section. Comments can be very valuable and deserving of a link for the benefits of the users, but often they are the opposite. These kind of comments damage the sites that accept them and do not add any value to the spammer either. Here is an example of attempts on our blog:
or an even worse example….. I can’t even imagine how a comment like this would ever be moderated positively:
There are positive ways to do blog commenting that are positive for the comment creator, the users reading, and the website to which the comment is posted, these above example are not it.
13. Link Farm
A link farm is a series of websites interconnected with each other. The idea here is to manipulate a backlink profile with an increasing number of inbound links. The problem is that there is a negative effect for doing so. Google takes the view that link farming is a manipulation of its algorithm, by acquiring multiple links in an unnatural way. The typical “link farm” site will look like an ordinary website with normal articles and content. The exception is that it has text covered in hyperlinks to other many other sites that are usually not at all relevant to the subject matter of the home site. The technique was more popular when Page Authority was a more important ranking factor but has fallen out of favour since. Essentially this is a link exchange program to try and benefit the search engine algorithm as opposed to the human users. Google sniffs this out and views it negatively. Below is a drawn example of a link farm style of linking pattern.
14. Shady Redirects
Redirecting from one domain to another is very common and it can be used to improve user experience. Maybe the original page has changed or the domain to which the link goes has upgrade to a better url. In this case using a 301 redirect will get the user to where they need or want to be. However, as seen in the example pictured below, it can also be misused. Sometimes webmasters make use of expired domains to keep the link juice. They are redirecting traffic from the old site to their new site and do so in a way that does not meet the needs or search request of the user (aka black hat). Google does penalize for this practice once they find out.
We see this technique employed often on old movie sites, or links to live streaming sports. When you click play to watch the video stream you are immediately 301 redirected to a non relevant site.
15. Commercial Anchor-Text Keywords
Commercial anchor text keywords are considered to be those keywords used to generate monetary value. (Best prices of Flatfoot Runners, Cheap Flatfoot Runners, Buy Flatfoot Runners etc..) Branded anchor on the other hand, or those that contain the business URL or Name (DizzyWeb SEO, Https://www.dizzywebseo.ca, DizzyWeb etc..). Pretend that your website has 100 links coming to it, and, of these only two of them are brand anchor text while there remain 98 are Commercial anchors. Google see’s this discrepancy as unnatural and will begin to dig deeper to see if your website is manipulating its links. A more natural anchor profile will show a mix of branded anchors, commercial anchors, and other types that randomly occur.
Here are two examples: The first is a natural anchor profile with several versions of branded anchor text and other non-commercial anchors mixed in amongst it links.
The second shows a profile with thousands of links and only a small portion of them are branded while a vast majority are anchors contain commercial type keywords (Buy Viagra, But Cialus etc)
16. Automated Google Queries
This one is as it sounds. A software is created for the purpose of sending repeated queries to google in order to inflate the search count of particular terms in order to rank higher in the search results. Not very common but there are a few crafty black hat programmers out there.
17. Site Hacking
Also known as Parasite hosting, Site hacking is an illegal way of gaining access to a site. When access is gained, the hacker then proceeds to create a page(s) and place links on the hacked site that direct you back to the hackers pages. It is does to make use of an already ranking authority site so that the hacker receives easy traffic for their own site and offers. The hack happens without the knowledge of the victim site.
18. URL Hijacking Via Typo
This isn’t so much of a hack as it is a clever way of using a common spelling or typing mistake. In this case the Black Hat take a popular domain name and creates an almost identical website on a misspelling of that domain or add another character to the domain. It hijacks the fame of the existing brand in order to gain affiliate sales from the trust the the brand has. An example might look something like this.
Note: This a a fictional example:
Notice the subtle domain name change—
19. Link Sites
Links sites are very toxic as they are generated or used for the sole purpose of link building. Typically it will have one or many of the issues listed below. If you have links coming from toxic sites black hat like these then you are asking for a penalty. Because it is only a matter of time before the toxic site gets penalized and the Google bots start a deeper examination of the sites to which the “Link (toxic) Site” is linked to. This can create a domino effect due to the fact that these sites are generally linked to several other toxic sites amongst the other clean sites. This is one of the problems that can arise from buying links. You do not know if you are getting links from a site like this. Clearly buying links can be a risky venture and needs to be carefully considered before executing upon.
III. NEFARIOUS ATTACK STRATEGIES
20. Negative SEO
This is not something that people perpetuate against their own sites, but rather against their competitor sites. Here, the Scoundrels will employ many of the aforementioned tactics and direct them at a competitor. They will do this in the most noticeable ways possible with the hope that Google will penalize the competitors and take them out of the ranking SERPs. Most commonly they will attack a site with a series of links that they know to be toxic and or non-relevant to the victim site. A competent SEO can use the analysis tools to determine where the bad links are coming from to deter the penalty, but unfortunately these can often go unnoticed until it is too late. Negative SEO can do a lot of damage to a young or fledgling website. Fortunately Google recognizes that higher ranking pages are more likely to be subject to attack so its algorithm adjusts for this.
21. Spamming Social Media
This is simply negative SEO that focuses its malice on the social network of the target website. It is relative new as the rise in popularity of 2.0’s has increased in recent years. The practice hinges on sending an enormous list of irrelevant links in the Social Network. It appears as links in comments to different posts, unrelated to the site or shared links within irrelevant groups/pages/people. Sometime they will hack into profile to create private messages to people and pages. It very unscrupulous and building up your social fortress can help to defend from this.
22. TrackBack Spam
A ping is a message sent from a blogger/webmaster who wishes to notify those connected in their network of some event (a new post, or article). Using the trackback feature in moderation is actually positive and can be very useful as it can encourage visitors to come to your site. However, inundating them with pings is view as spammy and unnatural, thus, this can be used against a site by someone who wishes to do it damage.
TO WRAP IT ALL UP:
Thanks for reading. We hope this list help you avoid any self induced penalties and also to avoid challenges from any black hat techniques that might be targeted at your site.
At DizzyWeb SEO we make use of the best SEO practices possible and avoid everything we have laid out on this list. So if you are looking for an effective straightforward approach to Digital Marketing in Kelowna or elsewhere contact us today.