Search engine spammers – also known as “black hatters” – never prosper. Sooner or later, they get caught. And when they do, it’s almost never pretty. Consequences can include ranking penalties, removal of the site’s “voting” power (i.e., ability to pass PageRank), incomplete indexation (i.e., a partial site ban), or, worst of all, getting “graybarred” (i.e., a total-site ban, where the PageRank meter in the Google Toolbar is grayed out). It could take years for a business to recover from a site ban.
Not even the largest corporations spending big dollars on Google AdWords are immune. For example, this year the BMW Germany site was banned from Google because they created “doorway pages” – pages full of keyword-rich copy meant only for the search-engine spiders. To add insult to injury, BMW was publicly outed by Google engineer Matt Cutts on his blog.
Search engines look for spam
Search engines utilize both automated and manual means for detecting spam. Sophisticated algorithms look for abnormalities in inbound/outbound linking, sentence structure, HTML coding, and so on. Searchers submit spam reports. And paid evaluators conduct quality reviews. Last year a confidential Google document called the Spam Recognition Guide for Raters was leaked to the public. This illuminating guide delineates a number of criteria for recognizing search-engine spam.
Are you confident the tactics you, your web designer, and SEO agency employ won’t get you slapped by the search engines? If you can’t say with absolutely certainty that you’re squeaky clean, then you’d better study the following list of black hat tactics to avoid:
- Sneaky redirects – redirecting visitors immediately as they enter your site from a search engine
- Hidden or tiny text – making the text the same color as the background, or shrinking the font size way down, or employing noscript, noframes, iframes, or hidden
tags to hide text and/or links
- Keyword stuffing – the excessive placement of keywords within web pages (e.g., in alt tags, meta tags, etc.)
- Targeting irrelevant keywords – optimizing for popular keywords that have no relevance to your business
- Selling PageRank – selling text links to advertisers/partners in order to pass on PageRank to their sites
- Trademark infringement – mentioning competitor names in your meta tags and elsewhere
- Duplicating content – making numerous copies of web pages or excerpts of web pages
- Spamglish – nonsensical, keyword-rich gibberish
- Doorway pages – aren’t useful or interesting to human visitors
- Machine-generating pages – using software to create socalled content for search engines
- Pagejacking – hijacking or stealing content from high-ranking websites and placing that content on your site with few or no changes
- Cloaking – detecting search engine spiders when they visit and modifying the page content specifically for the spiders in order to improve rankings
- Participating in “link farms” – linking to, or receiving links from, “Free For All” sites or link networks which contain many links per page and are poorly organized
- Buying expired domains with high PageRank – snapping up domain names when they expire with the hopes of laying claim to the previous site’s inbound links
- Multiple domains without redirecting – in effect this is duplicating content
- “Thin affiliate” – ushering people to a number of affiliate programs without providing any added value
- Linking to “bad neighborhoods” – linking to link farms or otherwise unsavory sites
- Blog comment spamming – posting bogus comments to blogs, with links to your site(s)
- Guestbook spamming – posting bogus comments to sites’ guestbooks, with links to your site(s).
In short, don’t do anything that you’d feel uncomfortable telling your Google AdWords or Yahoo Search Marketing rep. You might think you’re flying under the radar, but your competitors are watching and waiting for the opportunity to turn you in.