SEO or Search engine optimisation has become an essential part of any holistic digital strategy for brands. By understanding the way in which search engines such as Google indexes websites SEOs attempt to optimise content on those websites, thereby making them “more visible” – ultimately directing more traffic to the site via search. An experienced and well-trained SEO should always be aware of what is and is not ethical when it comes to helping websites rank higher in search results. However, despite the craft of SEO being a legitimate and valuable skill that can make websites better for both search engines and people – many SEOs are damaging the SEO industry by resorting to tricks and cheats collectively called Black hat SEO.
What is black hat SEO?
Black hat SEO refers to the practice of using illicit means to get a webpage to the top of search results. These methods are often punted as ‘quick-fixes’, but there is no doubt that they are dubious, untrustworthy and often downright illegal. Making use of these methods could have horrible consequences for your brand and can range from your page being penalised or even getting dropped from Google’s index entirely.
Here as three of the most notorious ways black hat SEOs try to trick the system:
Making use of relevant keywords is one of the first things any good SEO or digital agency will tell your brand’s website to do. Keywords allow search engines to “read” and “understand” what you site is about and in turn helps people find your website when they search for those keywords online. However, going overboard by literary stuffing too many keywords into your site’s title tag, meta description or alt tags; or placing a random list of keywords anywhere on the page without relation to any contextually relevant text – that is very bad idea. Search engines, and Google in particular are constantly on the look-out for sites that are “over-optimised” in this way. Simply put –when a search engine detects the over use of keywords on a page, that page is promptly flagged as spam.
By now most people understand that Google places value on links through a sort of “peer review” system. If many sites link to a particular source, it seems that that source is a good and trustworthy source of information and thus its page rank is influenced accordingly. Unfortunately, the black hat SEOs try to trick this elegant system through the use of link farms. Link farms are networks of pages that consist of lists of external links that exist in a space removed from any substantially relevant content that might provide contextual relevance to the externally linked page. Luckily, Google’s complex, ever-changing algorithms are constantly making these link farms obsolete and the Google Panda update in 2011 especially dealt a harsh blow to this unethical practice.
Domain squatting and redirecting
Domain squatting refers to the shady practice of buying up competitor’s domain names containing their relevant keywords in order to cyber squat on them. It is also considered devious to buy domain names that contain your brand’s target keywords purely for the sake of using them to point to your existing pages. The repercussions of getting caught doing this can be severe -your pages might drop in rankings or be dropped completely. If your company owns multiple domains, these should be used in an ethical manner with a purpose to back it up. An option to make use of multiple domains in an honest way is to redirect domains through a feeder site, or even creating unique websites that contain content that holds enough significance in their own right to warrant the ownership and use of that domain.