SEO is a constantly changing landscape. A technique that was solid for building rankings one day can get you banned the next. But most shady SEO techniques that will get you banned fall under the old “black hat” category, meaning they were strategies that were designed to trick search engines in order to boost rankings. They were (and still are) typically employed by agencies who were only interested in collecting big fees for fast results. These agencies take advantage of the fact that the average person doesn’t know much about search marketing and their goal is to fill their own purse, not to create a solid SEO campaign that will yield long-term results.
The first step to understanding whether or not your site is in danger is to learn what these shady SEO techniques are so that you can avoid them at all costs.
It’s hard to believe that anyone is still doing this in 2013, but it happens. It used to be a common black hat SEO strategy, but it’s mostly just a dirty hacking technique these days. Cloaking means showing one set of content to search engines, and another to the people who view your website. If someone is searching for information on cats, but clicks through to your website to find information on hair care products, they aren’t going to be happy – and neither will Google.
Cloaking was one of the first techniques to be forbidden by Google, and it’s one of the fastest ways to get your website banned. Hackers still employ this technique, so be sure your website is secure. If you get hacked and cloaked and thus, banned, you can appeal to Google, but that process takes time. And if you did it intentionally, good luck ever getting let back in through the golden Google gates.
Getting Involved in Link Schemes
Link schemes range from simple, to extremely involved and complicated. But one thing is certain – Google will eventually catch you. They take exception to people who try to game the system, and their armies of web spam experts are always on the lookout for new types of linking schemes.
Remember the infamous JCPenny link building incident from 2011? The New York Times uncovered a link scheme and published their findings. Google was very displeased. It was discovered that the SEO agency hired by JCP was putting links for women’s dresses on unrelated websites with topics ranging from infectious diseases to online gambling. Google was displeased and promptly penalized JCP.
Until that point, that type of link strategy was commonly employed by SEO agencies. They were slapping links on any old website they could find. And if they couldn’t find enough sites to take their links, they’d either buy links or create their own sham websites where they placed links for all of their clients.
Google makes no secret that they forbid participating in any kind of link scheme. Link building in general won’t get you banned, but building links from unrelated websites or through manipulative methods like link wheels, will get you slapped. Your links should be as natural and organic as possible in order to stay in Google’s good graces.
The infamous Panda algorithm update was designed to stop websites from posting the exact same content over and over in an effort to look like an authority on certain keywords.
You can also be penalized for this through no fault of your own. Some websites “scrape” content, which means they blatantly steal the words from your page and place it on theirs. When Google catches this, they will penalize the site they think has the least authority. There have been a few horror stories about legitimate businesses being banned because of scrapers.
Again, it’s hard to believe that people still employ this annoying tactic, but they do. Keyword stuffing is the overuse of your target terms in your text. An example of keyword stuffing might be:
When searching for a Pittsburgh plumber, you’ll want to find a plumber in Pittsburgh that has always been a Pittsburgh plumber, not someone who is actually from Erie but uses the words Pittsburgh plumber over and over again to rank for phrases involving being a plumber in Pittsburgh. Search for a Pittsburgh plumber who has been a plumber in Pittsburgh for many years.
Keyword stuffing worked in 2003, but not so much anymore. It’s painful to read, and Google will flush out websites who employ shady SEO techniques like this in effort to rank for key phrases.
How To Avoid These Shady SEO Techniques
Most companies that end up being penalized by Google, wind up there thanks to someone else. That “someone else” is typically a cut-rate SEO company. Unfortunately, there are companies out there who take advantage of the fact that most people don’t understand the ins and outs of search marketing and employ whatever strategies they can to skyrocket rankings, take your money, then disappear by the time Google bans the website.
It’s important to know the exact techniques your SEO company employs for your website. If they are evasive, don’t provide good reporting, or if your rankings leap from 100 to 1 for your target keywords overnight, you may run into trouble down the line.
If you aren’t technologically inclined, an easy way to spot a potentially bad SEO company is by noting how interested they are in learning about your business. Good SEO involves content development, and in order to create that good content, they have to know and understand what you do. If your agency has never asked you a single question about your business, they might be employing shady SEO techniques that border on black hat.
A good SEO campaign will include on-site strategies to clean up your coding and your content, organic link building strategies, and the development and distribution of useful, unique content. They should incorporate text, images, and video into their campaign and shouldn’t focus too heavily on one area over another. The keys to good SEO are balance, content development, and most importantly, time. Good SEO doesn’t shoot you to number one overnight. Being impatient can end up getting your website penalized or worse, banned from Google.