Once upon a time in the ‘old days’ of internet-land, you could do all sorts of clever tricks to get your website to rank on search pages. This included things like keyword stuffing, buying links, cloaking, and duplicating content (see later for explanations). These are collectively referred to as ‘black hat SEO’ techniques.
While I don’t know the complete history of keyword stuffing, I do know it was around to some degree when I first started copywriting. Clients would sometimes want a specific keyword or phrase to appear in every other sentence (if not literally every sentence) of their copy. The quality of the writing pretty much came second to that.
Then in 2011 Google introduced its Panda algorithm, and a lot of websites got ‘Panda slapped’. At the time Google said the aim of Panda was to reduce rankings for sites which “are low-value for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful”. It was also designed to provide better rankings for high-quality sites with original content and information.
Also, according to Search Engine Journal, the algorithm was in part a response to complaints about the rise of ‘content farms’ – marketing businesses that pump out thousands of pieces of content (often of suspect quality) every day, mass-production style. The ‘farmed’ content wasn’t about providing useful information for people. Rather, its focus was on the level of search value it could provide.
There is no law against black hat SEO techniques, but if you do use them don’t expect it to do you much good. Google has released a raft of algorithm updates since Panda. This means if you go against search engine guidelines your page could drop down the list. It could even be removed from search altogether.
Here are some of the tricks you should avoid.
Google describes keyword stuffing as “repeating the same words or phrases so often that it sounds unnatural”, An example might be: “We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at firstname.lastname@example.org”.
Sounds kind of ridiculous doesn’t it?
Also in some cases, marketers have used keywords that bear little or no relation to the website’s content or services. This is a practice known as ‘cloaking’ and is also a search engine no-no. It signals to the search engine that the keywords are being used specifically for ranking purposes and not there for the benefit of human readers.
There is nothing wrong with using keywords of course and it can help your website to rank. Just make sure to do it a bit sparingly and that it fits with the surrounding text. Otherwise, your site could end up in timeout!
This is another trick of the trade, often tied in with the overuse of keywords. Websites doing this will publish the same keyword-stuffed content on several of their pages, all in an effort to trick search engines.
These days if you publish duplicate content you might find your website being penalised – so it’s really not worth doing.
If other sites link to your site, it can be a positive signal for search engines. This is because it indicates to them that your site offers value.
But – the links have to be genuine, which means you should avoid link schemes and tricks. This includes the following:
- Paying for other sites to link to yours.
- Giving away free stuff in exchange for link favours.
- Accepting payments for linking to other sites.
- Using ‘link farms’ – websites built solely for link-building purposes.
This is a biggie! It refers to content that is poorly-written, scraped off another site, and/or that offers little or no value to readers.
Google’s basic principles for content include making it primarily for users and not search engines, not deceiving users, and avoiding tricks to improve rankings.
When it comes to blogging, Google says: “Write well and often. A frequently updated site encourages people to return – as long as your content remains relevant and engaging. A useful post once a week is better than low-quality content published daily”.
Bait and switch
An example of this one is where a business creates an ad for something that doesn’t actually exist or fails to remove an expired offer. Users that click on the link are taken to the website, which then puts more advertising in front of them.
Not very friendly that, is it?
But make your site a friendly one
There’s nothing wrong with using SEO techniques and methods to help your site rank better. But that is completely different from using cheap unethical tactics.
Make your site a good one by posting relevant, original, engaging content that is not stuffed full of keywords, doesn’t contain dodgy links, and does what it says on the tin.
In other words – write for people, not bots.