Last week one of our clients received a notification from Google stating that their firm’s site was in jeopardy of being removed from the search engine’s index because there were too many “unnatural links” to the site. You see, the firm had hired an “expert” to help optimize their site. In an attempt to game the system and increase the client’s PageRank, the “expert” had amateurishly added links to the client’s site from a variety of topically disparate and questionable websites. The large majority of the sites that contained these links were completely unrelated to the firm’s practice areas and included sites for car dealerships and photographers. And while this helped the site move up the SERPs initially, it ultimately backfired as Google caught on to the Black Hat-ish strategies being employed.
On our blog, we spend a lot of time highlighting ways you can help your website but equally important is an understanding of the tactics that can actually harm your site. Here are some top Black Hat strategies that you need to be weary of if you are working on your site or hiring a professional to assist you with optimization:
Keyword Stuffing: Yes, keywords that web users might use in a search query need to be included in your site’s pages, but be careful not to overstuff your content with these words. As a general rule of thumb, you should not use a keyword more than 25 times in one page of content (about six paragraphs long). In fact, high keyword density is no longer perceived as a significant signal for relevance with the latest search algorithms. The ultimate test, however, should be done by reading the content. If it sounds repetitive to you, it will probably raise warning flags with the search engines.
Unnatural Links: As we’ve already mentioned, the search engines want to make sure that sites that link to your firm’s site are actually endorsing your work. While a few links from topically irrelevant websites will not get you penalized, if such links are excessive and disproportionate to more “natural” inbound links from websites that are thematically related, they may trigger unfavorable action from search engines. Search Engines are incredibly sophisticated and can pick up on this kind of suspicious behavior which is why they’ve taken a firm stand against link schemes and unnatural linking. If you hire an outside consultant, make sure that they present you with a full list of the sites where they intend to add your link. If it’s not a relevant site, cross it off the list and most importantly, get rid of your SEO guru who is taking actions which may hurt you.
Same Site, Multiple Domains: People think that if they have multiple sites, they have a better chance of showing up on the top of the SERPs. To an extent, this can be true but only if each site has completely unique content and focused keywords. For attorneys who have several specialties, it can be effective to have one site devoted to each practice area. Unfortunately, many attorneys get conned into purchasing multiple domains pointing to the exact same content. Once again, the search engines can pick up on this as duplicate data and will not index the redundant “website”.
Along these same lines, it’s important that the content on your site be original. While adding RSS feeds to outside news feeds will certainly get new content on your site often, it’s not original content and Google has changed their system of evaluating sites to ensure that “content farms” are not rewarded for duplicate content.
Doorway Pages & Invisible Text: Some SEO consultants may convince you to add a page filled with keywords or links to outside sites. Since these pages aren’t ones that you will want the public to be able to see, they assure you that the page will be hidden meaning that the visitor can’t access it through the site page but the search engines can still read it. These pages are known as “doorway pages” and are another common trick that search engines have become wise to. If you wouldn’t want a visitor to see it, there’s no reason that Google would want its users to see it either. The same goes for invisible text. Don’t ever change the text color to match the page color so that the words are in there but just not apparent to the visitor. This is Black Hat 101 but unfortunately, it is still a very common, and inexcusable, tactic employed by inept SEO “experts.”
Some of the strategies above may help your site to perform better with search engines for a short period, but in the long-run, they have absolutely no chance of success. Our clients are often shocked as we explain how advanced the search engines have become in detecting black hat techniques but when you think about it, they have to be. Their business model is dependent on delivering accurate results which are most relevant to a user’s search. If Google, or any of the major search engines were to let the above strategies take hold, their results would be dominated by websites who most aggressively take advantage of their vulnerabilities, as opposed to those that are most relevant and would quickly lose their reputation and jeopardize their commercial success.