- Managing Me
- Big Ideas
- Managing People
Search engine optimisation experts have told SmartCompany something unexpected: Google and other search engines are cracking down so much on blackhat SEO, there aren’t too many tactics left that make sense to use anymore.
Not that it stops people from trying.
“As long as something works, people are going to do it,” says Switched On Media head of SEO Daniel Bailey.
“Google is getting smarter about these things. They don’t want these tactics to work. However, ultimately, some are going to work.”
But that doesn’t mean you should be using them, even if they provide a benefit. Google is getter better, and better and finding dodgy SEO techniques and cracking down.
Here are 10 SEO methods you need to be aware of – and why shouldn’t be using them anymore.
This is by far one of the most common blackhat SEO techniques, especially among larger businesses that should know better.
It works like this: Google uses bots to trawl your site, and collect the information including links and text. It categorises your site based on that information.
It’s against Google’s terms of service to show the Google bot one site, and then your customers another site. But companies do it, and it allows them to show users a clean, neat home page while showing the Google bot a page full of text and keywords that will help their rankings.
Plenty of companies in all industries do this, including retail.
Jewellery chain Michael Hill uses this exact tactic, showing users one page with clean video and menus, while showing the Google bot another.
The page users see:
The page Google sees:
When contacted about this, the chain responded by saying the following:
“The Michael Hill site is built completely using Microsoft Silverlight technology. Since search engines cannot natively recognise Silverlight website content, we use descriptive text for this content to improve accessibility to our site.”
In any case, the result is still the same: Michael Hill is showing the Google bot two different websites.
The obvious reason you shouldn’t do it is because it’s against Google’s terms of service. And as Reseo chief executive Chris Thomas points out, you’ll receive a pretty massive penalty if you get found out.
“You’ll most likely cop a ranking penalty, especially if Google decides to make an example out of you. Then you not only have to go to the trouble of fixing it up, but you’ll get penalties and it’ll end up making your life a lot harder.”
Just in case you think this can’t happen then think again. BMW was socked with a huge penalty after Google found it was using exactly this technique. Its page ranking score was set to zero, and it dropped to the bottom of the rankings.
Thomas says you should set up Google Webmaster tools, because the company may end up contacting you through there first if you’ve done something wrong and give you the chance to fix it up.
Occasionally you may visit a website and see some odd words at the top or bottom of the screen. It’s pretty obvious what they are: keywords.
Sometimes businesses will try to get away with it by sticking these words at the very top of the screen in small text, as the Google Bot doesn’t really care what size font you use. But to be sure, it’s what Google calls an inappropriate use of the style sheet
Not only is inappropriate use of the style sheet against Google’s rules and regulations, but according to Chris Thomas, Google will notice if you’re using it and punish you in the rankings.
“It’s only a matter of time before they find you doing it,” he says.
This is actually a more recent development. Similar to the idea of cyber-squatting, someone will buy a whole bunch of domains and use them to link through to their own website. These domains could be totally unrelated to what the business actually focuses on, but they end up moving through to the website anyway.
Considering domains are actually fairly cheap, this can be a cost-effective way to drive traffic to your website even if they have absolutely nothing to do with your company.
Not only does this usage tend to annoy the people who are looking for the domain you bought, Google has recently started weeding out companies that use this tactic.
Monte Huebsch of AussieWeb says Google has been implementing ways to find out this tactic, even as recently as 10 days ago.
“The trick with this is that you hopefully get all of these indexed well through organic search. But Google has figured out that’s not a good user experience, so they’re starting to discount it.”
“If you think this trick will last long, it won’t at all.”
It’s actually one of the oldest techniques on the internet. Back in the 1990s, when early web developers were starting websites they would exchange links with other webmasters to share the traffic.
That worked when the internet was small enough to share. Now, it’s exploded beyond what anyone thought possible. And people are using bought links in a different way, to make sure they’re getting traffic to their site even though it may be through irrelevant gateways.
On the face of it, this is a hard one to nail done. After all, Google can’t possibly know if you’re paying for links.
But Daniel Bailey, head of search at Switched On Media, says Google can tell if you’re placing links on websites that have absolutely nothing to do with what you’re offering.
“It has ways to find these links and figure out if it’s relevant. If not, there’s an assumption these could be paid links.”
“Some sites are so obvious – they’ll just say “buy a link”. It’s such a dumb way to do it. You can probably still get away with it, even though it’s still not Google-approved.”
“Besides, it’s unfair. A site with a bigger budget can kill a site with a smaller one.”
But there’s a better reason you shouldn’t use paid links: Google is starting to value them less.
According to Bailey, the use of relevant, constantly updated content and social interaction is beginning to matter much more.
“They’re still important. But they’re becoming less important.
It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Instead of just making sure each page on your website is individually tailored to that piece of content, some sites will take that content, and then publish it twice.
Twice the content, twice the chance that Google will find it and think you’re actually updating your website more than you actually are. You’re getting twice the benefit with half the effort.
You may have heard of a little update called Google Panda. Last year, the company unleashed this massive update and it had a huge impact – especially on those companies using duplicate content.
It was a huge turning point in SEO, and one of the distinct points where Google started focusing on original, rich, relevant content. Content creation, in other words, became more important than ever.
So not only will Google find your duplicate content and punish you for it, there are actually plenty of companies doing it and not actually realising they are – due to one simple oversight.
Mike Hudson, SEO director of FirstClick, says when a company has its website accessible with a “www” prefix, and without it as well, then you’re actually creating two different versions of the site.
“It’s the most common mistake I see. For search engines, they figure it’s duplicated content. Normally what you need to do is divert one to the other.”
One of the best ways to get your site to the top of Google rankings is to stick as many keywords on your front page as possible. Make sure they’re all relevant, and the Google Bot will do the rest.
But some sites will make sure to do that, and then cover it up entirely by blending the text in to the background colour. Even though you may not see it, it’s still against Google’s regulations.
Apart from the fact if customers find out, it looks very bad in your design. Once again, Google is on the prowl and will punish you if they find out you’re doing such a thing. All it takes is one report, and then you won’t be so grateful you found a way to cut corners.
Directories are a great way to get your business noticed, but there are companies using them in the wrong way, giving multiple submissions in order to increase the amount of links they receive back to their own website.
But it appears there’s something more interesting happening here. Businesses are using Google Places as a way to fill in multiple submissions, using employees’ homes and other addresses to create different listing for the one company.
“They’re trying to prank the system,” says Monte Huebsch. “And they’re trying to get a whole bunch of reviews from different people.”
It’s spam. While it isn’t quite duplicated content, Huebsch points out if Google finally sees you listing multiple entries, it’ll do everything it can to make sure you only have the listings you deserve – which is just one.
This is very similar to buying links. Companies will decide they need to create a bunch of pages that only exist to link to their main page. These pages can consist of anything – articles that are related to something different entirely, or just blank pages with a few links here and there.
It’s pretty obvious what these are when you come across them. They’re not formatted very well, and they only exist to create links to a website. The more links that website has pointing towards it, the more Google thinks it’s something of value.
But it’s not just smaller websites that do this. Flight Centre New Zealand has a few dodgy sites linking towards it as well, with one page of a floor sanding company in Britain actually linking to the site:
Flight Centre was contacted for comment, but no reply was received before publication.
This is probably the most useless tool on this list. Now that Google has updated its algorithms with the Penguin and Panda updates, having links on irrelevant websites is pretty much a death sentence for your rankings.
And not only that – but Google is very aggressive when it comes to this sort of activity. IF it finds out you’ve been tinkering with the links moving to your page, then you’d better be prepared to work your way up from the bottom.
“It’s so important not to use these now,” says Chris Thomas. “Your backlink profile has to be as natural as possible.”
Sometimes businesses will just fill their sites with useless pages filled with articles. Except these articles aren’t really articles in the sense they’re providing useful information, or some type of advice. These articles will exist solely for the purpose of increasing Google rankings.
The way these sites do this is by stuffing keywords into the middle of these articles, seemingly at random.
Just as Daniel Bailey pointed out earlier in this article, Google doesn’t value links as much anymore. While it still puts a large amount of emphasis on them, what it really wants to see is relevant content. And when it starts seeing keywords placed in these seemingly relevant articles, it starts to wonder whether your site is really as relevant as it seems.
This one is more common than you’d think, and if you operate any type of blog or website that allows comments then you’ll recognise it immediately.
Companies set up automated comment systems that trawl the internet, looking for blogs to comment on. They usually say something strange like “great blog, keep it up” and include a link to an unrelated website.
There are two reasons. The first is that it’s completely tacky. You don’t want your business associated with such spam, and as soon as people see your link or business name next to a comment spam, they’ll associate your business with that forever.
The second reason is because Google will find out and hit you for it. It’ll start associating you with spam, and then start scoring your links lower and lower. It’ll value you less.
But on the other hand, Daniel Bailey of Switched On Media says a good commenting policy can do wonders. It’s the spammers who get lazy and start thinking they can get the benefit without doing the work.
“If you find a blog and have something decent to say about a blog post, that will help you with SEO.”
“It’s just another example of people who have looked at a good and legitimate technique for getting good SEO rankings, and then start abusing it.”