Spam Tactics That May Be Stopping Your Site From Reaching Its Ranking Potential

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Spam tactics can be intentional and unintentional in search engine marketing. What is certain is that they are an unfortunate and unavoidable reality for all organizations with an online presence. Perpetrators of spam, spamdexing, or black hat techniques will tempt with their sales patter – guaranteed search engine rankings, campaigns measured in weeks not months, and a quick shot of instant search engine visibility. At some point or another, most website owners will have been pitched these empty promises . Most will have considered, even if only for a split second, the alluring prospect of circumnavigating a drawn out and potentially costly optimization or paid search campaign.

The harsh truth is that these shortcuts can wreak havoc on existing search engine rankings and damage long-term listings if search engines like Google or Yahoo decide that the site has used spam or non-ethical tactics to artificially inflate search positions. Sometimes though despite the best intentions of all concerned, sites do stray into spam territory. This happens simply through not being aware of what does and does not constitute questionable practices. Spam can happen innocently, especially when search engine optimization work has been carried out by inexperienced campaign managers. Being on guard for the following stumbling blocks will help limit mistakes and penalties.

Keyword stuffing: This is the most common of black hat SEO or spam techniques, and can become a problem on a site simply by too placing too much focus on certain keywords in the rush to improve search engine rankings. A mistake small site owners often make is to think that they have to place primary keywords everywhere on the page – in titles, headers, alt tags, meta descriptions, body text, and anchor text- and as often as possible. While a certain level of keyword density is imperative, overuse of keywords with little or no synonym consideration can be classed as spam.

As a benchmark, anywhere from 3% – 7% keyword density is acceptable, but anything over that strays into spam territory. If unpracticed optimizers have been given free rein on your site, check that you are not displaying identical anchor text throughout, that titles are restricted to five or six descriptive words, that meta tags provide meaningful, unique information about that page, that H1 and H2 headers are not simply vehicles for having keywords in larger, bold print and that the body text makes use of both short and long tail keyword variations.

Cloaking: As the name suggests, cloaking is a means of hiding information on your website. It is commonly used to send one lot of information to the search engines while presenting an entirely different view to the user. Proponents of black hat search engine optimization use cloaking as a way to present a highly optimized page of code to the spiders, often full of keywords and other factors which are known to aid favorable rankings. As these pages are often keyword stuffed, they are of little help or sense to a real user so a different version of the page is created for a human reader. Which page is presented is determined by the IP address or User-Agent HTTP of the requesting user.

Look through your CMS system or FTP files to check that you recognize each listed page. In some instances it may be necessary to have a different version for the search engine, for example image descriptions in the code. If you suspect that cloaking has been carried out on your website, it’s a good idea to consult with an SEO agency or consultancy to discuss effective resolutions.

URL Redirects: Redirection techniques have many useful and ethical applications, such as redirecting a user with a bookmarked page to the correct new page when the URL is renamed or moved. However, there are also some non-ethical applications used in black hat SEO and spam which the search engines will take a dim view of. One example of this is directing a search engine to one version of a page full of popular search terms while siphoning the user off to a completely different page. Temporary redirects have also been used to attempt to steal the PageRank of a well established page and pass on to a new page. These techniques are both identified as spam by the search engines and can result in the site being given lower rankings or dropped from the search results entirely.

Doorway Pages: Sometimes called bridge or portal pages, a doorway page is quite similar to cloaking in that it is a page that is used to make the search engines think one thing while showing entirely different data to the end user. A doorway page will redirect the user off to another page either via a Meta refresh command, JavaScript, or a link.

It is very easy to detect a doorway page on your own server as they are clearly constructed for search engine purposes so will contain an abundance of keywords, perhaps make little sense to the reader and have very simple navigation structures or links.

The existence of any of these tactics on your site can jeopardize your ranking and may even lead to blacklisting by search engines. Make sure that your SEO program avoids this pitfalls to preserve your good name online!

About the Author

Rebecca is the managing director of search engine optimization agency Dakota Digital a full-service agency offering SEO, online PR, web copywriting, media relationship management, and social media strategy. Rebecca works directly with each client to increase online visibility, brand profile, and search engine rankings. She has headed a number of international campaigns for large brands.

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2 Comments

  1. Black Hat SEO works for short term results so if you're just trying to do shady business, it may work. Anyone that wants to be around for longer than 3 months needs to avoid these tactics. Thank you for calling them out to let new people know what NOT to do. .-= Jared Detroit´s last blog ..Get More Traffic From Local Search Results =-.