Spam tactics, or black hat search engine optimization (SEO), is an unfortunate reality for all businesses with an online presence. Perpetrators of these ill-advised optimization techniques will tempt with their sales patter – guaranteed search engine rankings, a short SEO campaign measured in a matter of weeks not months, a quick fix for instant visibility.
At some point or another, most website owners will have been pitched these empty promises and will undoubtedly have considered, even if only for a split second, the alluring prospect of circumnavigating a drawn out and potentially costly SEO campaign.
The harsh reality is that these shortcuts can wreak havoc on existing search engine rankings and damage long-term listings if search engines like Google or Yahoo determine that the site has used spam or non-ethical tactics to artificially inflate search positions. Sometimes, sites do stray into spam territory simply by not being aware of what does and does not constitute questionable practices. Spam can happen innocently, especially when search engine optimization work is being or has been carried out on the site by inexperienced campaign managers. Being on guard for the following stumbling blocks will help limit mistakes and penalties. The only way to avoid it is to be on guard for common (and sometimes innocent) approaches that do little to endear a site to the search engines…
1. Keyword stuffing: This is the most common of black hat SEO or spam techniques and can become a problem on site simply by 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 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. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
Stay away from these four danger zones, and you will have avoided the main spam tactics that send warning signs to the major search engines that may negatively affect your ranking or even lead to a ban.