There are two perspectives for thinking about search engines. From the searcher’s perspective, it’s a channel for finding content. But from the search engine optimization (SEO) marketer’s vantage, it’s a channel for pushing content towards audiences. Google is a grand marketplace—a bazaar where people come to look, test out, and purchase whatever their hearts desire.
But like any place of commerce, cheats and scammers lurk in the shadows. Police and security are never far from our physical marketplaces. Yet in the digital bazaar, Google relies on algorithms to police it to make sure no tries to game the SERPs. Businesses that wittingly or unwittingly aim to manipulate Google’s search ranking formula to score higher are at risk of something worse than jail time or a fine—they are in danger of having their search rankings decimated (such as going from page 1 to page 10 of SERP), or worst of all, they can be banished from Google altogether.
Since Google accounts for over 60% of search engine traffic, expulsion from Google is tantamount to an e-commerce death sentence. If your business does not exist on Google, then it is virtually non-existent.
Being on Google is not an inalienable, constitutional right. It’s a privilege. If you abuse it, Google can kick you off their search engine. This would mean that the only way to access your site would be through Bing (assuming you didn’t engage in the same illicit behavior on Microsoft’s search engine) or through a highly informed user directly typing in your site’s URL into their browser.
Bad SEO translates into failure to generate leads online, to improve organic search rankings, and to grow your business.
How serious is this threat to your business? Well, even if your business is a brick and mortar establishment, most people will find you through organic search or paid search.
When you hire a digital marketing agency or someone who claims to be an “SEO Expert,” in a sense, you are handing over the keys to your pristine, beautiful Tesla Model S (fully equipped with AI car driving features). Trust is critical. You are trusting them with your most precious digital asset. If you crash it by unwittingly using black hat SEO tactics, you'll decimate your ability to earn revenue through organic search traffic.
Tragically, many people are unaware of Google’s rules. They may fall victim to a snake oil SEO Expert that leverages black hat SEO promising to rocket their rankings. Unfortunately, the SEO left out which direction the rankings would rocket.
The list of “not-to-dos” is long but here are some that stand out.
1) Keyword Stuffing
A big no no.
Keyword stuffing is a black hat SEO practice that goes back to the 1990s.
Let’s say you own a hotel chain and you’ve just implemented a new policy that allows guests to bring their pets. “Pet friendly hotels” is a keyword phrase you should build topic buckets around. If you write a blog article that’s a 1,000 words, then you’ll want to include “pet friendly hotels” in your copy. But be conscious of keyword density which is the ratio of keywords on a page relative to the overall word count.
If 5-10% of your content comprises the phrase “pet friendly hotels” you could be penalized by the digital marketplace’s security force: Google’s merciless algorithms.
You don’t need to use a keyword over and over again to rank. Keywords are part of the SEO marketer’s strategy. But if they are abused, your website will suffer.
Consequently fewer pets will be able to enjoy the amenities of your pet friendly hotel. We really want people to enjoy their vacation along with their animals at your pet friendly hotel. Look at all those rave reviews of your pet friendly hotel on Yelp (you get the picture; if the bulk of the sentences in your article read like this, expect Google to retaliate).
2) Content Spinning
This is a clever trick. Sadly, Google has figured out how to identify it. Content spinning is when the same article is written multiple times but with different terminology and synonyms. You have to admire the ingenuity of these black hat marketers. Superficially, the article looks different even though it conveys the same meaning with each iteration.
Maybe your hotel business receives an enticing offer from a marketer (probably in Russia or China) telling you that his content marketing strategy is faster than anything you’ll get at a digital agency AND a fraction of the cost (gold words in the ears of most C-suites). The only problem is that there’s a reason why it’s a fraction of the cost.
This marketer is using a computer program that relies on a thesaurus to generate new articles by using alternative words along with different syntax for a 100 different articles.
Google figured out this scheme and its Penguin algorithm can sniff it out. Though you’ve already paid your black hat content marketer, your pet inviting hotel is tanking in the rankings. You may be puzzled as to why the 100 blog posts over the past week have not put your pet pleasing hotel at the top of SERP.
Be skeptical about such practices. Content marketing is a painstaking, planned strategy. Content spinning is a surefire way to tell Google that you are trying to game the system to rank high for pet happy hotels.
It won’t work.
3) Comment Spam
We all want backlinks. They essentially give your website a vote of confidence from another site. The more backlinks your site earns, especially from websites that have high domain authority, the higher your own domain authority. As a result, inbound links contribute a great deal to how your website ranks on search engines.
You want your content to appear on third-party platforms. In fact, landing links to your website on other websites should be part of your content strategy.
But there is a darkside to link building. Shady search engineer marketers have engaged in this tactic for a while. Google has gotten much better at sniffing it out. As tempting as it may be, do not go to the comment section of other websites and post links to your website.
What’s so risky about this black hat SEO tactic? If the host website prunes their comment section for material that looks like spam (remember that Google puts the onus on websites to use their disavow tool to remove toxic links that are trying to piggyback on another site’s domain authority), this seedy attempt at link building can result in the host website reporting you to Google as spam.
Once Google marks you out as spam, your site’s SEO value will plummet. Even if you think you can get away without the host site noticing that you’ve inserted links to your website in the comments, it’s simply too risky. Don’t let anyone try to sell you on the value of Trackbacker Submitter.
Our advice: don’t link spam in comment sections.
If the term sounds devious, that’s because it is. Cloaking is practice of delivering different content to the search engine spider than that seen by the human users. This black hat tactic is frowned upon by the search engines and carries a heavy penalty for the guilty website.
Assuming you’ve been mislead and used any of these tactics, we’re not going to lie: it’s serious. These black hat practices can result in you disappearing from the pages of Google. If you’re offense is serious enough, you’ll be at the bottom of the search rankings (or worse).
Recovering is not a simple process. If you discover after the fact that you were sold snake oil by a black SEO marketer, you may need to write a reconsideration request.
The bottom line is that not only will your search ranking devastated— your bottom line will be as well.
SEO has many components. Some of these are technical while others are content based. Be wary of anyone promising to catapult your website to the top of Google in a short amount of time. Content marketing that is guided by SEO principles takes time.
As content marketers, we practice ethical SEO—we understand Google’s rules and make sure that we drive our clients’ business forward through legit techniques.
Keep in mind that that if you get pickpocketed in the SEO marketplace, there isn’t a policeman around the corner to report it. Google makes sure that people do SEO by the book. Those that engage in manipulative, blackhat tactics may end up in search engine exile without even realizing it.
Respect the rules of the marketplace.
Let’s have a conversation about how SEO best practices can elevate your content.