There has been a certain mystique around the practice of search engine optimization since it entered the digital business lexicon nearly two decades ago.
With the blend of creative and technical prowess now required for success, SEO can be particularly challenging for the enterprises and professional online marketers that do not have an understanding of the rich history of the practice.
SEO has gone through several digital iterations, each more involved than the last, and today the practice is often seen as a wholly complicated undertaking regardless of a company's technical sophistication or creative abilities.
The obvious difficulty in achieving competitive (first page, first position) rankings leads many enterprises toward taking shortcuts in a bid to influence their position in a positive way. The reality is, however, there are rarely any techniques that will consistently 'force rank' your website pages to the top of a search engine's results pages. As they say, getting rich quick is easy, but keeping wealth over the long term? Well, that’s a lot more difficult. The same goes for SEO campaigns; while there are ways to manipulate one’s website in the short term, long-term success comes only from the careful crafting of an enterprise's digital presence over years (useful, compelling content, valuable citations/links from others and a top-notch user experience).
Let's explore some of the tactics and techniques that have been employed by black hat SEO workers over the years, however, and explain why these approaches just don't work - or if they do work, won't work for long.
Keep in mind that addressing or mentioning these tactics in no way advocates their use. If you’re in business to get rich quick and get out, these are the tactics that are often used. If the aim is to obtain a higher level of success, and you realize that growing slowly is the best way to do that, stay away from the use of these tactics but keep a virtual eye out for their use by competitors.
SCHEMA Markup Spam: The newest form of black hat SEO comes in the form of schema markup. Intended to give search engines a more meaningful understanding of the content available on a page, some SEO professionals (often referred to as SEOs) are turning to this type of code to manipulate their way to the top of the search results pages. Google in particular has been cracking down on such efforts, however.
Doorway Pages: There has long been confusion regarding the use of doorway pages; the method once used by black hat SEOs to deliver one page to search engines and another to end-users. While their initial intent was actually quite benign, they were appropriated malicious and use of this tactic today as a result has dropped considerably.
Keyword Stuffing & Hidden Text: Search engines are wonders of modern technology, so SEOs need to understand that, despite how clever they think they are, readability is important, so cramming the same keyword repeatedly into every paragraph is a strong signal of low quality. And so is “hiding” text from users and showing it only to search engines.
While the practice has waned in popularity over the years, hiding keywords from users and search engines (either by matching text color to the background color or through CSS alignment) is consider black-hat and should be avoided.
Meta-Data Manipulation: Where once search engines needed webmasters and SEOs to define the content of the page through title tags and meta description and meta keyword tags, today, they have the ability to identify content on a page that is most relevant to the user's query.
Comment Spamming: Most information publishers (bloggers) have caught on to comment spamming, and no-followed their links in a bid to dissuade spammers from using their comment section as a means to build links. Search engines do count citations as votes even if they are no-followed however. A better use of time would be to identify the most influential blogs and contribute a comment that actually adds something to the discussion.
Thin & Spun Content: For years, many SEOs would publish thousands upon thousands of pages with little more than a few words on each page, relying more on meta-data and naming conventions to influence rank.
Search engines have become very focused on the quality of content. Not only do they know if your content is thin, but they also have a good idea whether it's been spun - or artificially generated.
Buying & Selling Links: In theory, there should not really be a reason why buying links could be considered black hat, other than it's the sole way some brands acquire their citations. The problem, of course, is that those selling links rarely have a digital property that is of high quality.
Automating Link Acquisition: There are few things that go unnoticed by search engines, and how pages and websites are interlinked is one of them. Those websites that join link networks or Web rings should know, based on the similarity code for example, that they are participating in a link scheme and risk being found out.
Over-Optimizing Links: Avoid over-using keywords in anchor text, opting instead for natural language that makes greater sense to the reader - particularly as it entices them to take action.
What search engine optimization practices, particularly those that now fall into the black hat categorization, have you abandoned? Sign in now to share your insights.