- January 1, 2012
Black Hat SEO: How Bad Guys Manipulate the Search Engines
Back in the day of Western movies, when cowboys roamed the wild and pistol duels at dawn were the rage, the heroes and villains both faced a serious dilemma: how to differentiate themselves from each other. After all, image is everything, and the last thing a Billy the Kid or Jesse James needs is to be mistaken for a namby-pamby good guy. The answer came quickly: Hats! The outlaw donned a sinister black hat with matching tough-guy vest, and the sheriff wore a pristine white hat with his authoritative badge.
Fast forward to the present, the black hats still roam rampant, but this time the playing field is the vast open prairie of the internet, and the target is manipulating search engine rankings. In the battle for the number one spot in search engines, the black hats use methods that are deemed unethical and deceptive. Of course, when these methods first came out, they were considered safe and quite clever. Eventually, as the methods became more common, many started abusing them with the sole intent of quickly reaching the top ranking and attracting a huge amount of traffic without delivering any useful content. If these underhanded tactics are used, they will certainly boost the ranking of a website. However, they could also lead to the user’s website getting banned from the search engine rankings, the ultimate death knell in the internet marketing and blogging business. It’s a short term gain aimed at circumventing the natural process of properly designing and developing a website. Here is a partial list of the methods considered unethical in SEO. It would be wise to avoid them:
Hidden Text and Links
This method sneakily embeds text and links that are invisible to viewers but still accessible to search engine crawlers. An ancient example would be having a white text amidst a white background. Visitors cannot see the text, so the artistic model of the website is maintained, but at the same time, it artificially attempts to boost the website’s ranking by littering the page with popular keywords for search engines to pick up on. It’s considered unethical practice and should not be attempted.
Similar to the above tactic, black hats repeatedly use a targeted keyword in an effort to fool search engines. Since keyword density is an important tool to keep in mind in SEO, some are often misguided into thinking that the more keywords there are on a page, the better the page’s ranking. While it is true that a website containing an abundant supply of appropriately placed keywords will rank better than those that do not, spamming keywords will only get the user in trouble. Search engines can now uncover websites that use keywords in an unrelated manner to the rest of the text body and quickly penalize it.
Multiple Links from Unrelated Websites
This method utilizes multiple inbound and outbound links to various websites, often unrelated to the topic at hand, in an attempt to increase search engine ranking based on link analysis. Popularly known as link farming, it is usually done by creating multiple websites and linking them to one another. The larger the number of websites involved, the more links one gets. The idea is to spam the index of a search engine to achieve a better ranking. While having multiple links is not intrinsically unethical, having links to unrelated websites is. The recommended action would be to link only to websites that share a relationship with the topic and to avoid link farming.
Falsely Increasing Page Popularity
This can be as mundane as creating multiple user accounts and commenting on your own blog or website to make it seem as if a thriving community is engaged in an active dialogue, or as sophisticated as using follow scripts, exit traffic systems, pop-ups, and site rotation systems. The desired outcome in this method is to inflate the website or blog’s popularity though artificial means. A better way would be to stop wasting time trying to gain easy popularity points and actually start doing some work on the site itself.
This is more of a common mistake than an overt tactic. Search engines automatically index a newly created website after a period of time, but actively promoting the website by submitting it manually is a speedier alternative. This would be appropriate, but some expect their website to appear in the rankings immediately and repeatedly submit the site. This is a sure way to get in trouble. Submitting the website once is enough, and time can then be spent constructively by developing the site to become more attractive and informative to viewers. Patience is the key.
Doorway Page and Subsequent Redirect
This involves creating a phony webpage that is solely geared towards luring search engines. The trick works by filling the doorway page with spam and targeted keywords, hoping to bait the search engine into giving it a high rank. If successfully done, the unsuspecting visitor then clicks on the phony page and is then automatically redirected to the original, intended, and oftentimes less popular homepage. Using doorway pages and redirection involves blatant trickery and could get the user’s website banned fast.
Bad Publicity is Not Good Publicity
Cheap self-promotion to increase traffic is often employed by less sophisticated black hats to further their page rank. These include callously dropping the web address in different forums, comment sections, and social networks, as well as sending spam mail to get people to visit the website. These links are often left in other websites that have nothing to do with the topic of the black hat’s website and will only serve to annoy other web users. It may generate a little amount of traffic from unwary visitors, but the overall community standing of the promoted website will drop.
What makes these tactics so appealing is their ability to magically take a destitute website from the top 10,000 to the top 10. Unfortunately, these quick-fixes are only good in the short run. The longer a person employs these tactics, the greater the risk of being found out and banned. In the end, solid and honest white hat tactics trump dishonesty; it separates the hardworking folks from the scheming villains. Similar to the Western movies, when daybreak hits the internet, the sheriff keeps the peace, and the black hat leaves town for good.