Most business owners today understand the crucial importance of search engine optimization. Every day, there are roughly 63,000 Google searches per second (or 2 trillion per year). And more people are searching on mobile devices than desktop devices in many countries, including the United States. The fact is, if you want people to discover your business, you’ll need to implement solid SEO tactics to make your company more discoverable.

However, in the efforts to improve SEO and put their website in front of people searching for information, services, and products, many business owners engage in black hat SEO tactics. Sometimes, this is done unknowingly, while at other times, marketers make informed decisions to do what’s necessary to put their business at the top of Google search results.

Black hat SEO refers to “cheating’” strategies some people use to achieve those desired results. The following black hat tactics should be avoided at all cost. You might get away with some tricks in the beginning, but that usually doesn’t work in the long-term.

Buying Links

The more links there are to a webpage, the more relevant that webpage is to Google. For this reason, many business owners will buy links to make their website appear more important to search results. After all, in the digital world, links are also considered “votes.” However, one thing many people fail to understand is that Google weighs where links come from.

Typically, companies who pay for links receive link placement from subpar sites. Google understands the difference between a link on a low-quality website that has low traffic, versus a link on a high-quality website that gets regular, organic traffic and has solid SEO.

If the link comes from a site that Google doesn’t trust, then it’s not only discounted but could actually hurt SEO rankings. This is because Google has an entire team that has dedicated its time to locating link selling schemes and identifying other black hat methods, and certainly penalizes those that break the rules.

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is one the most popular black hat strategies. It involves overloading a post or page with words that the business wants to rank for. For example, if you wanted to rank for the term, “best websites for real estate,” you might stuff it throughout the copy of a blog post, adding it to headings and scattering it in paragraphs. Keyword stuffing is used to manipulate Google rankings, but it can have many risks.

First and foremost, keyword stuffing is not user-friendly. You may be able to (temporarily) trick Google into ranking the business higher organically, but you cannot fool your visitors into making them believe your site is useful. And if your site isn’t useful or user-friendly for your visitors, they’ll leave, which will hurt your retention.

Search engines can comprehend the bounce rates of websites: if your users are coming and leaving immediately, what does that say about your site’s usefulness?

Standard practice suggests that you should aim for a 2% keyword density. Keyword density refers to the percentage of times a particular keyword appears in a particular text. You can check your keyword density using keyword density tools. If you notice that your keyword density is on the higher end, you’ll need to do some tweaking to ensure Google doesn’t flag you.

Using Invisible Text

Some webmasters try to circumvent the consequences of keyword stuffing by using “invisible text,” which is when the text of words is the same color as the background. This way, search engines are still able to crawl the page and recognize the keywords, while it doesn’t thwart the user experience for the visitor. However, in addition to the algorithmic reviews Google conducts, there are also manual reviews. This means that even if the algorithms catch you, that doesn’t mean you’ve gotten away with it.

A manual review is when Google engineers take a look at your site and decide you need to be penalized for some of your tactics. Typically, a website is manually reviewed if it shows up in one of Google’s spam reports. These websites are “flagged” because, although they may not face scrutiny under algorithms, they could have another issue. Other times, you may just be a part of Google’s routine check.

As a webmaster and business owner, you never want to be hit with a manual review, and should take the “better safe than sorry” approach to design. (However, if you recently were penalized because of a Google manual review, there are still some things you can do).

Duplicate Content

Having a blog is crucial for SEO. But when business owners don’t have the time and/or money to put into blogging efforts, sometimes they can engage in black hat tactics. And of those is plagiarizing, which then turns into duplicate content. When Google crawls websites for search results and finds the same content across multiple sites, it’s a clear sign that manipulation has been used to trick search engines. Search engines rarely show multiple results containing the same copy, and any links that are in the copy are diluted as a result. This means that in the end, duplicate content only hurts your SEO efforts.

Article Spinning

Article spinning is something like a “cousin” to plagiarism. Article spinning is when a person uses software to copy another article by spinning the words and rephrasing in an attempt to trick search engines into believing that the “spun” article is an original. But there are many reasons article spinning software should be avoided at all costs.

Many article spinning software programs spin perfectly fine copy into unreadable content. This is because they simply replace words with synonyms that don’t make sense, rearrange sentences and phrases in an unnatural way, and in some cases, aren’t spun enough to even be considered a new article. You also have to consider that some of the most popular online articles are spun hundreds of times, leaving hundreds of variations of the same copy all over the Internet. And many times, Google is able to recognize that spun content, and you’re penalized for it anyway.

If you see an article online that has a great concept and you insist on spinning it, then you should do so manually, and add your own flair. Spinning an article manually would probably take the same amount of time as editing work that was spun using a software program.

Image source: Search Engine Roundtable

CEO of Square 1 Group. Emmanuel is an entrepreneur, DJ, web developer and online marketing nerd. He is also a licensed Realtor.

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