Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is clearly an important piece of the puzzle that is creating and maintaining a successful website. If your site is not ranking well in Google and other search engines for relevant phrases that your target audience is searching for, you’re missing out on a significant number of potential clients.
We’ve talked here about many of the things you can and should do to improve your search engine rankings. Many people, will do “whatever it takes,” however, to rank as highly as possible, even if that means using so-called “black hat” methods of SEO. These are generally unethical techniques used to fool Google et al into thinking a site is something more (bigger, better, more popular) than it really is.
Any site found to be incorporating questionable tactics to get high rankings can and often will be banned by Google, either temporarily (until the site cleans up its act) or permanently. Believe me, you don’t want your site banned by Google! It’s like having your store moved from a prime downtown location to some hidden back alley.
So, here is a list of no-nos as far as Google (and quite likely other search engines) are concerned:
- Overloading pages with keywords/phrases. If your site is about trees, you shouldn’t have a sentence that uses the word ‘tree’ a dozen times. Yes, use your keywords as much as is reasonably possible, but if your copy doesn’t read naturally – to humans – you’re probably overdoing it.
- Hidden text. If you’re placing text of one colour on a background of the same or nearly the same colour (e.g., white or very light text on a white background) or using exceptionally small text, chances are you’re not doing so for people reading your site, but rather for the search engines. Don’t.
- Hidden links. These are tiny, virtually invisible links to other pages or from other sites to yours. They serve no purpose other than to give Google the impression that your site has many incoming links.
- Duplicate content – i.e., having two identical (or very similar) pages. Often this can happen innocently, especially if you’re selling a large number of somewhat similar products, each having its own details page. Usually the worst that will happen in that case is that Google will index only one of the pages and ignore the other(s). But don’t duplicate pages within your site or on other domains just to increase the content or occurrence of keywords.
- Doorway pages. These are external pages that exist for no other purpose than to direct traffic to your site. Generally they’re filled with different keywords and links so that it looks like your site is more popular and relevant than it really is.
- Using software that automatically submits your site or queries about your site’s rankings to Google can get you into trouble. This practice can use up their valuable resources, so is frowned upon.
Even if Google or other search engines don’t automatically catch your site for cheating, people can manually submit sites that use questionable SEO tactics to be checked into and possibly removed from their indexes. If you’re in a highly competitive field, your competitors may be waiting to jump on such an opportunity.
The rule of thumb is this: If it feels like you’re cheating, you probably are and will get caught. Maybe not now, but eventually you probably will and if website traffic is important to your business (and it should be), that’s not a chance worth taking!