Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a marketing discipline focused on increasing visibility in organic search engine results (for more information about organic and paid searches, click here). Within the definition of SEO lies all of the technical and creative elements required to improve a site’s rankings, drive traffic and increase awareness in search engines.
Some website owners do this is using ‘black hat’ techniques; aggressive SEO strategies and tactics that only focus on search engines and not on a human audience (in case you were interested, the term ‘black hat’ derives from the old Western film convention in which the good guy wore a white hat that contrasted with the bad guy’s black hat). These tactics are usually used by those who are looking for a quick financial return on their websites, but typically end up doing their website more harm than good.
Please note: The purpose of this post is not to encourage the execution of these techniques, but to help you to recognise and avoid any black hat SEO tactics that could put your website at risk. We sit very firmly in the white hat camp and believe to keep your online business reputation afloat, you must avoid black hat SEO and embrace white hat techniques instead.
5 black hat SEO techniques you must avoid:
1. Keyword Stuffing:
This is a technique used by web developers to overload keywords onto a web page. Because search engines like Google scan web pages to find the same words and phrases that were searched by the user, the more times a word appears on a webpage, the more relevancy it is assigned to that particular search. Though we definitely recommend getting your keywords up onto your web pages where appropriate, search engines will often penalise a site if it is found guilty of keyword stuffing (some search engines will even ban the offending web pages from their search results). If you’re unsure about the recommended keyword density, have a read of our post on 'Copywriting with Google in Mind' for some tips. Remember, you must always prioritise the reader when writing content for your website – if you don’t, your bounce rate will hit the roof, making the benefits of this technique minimal.
2. Invisible Text:
The concept of invisible text is similar to that of keyword stuffing (as are the consequences). The only difference is that invisible text is, well... invisible. This is often done by making the text the same colour as the page’s background, so it is unseen by the user but can still be scanned and indexed by the search engine.
3. Doorway Pages:
Doorway or Gateway pages are fake pages designed specifically for search engines and are never seen by the end user. Stuffed with keywords and other highly optimised content, they automatically redirect the user to a target page, so the chances of them being reported are slim. However, search engine spiders are being enhanced continually to detect these pages, and if one is found on your site you run the risk of being boycotted by the search engine altogether.
4. Link Farming/Building:
Back in the day, building your own network of websites designed to link back to each other was an easy way to help boost your rankings. Nowadays though, link farming is a sure fire way to get yourself into some big trouble with the big guns (this includes guest-blogging on irrelevant or low quality sites for the purpose of gaining links). Ever heard the saying ‘you’re only as good as the company you keep’? Well, Google lives by that little chestnut, so if your website is seen to be linked from or linking to a number of unrelated websites, you could be penalised heavily.
5. Meta Spam
While you’re unlikely to be punished for over-optimising your meta- description, you’re equally as unlikely to see any benefit from doing so. Google doesn't use this content as a huge ranking factor, but it does display it as your ad copy in the search engine results pages. For this reason you need to make sure it accurately describes the content of your page in a way that appeals to and entices your potential visitors – otherwise why would they click on it?
So, there you have it – our top 5 ‘don’ts’ when it comes to SEO. Though these are just a handful of the potential hundreds of black hat techniques out there, we feel they are the ones most likely to be employed by unwitting website owners. We hope after reading this post you’re equipped with enough knowledge to be able to determine where the SEO techniques you are currently using sit on the white hat/black hat spectrum, but if you do still have some unanswered questions, or maybe some other tips for your fellow readers, please leave them in the comments section below!