Some use the straight, narrow, and often, difficult path to achieve success. Many use short-cuts. As in life, there are no short-cuts to long-term success in search engine optimisation (SEO). Search engine optimisation is the process of ensuring that a website gets visibility and ranking on search engines through a series of strategies based on globally-accepted best practices. Or rather it should be!
However, a number of SEO firms around the world use tactics that are not only unethical, but specifically banned by search engines. If your website requires SEO services, it pays to keep yourself informed about what is ethical and what is not. If your SEO service partner follows Black Hat Tactics, it can have serious consequences for your site in the long run. Of course, such SEO firms may show dramatic results and ROI initially, but the moment search engines catch on – and they will – your site will be penalised and possibly blacklisted.
The penalties are quite stiff: search engines can penalise your site by lowering its ranking, stripping the site of the power to pass on PageRank; banning parts of your site; or even a total site ban (also called ‘graybarred’, because the site’s PageRank is grayed out on the Google toolbar).
How does one distinguish ethical SEO practices from unethical ones?
The fundamental trait that marks an unethical SEO firm is that it focuses on getting the attention of the search engine robot rather than the human viewer. The aim of such a firm is to get quick results, rather than look at the long-term success of its clients.
Search engines are constantly on the watch for such unethical practices and are quick to crack down hard on sites relying on such methods. They use a variety of means to detect unethical practices. These include sophisticated automated spam checks, paid spam spotters and, most important, your own competitors. So if you think your unethical practices will go undetected, think again.
There’s a simple reason for their alacrity. For unethical SEO firms, getting a good ranking for their clients in the shortest period of time is all-important, not ensuring that the user finds what he or she wants. So the user gets a lot of search results that he or she finds perfectly useless, damaging the credibility of the search engine.
Make sure that your SEO partner is not using any of these tactics:
Unethical redirects (Doorway or Gateway pages): The search results throw up a certain URL that seems to match the word you were looking for. But when you click on it, you’re redirected to another URL, which may have absolutely no connection with what you wanted. Webmasters create a number of fake pages (doorway or gateway pages) that are stuffed with keyword-rich content specifically for search engine robots. These are not intended for user consumption. When a user clicks on those URLs, they are redirected to a single page that the webmaster wants you to see. Search engines are continuously improving the technology to detect such techniques. If your site is found using them, it could be banned by the search engine.
You’ve been framed: In this case the URL remains the same, but the entire viewing area of the web page is filled up by a frame (search engines robots have a problem reading content inside frames) that may or may not have the content you want. Right-click on the body of the frame and choose ‘properties’, and you’ll discover that it has a different URL.
Hidden content: This is one of the oldest spamming techniques and perhaps the easiest for search engines to detect: Making content such as keywords and links invisible by using the same colour for text as the background; white text on white background. While search engine robots will be able to read the content, users will not. Another method of using hidden content is through the use of comment tags to stuff content.
Link farms: Many sites offer reciprocal links and exist solely for that purpose. Avoid such link networks. Another Black Hat Tactic employed by SEOs is to submit competitors’ sites to such networks in the hope that they will be penalised.
Keyword spam: Excessive use of keywords in tags and across body copy. Use your keywords judiciously. Don’t overdo it. Another method of keyword spamming is using popular keywords that are irrelevant to your business.
Cloaking: Sites can deploy software on their web servers that can tell them whether a request for a page is being made by a search engine robot or a human user (by identifying the IP or user agent). As a result, websites are able to deliver a keyword-rich page to a search engine robot and a completely different page for human users. Such a tactic is called cloaking, and is a popular technique with Black Hat SEO companies.
Interlinking: Interlinking is a way to improve the link popularity of one or more sites. It involves creating multiple websites and linking each other as a way to increase the overall link popularity of the sites involved.
Trademark infringement: Using the name of competitors as a keyword on your site.
All of these practices are frowned upon by search engines. Be aware that you will be discovered sooner or later. Taking short-cuts is obviously not the answer. A SEO firm that takes its job seriously goes about it in an ethical fashion, which pays off in the long-term. It treats the search engine not as an adversary, but as a friend. The focus is on delivering the relevant results to the relevant audience, not to con them.
(Prashant Deorah is Managing Director of Puretech Internet.)
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