Search engine optimization is essential to your marketing game. It significantly impacts your visibility, customer engagement, and much more. Organic traffic is often the primary source of web traffic, so it’s key to invest the time to grow in this area. It’s also important to keep in mind that your SEO strategy is a long term, ongoing investment in general. This means that it will take time to build up your presence and credibility and see results.
Be aware of scams and avoid using black hat tactics that can be used to trick search engines. These can result in your website being penalized (which can mean lower rankings or being banned from the SERPs)! Here are a few of the most commonly seen black hat tactics to watch out for:
COMMON SCAMS AND BLACK-HAT TACTICS
What to Avoid: Keyword Stuffing and Hiding
Thoroughly researching a keyword strategy is critical, but so is the way it’s implemented throughout a website. Yes - search engines are scanning your content for keywords to see if it’s relevant to a user’s search. Once upon a time, it was a good idea to have as many keywords on the page as possible, but not anymore. Search engines now penalize websites who have too many keywords on the website, in the metadescription, etc.
Hiding keywords is exactly what it sounds like – adding keywords (usually irrelevant ones to try to get extra traffic) but changing the text color to match the background color. This prevents users from seeing it and ensuring that only the search engines do. This tactic is also used to increase the appearance of backlinks. Both will get your rankings lowered because they negatively impact how useful the site is to a user.
What to Do: Less is More and Keep It Natural
Instead of stuffing, try not to use too many keywords on a single page. For example, focus on 1 or so per page instead of trying to get all of your target keywords on one page. Repetition isn’t necessary either, and wherever keywords are added, it should sound as natural as possible.
What to Avoid: Link Farms, Paid Links and Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
Backlinks and inbound links illustrate how authoritative and relevant your website is. Purchasing links used to work in the past but are no longer best practice. One exception to this is if the website is very much relevant to your industry and of high-quality – for example, I might consider this for a client in the medical field who is interested in advertising on a reputable health or medical organization’s website.
Link farms and private blog networks, or PBNs are created solely to generate backlinks and increase ranking for the listed websites. PBNs are typically expired domains with existing link juice that can be passed down, so they can be a powerful resource. Google definitely looks out for these, so there are major risks to using them and will negatively impact your website.
What to Do: Quality vs. Quantity
Building links is a time-consuming art that requires a lot of dedication and outreach. It can be overwhelming and frustrating at times. It’s important to remember that more backlinks are not necessarily better, especially if you’re being featured on spammy websites or toxic domains. You want links from highly authoritative, trusted websites. To start off, you can look at creating links back to your website in local directories like Yelp or FourSquare and industry/niche specific directories. Other opportunities include broken link building, guest postings, news releases, and sponsorships/scholarships.
What to Avoid: Swapping and Copying Content
What is swapping? Let’s say one of your pages is doing really well in the SERPs. The awesome content on the page gets replaced with less than optimal content and is a completely different page altogether. This means users are being pointed to a page that is no longer relevant to what they’re searching. The ol’ bait and switch will have a negative impact and may result in a Google penalty.
Outright plagiarizing someone else’s content is a big no-no in terms of SEO. Well, what about re-using your own content on your website? Duplicate content can present issues because the search engines will struggle to attribute factors like authority to one page or the various versions. Search engines need to figure out which page or pages get included in the SERPs and if they get to stay indexed or if they need to be de-indexed.
What to Do: Delight Your Users or Tag It
You should be creating original, relevant content that users find useful and appealing. While Google has stated that there is no penalty for duplicate content, I recommend avoiding it if you can. If there is duplicate content on your domain, be sure to make use of canonical and “noindex, follow” tags when appropriate.
What to Watch Out For: Guaranteed #1 Rank in SERPs
Not everyone has the time to create and then implement a full-blown SEO strategy. You might be interested in outsourcing your SEO efforts to a marketing agency. Be wary of anyone who promises that they can guarantee you a #1 spot in Google. No one can guarantee this – it’s pretty much impossible. Algorithms change and SERPS constantly change, too. There are numerous ranking factors at play, and search results can vary by user – for example, a colleague and I might search for “Best Doctors in Denver” and while we might get the same first-page results overall, the order in which the individual results appear may vary.
What to Do: Find a Reputable Agency with Proven Results
Do your research! This might mean reviewing their website and looking over client testimonials and reviews. Who are they working with and what do these clients have to say about their work? How are they going to get you the results you want and how are these measured? Are the methods they employ lean more towards white or black hat tactics? Remember, SEO is a long-term investment and should be done right. While it might be tempting to get some instant gratification and rise quickly in rank, white hat tactics always win out in the long run.
There you have it - a list of the most common SEO scams and tactics out there that should be avoided in today's optimization age. If you find that you've been doing some of this on your own, stop! If you have an SEO partner that's utilizing anything listed above, heavily consider a deeper audit and hard conversation.