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CyberCity 2000 - Detecting Black Hat Techniques

The Dark Side of SEO - Detecting Black Hat Marketing Techniques

   by David Nicolosi

You're site has been running in a hosted environment for several months now. Traffic is trickling in at a slow pace, your Google PageRank is 0, and your monthly bills are starting to mount. You are about to give up all hope when you happen upon a professional SEO service promising you top-10 rankings. You hesitate and wonder if it's too good to be true. The SEO experts assure you that you will gain top-10 rankings and you will see an increase in traffic by using their service, for a small fee of course. Before you sign on the dotted line, take a moment to understand the techniques these SEO experts may be applying and how you can detect Black Hat Marketing techniques which can damage both your website and reputation permanently!

KeyWord Stuffing
Keywords are extremely important when it comes to Search Engine Results Placement (SERPs). If your website targets a very broad keyword with a lot of competition (ex: video games) then you'll find it near impossible to achieve a top ten ranking on that keyword. If you target a very niche keyword or keyword phrase (ex: He-Man video game) then you'll find top ten placement much more achievable. Many websites simply target the wrong keywords or webmasters fail to keep monitoring and fine-tuning their keyword selections. As a result, webmasters (and self-proclaimed SEO experts) are tempted to employ Keyword Stuffing. Keyword stuffing occurs when a web page's meta tags and content are loaded with a particular keyword or keyword phrase in a repetitious manner. Not only does this repetition make content unreadable by humans (and thus worthless), it can also raise a red-flag to search engines. Although the practice may get you higher SERPs in the short-term, it's sure to gain your site a bad reputation with users and possible banishment from search engines. If you are using an SEO service, keep an eye out for Keyword stuffing. Start your keyword campaign in an honest fashion by visiting Word Tracker and opening up an account. Word Tracker is a tool that many legitimate SEO experts use. With Word Tracker you can analyze keywords, see competition on keywords, and target keywords that gain you the most traffic with the least competition.

Hiding Text
Hiding text consists of shielding keywords and phrases from the view of the user. SEO companies may employ hiding of text as a Black Hat Marketing technique to help increase SERPs. There are several ways to hide text, including setting the color of the text to be the same as the background. Webmasters may also use the CSS "Z" positioning technique to place text on a lower plan behind images (thus shielding them from user view). Another technique is absolute positioning, where text is placed off the visible boundary of the main webpage content. Recently, search engines have been advancing their algorithms to try to detect pages that make use of hidden text for the purpose of rankings. If the SEO company you plan on doing business with suggests text hiding, move on and find another SEO company.

Doorway Pages
Doorway pages, also commonly known as landing pages, bridge pages, jump pages, and gateway pages, are web pages that are designed to appeal to search engine spiders that are looking for pages to index. They're purpose is to spam the index of search engines by falsifying results for particular phrases with the purpose of sending users to a different page than the one they intended. Doorways are particularly easy to identify as they generally contain no content and are not designed to be useful to users. Their main target is search engine spiders.

Content that is served up to a search engine spider that differs from content presented to a users' browser is a technique commonly known as cloaking. Cloaking is often used as a spamdexing technique. Cloaking does have valid uses, but is often a ploy used by sites that serve up illegal warez, pornography, male enhancement pills, and Viagra (to name a few).

Link Farms
Links farms consists of a directory of web pages with little or no content that contain hyperlinks that point to every other page in the directory. Most link farms exist for the purpose of spamming the search engine indexes (spamdexing) in order to help sites gain higher search engine placement. Note that link farms should not be confused with directories (such as DMOZ) nor should they be confused for legitimate link pages. For example, it's perfectly appropriate to have a resources or links page in your site that contains links to other site (partners). The key is to not overload the page with just links and to limit the number of links per page. It's suggested you categorize links if you're linking to several dozen sites and wrap link text within the body of a sentence. It's also recommended that you join link services that do not involve link farms, such as Free Links Direct. If your SEO company is suggesting listing your site in directories, make sure you find out which directories you'll be listed in and preview them on your own. If the directory is nothing more than a series of unrelated links with no structure, then you've happened upon a link farm. Bid that SEO company a fond farewell and move on. According to Google, a site that participates in a link farm may have its search rankings penalized.

Pop-unders are usually a technique applied by traffic service websites that guarantee you'll receive X number of visitors form their service. With pop-unders, a window loads a web page behind the page you are currently surfing (think of it as a reverse pop-up). When a user clicks away (closes) the current website, you're site is displayed behind it. Although not necessarily Black Hat Marketing, pop-unders are not the most effective way to gain traffic. Your site may garner a negative impression by users as they'll associate it with the pop-under. Most users do not appreciate or welcome schemes that direct them to a site other than the one they specifically targeted. That's why web browsers come with built-in pop-up blockers. In general, if something seems hokey to you it will seem hokey to your users.

The ultimate in Black Hat Marketing... SPAM! There really isn't much to say about this that hasn't already been said. Simple rule, Don't spam! Don't spam search engines, don't send out email spam, don't spam forums, and don't spam user blogs! Once labeled as a spammer, you risk taking a serious blow to your reputation, not to mention any legal issues that can peruse. Be very wary of any SEO expert that offer website promotion through blast emails. Ensure that any email going out with your web url are being targeted towards users with a general interest in what you have to offer and that it's not unsolicited email.

Once you know what SEO techniques you should avoid, finding a quality SEO expert will be much easier. Any company or person who claims to be an SEO expert will avoid applying any of the fore mentioned techniques. For every right way of doing SEO, there's at least one wrong way. Stay focused on what's important and conduct your business practices in an honest and ethical manner and you'll soon find your website taking a turn for the better.


About the Author

David is a Senior Programming consultant and SEO expert with over 10 years experience in the IT industry. David currently owns several successful websites, including Free Links Direct, a free SEO service that provides one-way links and quality SEO articles and tips.

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