Search Engine Optimization

Avoid Black Hat SEO

Written by Richard San Juan for Gaebler Ventures

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the volume and quantity of traffic to a website from search engines via "natural" search results for targeted keywords. It is a business strategy that has paid dividends for many companies who wish to maximize their online capability. However, as with anything in business, there is potential for abuse. Enter black hat SEO.

Nowadays, businesses and the Internet are so intertwined that increasing the visibility of your company, product, or service on the Web is just as essential as marketing and promoting the old-fashioned way.

On the Internet, it is more of an even playing field for the smaller businesses and startups. Small companies usually do not have the same financial resources as the larger, more established companies to put towards marketing and promoting their product or service. However, search engine optimization allows a smart small company to outperform the big boys.

Search engine optimization assists companies in ranking well for important keywords in search engines like Google and Yahoo, thus greatly increasing a company's exposure on the Web.

SEO is a legit business strategy that unfortunately has sometimes been abused by using various practices in an inappropriate and unethical manner.

SEO techniques that are questionable are referred to as Black Hat SEO. These unethical practices refer to the utilization of overzealous SEO strategies, techniques, and actions that solely focus on achieving better search rankings.

Black Hat SEO Tactics

What are some of the techniques of black hat SEO?

An example of a technique that has been abused by black hat SEO practitioners is hidden text. Hiding text or links to make it seem appear invisible to the website visitor but not to search engine bots is a violation. Before, hidden text practice was effective by making the font the same color as the background. Then the website owner would simply list the target keywords in the hidden text to game the search engines. However, search engines are able to now spot these types of abuses.

Cloaking is another black hat SEO technique. Cloaking involves detecting when a search engine spider comes to a site and then delivering unique content to the search engine spider. In effect, the search engine company sees different content on the page than a visiting human would see. Search engine companies fell victim to this black hat SEO tactic in the early days but have since become much more sophisticated in detecting cloaking, making it ineffective.

Another borderline black hat SEO technique is called keyword stuffing. It basically involves "stuffing" long lists of keywords into the content on a page that makes the website unreadable. For example, let's assume there is a website that deals with gifts for mothers on Mother's Day. An instance of keyword stuffing would be this: "We sell the best mother's day gifts for mother's day. If you like to honor mother's day, we can help select your mother's day gifts for mother's day." It is an obvious ploy to move up the search rankings, even though the sentence is not coherent.

In addition to these two techniques, link farms are popular tools in black hat SEO. Link farms are collectively known as a network of websites that are all interlinked together and serve no other purpose but attempt to boost the link popularity of the sites.

Black Hat SEO Should Be Avoided At All Costs

Black hat SEO techniques should be avoided, because the punishment if caught can be severe.

For startups and small businesses that heavily depend on the Internet for visibility, being guilty of black hat SEO could serve as a deathblow to the company.

Anyone tempted to attempt black hat SEO should understand that major search engines like Google and Yahoo will penalize these techniques aggressively when they find them.

They can drop your rankings so low that even the most seasoned searchers will have a difficult time finding your website. A lowered ranking is never a good thing because your products or services that are being marketed on the website have less exposure. Less visibility most likely means decreased sales and revenue.

Going even further, if the violations were so extreme, the search engines can just ban your website and remove it from the index list. This ensures that your site will never show up on search results at all.

The lesson that should be learned by entrepreneurs and small business owners who seek to use search optimization techniques to bolster their company is to make sure that your practices are legit. Ensure that your content on the website is geared with the customer in mind and not only the search engines.

At the end of the day, focusing on creating a good website and good content has proven to be the best way to search engine optimize a site. If you have great content, the odds are you will rank well in the search engine results. Still, there are some legitimate SEO techniques that you should apply to your good content to improve your performance in search engines.

Perhaps the best way to avoid the potential problems all together would be to hire a firm that specializes in SEO. However, what if the SEO firm uses black hat SEO techniques without telling you?

That has happened on many occasions. The key lesson learned is that you must do your due diligence on an SEO consulting firm before hiring them, making sure that they have no history of using black hat SEO techniques.

Richard San Juan is currently pursuing an MBA degree with an emphasis in Finance from DePaul University in Chicago. He is particularly interested in writing about business news and strategies.

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