For many, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a misunderstood marketing channel. Constantly changing, SEO can be the difference between getting your website's content into the consumer's field of vision or getting stuck on page 10 of a search engine result's page. There are many different tactics marketers can utilize to boost their brand's online awareness, but implementing older, unethical techniques can end up negatively impacting their website. In SEO, these unethical techniques are commonly known as "Black Hat" practices and should be avoided at all costs. While these often offer short-term SEO gains it normally comes at a high long term cost that can destroy a website's SEO presence.
To avoid "Black Hat" SEO practices, it is important to identify which techniques work, and which do not. To jumpstart your SEO efforts, here are 4 of the most commonly used Black Hat techniques you need to avoid, and alternatives to ensure that both search engines and your consumers find a high quality website that is worth visiting and linking to.
1. Keyword Stuffing/Invisible Text
The first step to implementing an SEO strategy is to build a comprehensive Keyword Strategy. This strategy should encompass any terms that are related to your brand, products, or information you are looking to showcase on your website. That said, as a marketer, it is not always guaranteed that the product you are looking to promote will have keywords with high amounts of search volume. In the past, SEO marketers would counter this by finding keywords that produced high amounts of traffic, and sprinkle them into their websites. This way, the robots, or "crawlers" that search engines use to track down content would detect these high traffic keywords, and boost the authority and traffic of your website.
This Black Hat technique came to be called "Keyword Stuffing." Since then, search engines have become much more intelligent. Not only does this technique no longer work, but search engines have begun to actually penalize websites for creating pages with irrelevant terms. Like many techniques in marketing, "honesty is the best policy."
As previously mentioned, the most efficient way to build a page's keyword ranking is to create a strategy that focuses on the goals that the website is aiming for by utilizing accepted SEO tactics that provide long term organic traffic gains. In addition to strategizing internally, there are plenty of SEO tools that can help you build out a strategy that will best fit your brand. For example, premium tools like SEMRush.com can give you the edge you need by measuring the SEO marketing efforts of your competitors, while other basic tools like Google's Keyword Planner can help to measure specific keyword terms, and give suggestions for fleshing out keywords for your marketing plan.
2. Keyword Stacking & Duplicating Content
Once you have researched keywords it is often tempting to create content around words you know generate high amounts of web traffic. In the early days of SEO marketing, some marketers would create content that repeated the same words or phrases to help bolster their website. Similar to "Keyword Stuffing", this technique ultimately came to be known as "Keyword Stacking."
Not only does this technique no longer work, it is now penalized by search engines, and creates an awkward experience for visitors reading your content. The best way to counter this is to be as natural with your writing as possible while still keeping your keywords in mind. Ensure that the people creating your website content understand the importance of keywords - and are writing for users, not search engines.
3. Buying External Links
In addition to creating targeted content, it is also vital to make sure that your content is being referenced by outside sources. Search engines measure this by combing through other websites, and searching for hyperlinks (or "external links") that point to your content. Once SEO marketers got wind of this, people began strategizing towards buying hyperlink placements on websites that were highly relevant. This technique has since been discovered by search engines, and has started to be penalized by search engine algorithms and Google's webspam team.
In more ways than one, the best way to have your content referenced by outside sites is to cultivate relationships with the influencers of your industry. Generally, it is advisable to dedicate a portion of your internal team's time to reaching out to media outlets to create opportunities for sharing content. Additionally, these relationships even have the opportunity to create business opportunities outside the realm of SEO - such as generating higher amounts of referral traffic to your website and new sales opportunities.
4. Building Link Juice
On the topic of link building, it is important to note that search engines not only monitor the number of external links that your website is receiving, but the authority of the external source as well. When it comes to link building, it's all about quality over quantity.
Once the SEO community realized how important acquiring hyperlinks were, websites began popping up across the Internet that spammed links from other websites. Interestingly enough, having websites with low page authority linking to your website can actually decrease the authority of your page and lower your search engine rankings. If you ever feel that a website linking to your content does not hold the page authority you want supporting your content, make sure you request a NoFollow tag in their hyperlink or use Google's webmaster tools to disavow their link from being counted in your backlink profile. This way, search engines will not count the hyperlink in their crawls.
Do SEO The Right Way
While it can be tempting to engage in "Black Hat" SEO tactics, more often than not doing so can cost your website everything you've worked hard to achieve in terms of attracting high quality traffic and sales. Being genuine in your SEO strategies is the best way to stay clear of anything that could feasibly cause you to run afoul of best practices - using links and SEO to benefit users tends to be a great way to make search engines happy (with a few very minor exceptions). If you still aren't sure how to proceed with your business' SEO plan, Moz's Paddy Moogan released a fully comprehensive guide to link building that offers excellent insights into the science of outreach. It's well worth a read and should put you on the right track towards getting the rankings you want by engaging in SEO and linkbuilding the right way.
If you need more help with your website's SEO strategies, let us know in the comments section below or by contacting us on Twitter at @BFMweb. You can also get further assistance by checking out our Search Engine Optimization page.