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BACK TO BASICS: Don't Risk Your Rankings With Unethical SEO

by Susan Esparza, March 15, 2007

The worst kept secret in Internet Marketing is the advantages of a well-wrought search engine optimization campaign. Companies are quickly adopting SEO into their marketing plan and looking for someone they can trust to optimize their Web sites in order to achieve top rankings. However, not all SEO practitioners are created equal so be sure you know what you're getting before you sign a contract.

With over 100 million Web sites on the Internet, it is more important than ever to achieve high rankings for visibility. While reputable SEO companies use ethical SEO practices, there are others who will try to trick the engines into high rankings by using questionable techniques. These techniques are known as spam and can get you penalized or banned from the search engines.

Many times, an SEO provider will promise quick, first-page rankings and fail to notify the client that they use spam techniques to achieve those rankings. To avoid falling into this trap, you must be aware of unethical SEO techniques and guard against the companies who use them.

Consequences of Spam

While search engines may have different rules for detecting spam, in the end, the results are the same - you lose your rankings and can be taken out of the index. It is not easy to recover from a ban, so it is important to know the techniques that must be avoided.

Many sites may be unwitting victims of spamming techniques used by aggressive SEO vendors. Whether it happens inadvertently or not, the search engines will penalize and ban, temporarily or permanently. If a significant part of your online business model depends on search engine traffic, you could be in trouble. When infractions are serious, it can take many months to convince the search engine that you corrected the problem and deserve a second chance.

SEO Techniques to Avoid

Search engine optimization practitioners are often divided into two camps: the so-called Black Hats, who use questionable techniques to trick the search engines into ranking them highly, and White Hats, who prefer to work with the search engines guidelines in order to achieve lasting success. A number of Black Hat vendors have turned to White Hat techniques over the past year; however, there are still many unethical vendors claiming to practice SEO soliciting business.

Below are some basic spam techniques to avoid. Obviously this list isn't exhaustive but it will give you a good idea of the types of things that the search engines find to be unacceptable. Familiarize yourself with Google's Webmaster Guidelines and make sure you know if what is being done to your Web site is in agreement with those rules.

Keyword Stuffing: This practice involves the repetitive use of the same keyword phrase over and over in your Meta tags, Comment tags, ALT tags or in the copy on your pages. When determining the appropriate keyword density for your page content, plan to repeat your targeted keywords no more than six or seven times within 200 words of text on one page. You can use the keyword density analyzer available on our free SEO tools page in order to determine if you or your SEO is using a particularly keyword too often.

Hidden Text or Links: This practice involves inserting hidden text or links that are readable by search engine spiders but cannot be seen by your site's human visitors. This can be accomplished several way, the easiest of which is by using a white link or white text containing relevant keywords on a Web page with a white background. Your site visitors won't be able to see this text and will not know it is there, but the search engines will. All search engines consider hidden links or hidden text to be spam and will penalize the page, if not the entire site, for it.

Cloaking: This involves using a software program to direct search spiders to a group of pages specifically created to trick the spider and re-direct the user to a different set of pages. The user does not see the group of spam pages and is simultaneously re-directed to the real site. Cloaking can have proper uses--some sites use it to redirect based on location. For example, if they sell a product that is illegal to market in a particular area, they can direct those users to a different page where the illegal products are not mentioned. However, by and large, cloaking is used to deceive the search engines and must be considered a spam technique.

Doorway Pages: Also known as Gateway or Bridge pages, these are low-quality Web pages that exist only to pass visitors to the main Web site without providing value of their own. Doorway pages are used to achieve high rankings for a particular key phrase while leading the user to a different page irrelevant to the search query. These pages frequently auto refresh to a second Web site. Be sure that every page on your site that you want indexed can be accessed by at least two internal links and that the page provides value to the user.

Mirror Sites and Duplicate Content: This involves the creation of several sites with identical content and placing them on multiple servers with different domain names. These sites link to one another and are constructed for the purpose of achieving multiple rankings for identical keywords using the same content. Search engines suppress duplicate content because it holds no value for their users. An optimization company who suggests that you interlink all the Web sites that you own is doing you a great disservice. These types of incestuous link rings are a clear violation of the search engine's spam guidelines.

Link Farms: Google's quality guidelines suggest that pages contain no more than 99 links. Link farms typically consist of one page with hundreds of links to sites within different categories that are unrelated to your site content. Such pages contain poor quality content that is useless to visitors. Reciprocal links from these pages hold no value for you at all and could potentially associate you with poor neighborhoods. Avoid these inbound links at all costs because they will result in serious penalties and banning.

Ask any prospective search engine optimization company about their best practices and be sure you know what they're doing to your pages. Beware of spammers who claim to be legitimate search engine optimization experts. Realize that no company can guarantee results and if a company claims a special relationship with Google or any other search engine, run the other way.

Unethical SEO techniques can bring you high rankings; however, visibility is short lived. When you use spamming techniques, your site may benefit briefly from high rankings that last for days, weeks or months. Once the search engines discover the use of spamming techniques, they will penalize or ban your site from their indexes. If you are removed from a search engine index, it can be difficult and time consuming to be reinstated. You might even have to start over with a new domain name. So beware of unethical SEO techniques and ask any prospective vendors if they adhere to a Code of Ethics and/or a Code of Conduct. Once achieved legitimately, organic links can last indefinitely. That's why it's important to acquire your search engine rankings fairly and maintain them ethically.


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