As with everything, there is a dark side to SEO. So-called black hat organizations recognize the importance of search returns as well and will try to manipulate the system to get search returns pointed to their pages. Search engines getting good at spotting efforts to trick them, though. As a legitimate organization, just don’t do it – either yourself or by hiring a firm that practices these methods. These techniques will often get your site penalized and you will wind up worse than if you had not implemented SEO.
In its infancy, a search engine was little more than a system of looking up key words. The importance of a page to the topic was measured by the amount of times a key word appeared. If an article used the words “car” and “automobile” several times then the algorithm would give this page a high page ranking for those terms. This led to the obvious use of keyword cramming – simply using the key words over and over within the content of the page. Some early black hat techniques even added a whole section of nonsense text below the actual page content in order to fool the search engines.
After search engines defeated these crude attempts at manipulation, emphasis (even among white hat SEO firms) turned to crafting content so that your key work fit into the flow of the page but was still repeated multiple times. There were even formulas for how many times you could repeat a term without triggering a penalty for stuffing.
Today these techniques do more harm than good. Yes, you must use key words to get the content into the search index, but don’t overdo it. After the second or third use of the key word in a single page, the search algorithm adds incrementally less importance to it. Instead, focus on writing in a natural language for your audience. When we write for humans we still get our point across but usually use synonyms and other phrasings to get our point across.
There are a range of techniques for using content to deceive the search engines. Again, search firms are well aware of these and actively penalize this type of behavior. The most common deceptive practice is to try to serve different content to search engines than is served to real readers. Practices as simple as hiding content with style sheets (hiding text by using margins to position it off the page, for example) to more complex things like sniffing the user agent and serving different content to the search engines are all practices that are abused and should be avoided.
Similarly, black hats attempt to manipulate Page Rank by creating link farms and other methods of artificially increasing the number of pages linking to their site (another technique is comment spamming on blogs as mentioned previously.) It was common practice several years ago to create pages that were nothing more than a collection of links to the sites they wanted to promote. They would buy up dozens of domains and include this content on each of them. Many of these domains were typos based on the original site’s domain name, hoping to get people to accidentally (or through search links) find their site and click through to the original. Search engines recognize this type of site and now penalize instead of reward for it.
A similar practice is to host the same content on different sites, hoping to double the exposure. There were even legitimate reasons for doing this at one point – a domain name changed but the old one was kept as an alias to keep links from breaking, guest bloggers contributed the same article to many different sites, etc. Now it is seen as manipulation and does incur a penalty. (For situations such as the first example of a domain name change, you should set up 301 Redirects or at least use cononical meta tags to indicate the preferred address.)
While not inherently deceptive, the meta keyword tag has been so abused since the beginning of search that is it do longer even considered in creating page scores. Its primary use now is to include common misspellings and other things that you want the search engine to see – it is still read, it simply does not contribute value – but which for cosmetic reasons you don’t want your users to see.
Google is quite clear and quite consistent when it comes to its advice on search optimization. The best way of getting getting good placement for your page on the returns page is to write good content. That means writing content on a topic that people want to read and in such a way that the content is written for the reader rather then for the search engine. The term optimization itself implies making enhancements to content that already exists, not creating original content based upon it. Google holds strongly to this principle, believing that these are exactly the types of pages that are of benefit to users. The more beneficial the page is the more likely it is for them to create a link or share it on social media. These links are then what becomes the backbone of the site’s Page Rank.
This doesn’t mean ignoring SEO altogether. After all, optimization is an active process. Understand how search engines work and present your pages in the best possible light, but in the end understand that you are writing for your readers and not for a search robot.
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