For many, ranking at the top page of search results is the lifeblood for a business or website’s success. By using search engine optimization (SEO), a website can gain popularity and further the number of visitors through search engine queries. However, there are many nefarious practices that some people use to strengthen their placement in search results. Google is extremely vigilant in identifying websites that use black hat SEO tactics, and has gone to great lengths to crackdown on websites that use them.
How Google Dishes Results
Very briefly, Google’s search engine works in a three-step process. The first step is “crawling”. A program, known as Googlebot, accesses numerous webpages per second. As it goes through the webpage it determines a number of factors by using an algorithm. It compiles keywords and their placement on the page, the PageRank, which is the popularity of a page based on incoming links from outside sources, and also takes tags and content into consideration. Afterwards Googlebot indexes all of this, and finally serves it to you. However, it’s not a perfect system, and many people use black hat tactics to trick Googlebot into promoting their site to the top of search results.
Black Hat Tactics
Black Hat SEO practices—so called because of their malicious intention and purposeful manipulation—come in many forms. Some common practices are doorway pages, redirects, syndicated or scraped content, link schemes, hidden text and cloaking.
Doorway pages are webpages that rank high in Google search results. These pages usually are just loaded with various keywords in order to gain a top spot. This tactic is usually combined with redirecting. So at first you’ll land on the doorway page because it matches your search query, but then you could be quickly redirected to a page that has nothing to do with what you want. The doorway page itself may also be loaded with various links to other sites.
Syndicated or scraped content is the practice of taking content from another—more successful—website, and placing it on your page. What’s copied could be at random, or it could be based on popular trends in search results. Usually these pages will have numerous advertising links or redirects, which is the main purpose of getting you to land on the page.
Link schemes are a tactic that comes in a few forms. One is paying to be linked on a site. This is against Google’s terms and conditions, and if it’s found out the website will be penalized. Also putting links in sentences randomly and without a purpose other than boosting a site’s page rank is a form of black hat linking.
Cloaking is big one for Google. This is because it directly frauds the Googlebot, and by extension the public. In a cloaking scheme a Webmaster will make it so that when Googlebot accesses the website it sees something entirely different than what the average browser sees. For example, when Googlebot pulls up the page it will look like a place to buy affordable appliances, and will show up in search results matching that need. However, when a person accesses the same page it may really be a porn website, or something else entirely unrelated.
Google doesn’t take black hat tactics lightly, and their integrity as a search engine is on the line. They have rolled out many updates to their algorithm in the form of Google Panda and Penguin, which get increasingly strict with each iteration. If caught using black hat tactics, a website’s presence could see a negative adjustment, or be taken off Google entirely.
Proper and Effective SEO Practices
When performed honestly, search engine optimization tactics are a vital tool to use, and boost a website’s popularly. First and foremost, content is king. Creating rich, informative and valuable content is the first step to building a popular online presence. Creating clever and eye catching subject lines, and using keywords that fit with the content will aid in gravitating clicks towards your page.
Keep in mind that people search differently than a robot, and use words in the same way that people would search for something. Also be creative in your linking, and how websites link to you. Approach websites in and outside of your website’s industry about linking to your page, but keep it relevant. By supplying them with worthwhile content that they can use to drive traffic—and then link back to you—you’ll increase your Google PageRank. Furthermore, take advantage of Rich Snippets. This is the preview of your websites content that Google displays on their search results. By providing impactful and succinct snippets for searchers to view, you are more likely to gain clicks because it summarizes that you are providing what people are searching for.
Angie Picardo is a staff writer for NerdWallet. Her mission is to help consumers stay financially savvy, and save some money with the best savings account rates.