SEO (search engine optimization) typically falls into two categories: black hat or white hat. If you think of bad guys and good guys in the old western movies, you’ve got the general idea.
As with any time someone chooses to put on a black hat in life, there is a lot of money to be made. Oh yes, black hat SEO is big money, and fast. But as with all bad guys, in the end, they often get caught. And they can kiss all that money good-bye.
Unfortunately, some people get sucked into black hat SEO without knowing it. Some may do it while doing their own SEO and not know better. Some may hire others to do the SEO, unaware that they are using black hat practices.
In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker asked how he’ll know the Dark Side of the Force when he sees it. Some website owners may ask the same question: how will I know if I’m doing black hat SEO?
For starters, Google gives a list of things you can do to improve rankings with them. At the end of that page is a list of things not to do. If you’re doing those things, you’re doing black hat SEO.
This is a request web designers frequently get from clients.
Listing keywords and phrases on your site for no apparent reason other than to boost rankings. For example, I can put this on a page:
“We provide the following services:
- Custom web design
- Template websites
- Blog design
- Content Management design and layout”
That is a perfectly “legal” use of placing keywords and phrases on a site. However, it is bad if I start placing a list of words on a page or every page, that looks like this: web design, website, web designer, web design, blog, blogging, template, custom, custom website, CMS, content management system, website creation.
Making these list of words and phrases the same color as the background of your site to camouflage the words is also bad.
Other examples of keyword stuffing involve text that goes with images on your site. For every image, there should be text describing that image. So if there is a button that says “Order Now” the corresponding text should say “Order Now”. You could push it a little and say (for example) “order web design services”. Personally, that would be as far as I care to go and that’s pushing things a bit. However, a black hat practice is to put “order web design seo blog cms template Dallas, TX, Texas”.
Also, Google discusses how they don’t like link schemes.
Remember: what Google does, other search engines do too. Most of them try to duplicate Google’s success by copying Google’s practices.
On that article about link schemes, Google says:
“Examples of link schemes can include:
- Links intended to manipulate PageRank
- Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web
- Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank”
That’s a pretty clear list of what is a bad idea. But maybe you’re not sure what some of this means?
So what are links intended to manipulate PageRank?
Are you having lots of sites that link to you that really have nothing to do with your industry or what you do? Well, there you go.
A website that specializes in listing businesses in a specific industry and/or location can be relevant. These types of sites are helpful for not just for search engine rankings, but for providing yet another avenue potential customers can find your site.
Running software that posts in every forum and blog it runs across, that is in no way related to your industry, is linking to manipulate PageRank.
If your SEO person’s primary (or only) method of site promotion is linking you to websites they have personally created, you may be involved in a black hat situation. This practice is also manipulating PageRank.
If you have a web host and/or designer and/or SEO person/group who tell you your rankings are tied to their websites/system and your rankings will go down if you leave them, you may be working with black hatters.
Think you’ll never get caught? Google has a search engine spam reporting tool. What do you think your competitors may do to get you out of their way?
What is PageRank?
Well, Google has a brief explanation of PageRank here. In a nutshell: it is your score from Google that helps determine your site’s popularity and ranking. This score is ranked from 0 to 10.
One method you can use to determine PageRank is to go to Google and type in: What is my PageRank. There are many sites out there that will show you. These are not 100% accurate, but most of them tend to spit out fairly consistent results. A site even a year or so old should have some kind of rank. Three is tolerable. Four or 5 is good. Even Amazon, at the time of this writing, is showing as an 8 or 9. So far, the only 10s I’ve ever seen are…ta da!…Google and Facebook. That’s right, a 10 or even a 7 is more traffic than most sites will ever see in their lifetimes.
There is a lot of debate about the usefulness of PageRank. Personally, I have seen a PageRank zero show up in the first position on search results. But that zero tells me they probably used some shady tricks to get there and odds are good they won’t be there for long. If you have a PR of 0, you should review how your site is promoted.
One definite use of PageRank: for those of you that want advertising on your site, some advertisers look at your PageRank to determine if they want to advertise with you.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: creating good content for your site is the single best thing you can do for your traffic. One other great method: getting reviews from your customers on various review sites like Citysearch, YP, InsiderPages, Local, and more.
Make sure you check out some of the past articles I’ve written on SEO