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Search Engine Optimization: Avoid “Black Hat SEO” Tactics

Black Hat SEOSearch engines like Bing™, Google™, and Yahoo!® pride themselves on the accuracy of their information, and they’re focused on ensuring that search results return the most relevant websites. Therefore, it pays to be honest and straightforward when you’re presenting your site to the search engines.

Over the years, several webmasters and optimizers have found ways to artificially boost the positions of websites and to achieve higher search rankings in an unethical manner. This type of search engine optimization is called “black hat SEO.” Search engines will penalize these sites by removing them from the index or banishing them to a low position if bad behavior is discovered. The same rules used to detect black hat SEO tactics, or “spamming,” can sometimes trip up people who are honestly trying to promote a good website. For instance, too much repetition of a keyword on a Web page can be mistaken for “keyword stuffing,” so you want to avoid this practice.

It’s important to learn the difference between good and bad tactics for your website and how to keep your site from being mistaken for an untrustworthy source of information.

Tactics to avoid:

  • Stuffing keywords. Try not to use the same keyword on your pages too many times. A good rule of thumb is to read your content out loud to see if it sounds repetitive.
  • Using hidden text. If you have text on your site that is the same color as the page background, or close to it, then you may get penalized. For instance, dark gray text that’s on a black background and set in a small font size at the bottom of the page would look suspicious. The use of coding tricks to put text outside the average visitor’s view can also lead to problems.
  • Buying bad links. One way to inflate search engine rankings is through the use of paid links, and some categories of links serve as a red flag. For instance, if you buy a link that shows up on every page of a 15,000-page website, you might risk a search engine penalty. Search engines are very good at detecting paid text links when they appear on certain parts of a Web page.
  • Selling PageRank™. Lots of sites out there make money by selling links for PageRank (or link popularity) purposes. If you get caught, your PageRank will drop to zero, and your site might completely vanish from the search engines.
  • Linking to questionable websites. Almost every webmaster has gotten a few dozen requests for a “link exchange.” Sometimes the request offers a link from a third-party site in exchange for your link to a different site. Remember that a link from your site counts as an endorsement, and if a search engine thinks you’re endorsing questionable sites, your rankings will suffer. A link to a gambling, adult-oriented, or offshore pharmaceutical site is usually a bad idea.
  • Duplicating content. The content on your site should be unique. If you copy another site’s content, your pages are highly unlikely to be found anywhere that search engines can see them. Congress enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to protect Internet service providers from liability associated with content provided. The original content owner may file a DMCA request with search engines, and they may ban your site altogether. The use of software that scrapes other sites and creates content is also not recommended, since search engines can detect this tactic.

Google, Yahoo!, and Bing all offer webmaster guidelines. Google Webmaster Tools offers a free way to find out how Google sees your site and it warns you if you’ve violated their terms of use. Generally speaking, the best way to avoid search engine penalties is to present a website that the average person would recommend to others. By creating a positive end-user experience, you can usually avoid filters and penalties, which gives you a tremendous advantage over competitors who don’t have a well-thought-out search-engine-ranking strategy.


    1. nice post

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    2. Thanks for the info! It took some time to catch on but I’ve got it now. thanks.
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    3. Thanks for posting this one. I learned a lot from it. This kind of post is what people must read.

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    4. I like this line from the article “We used our purchases to furnish a low-end office suite in the basement of a Herndon, VA office building and an “office” with no finished ceiling in a warehouse park.”..

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    5. Thanks for the information. good thing I passed by this article. It's nice reading this..

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    6. you wished you had invested money early in a blockbuster invention? … the Koosh ball when he tied rubber bands together to create a smaller, …. you too could find a ridiculous idea that gets you laughing all the way to the bank.

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    7. Have you ever watched an infomercial or seen an item in a department store and thought “I could have thought of that!” … Stillinger came up with the idea for the Koosh ball when he tied rubber bands together to create a smaller, …

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    8. Wow i would have never thought of something this deep, im being sarcastic, you took 4 steps … at the link above you can get a free money band by sending a stamped envelope …. Awesome wallet made out of… Duct tape wallets are so old. …

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    9. “So reckless spending is simply not an option.” IU agree to tis one there are lots of alternative ways than to spend lots of money for some things.

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    10. I’m not too sure about Yahoo and Bing’s pride in offering quality search results. Their results are pretty spotty in my opinion. That is why Google still has 80% of search. I think Black Hat is close to being completely ineffective on Google, but I still see sketchy sites on Bing and Yahoo frequently.

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    11. Yes unfortunately this is something that will always stay with us; the rules just change constantly on what’s ineffective and what works. If black hat brought you a top 3 position on a multimillion-dollar niche, would you do it? Is it illegal in the literal sense? No, but I guess it depends on how you sleep at night. Personally we don’t look at black hat at all, even though many clients have requested it. If you focus your attention on doing good (and really know what you’re doing), you will reap the rewards. . . .

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    12. Thanks for the list. The amount of times clients come to me with some of these ideas . . . Do you think there are people still doing this? Cheers.

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      • Every once in a while people inadvertently trip up a filter here or there, either by having text that is too close to a background color, long lists of similar items on the same page (like printer ink part numbers), or meta-refreshes that look too much like doorway pages. For the most part, people who are trying to SEO their own sites tend to avoid using black hat tactics, but every once in a while we come across someone who still tries cloaking, link spam, or other tactics. Even when they don’t get penalized, their sites don’t get more movement than if they’d followed best practices.

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    13. There are also requirements for Project Managers with web understanding, and this could also be attributed to the extra projects which web design companies and SEO companies are now facing.

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    14. Thanks for the info

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    15. Through my experience with my own company, and with companies around me that have both failed and thrived, I most definitely agree that these are liabilities.

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