Black hat SEO strategies vary in degrees of sophistication, but the penalties are all the same – and they can be severely damaging to your revenue stream.
Digitalmarketing.com states that Search Engine Optimization – known as SEO – involves implementing content development and website design strategies that lead to higher search engine (otherwise known as “Google”) rankings. While there are abundant methods a business might use to facilitate SEO, from link-building to maintaining a blog, there are two overarching types of SEO strategies: white hat and black hat.
- White hat: White hat SEO solutions are ethical approaches that allow a business to rise in search engine rankings organically over time. The basis of white hat SEO is the production of original content the public genuinely values.
- Black hat: Black hat SEO strategies are short-cuts to high rankings. These involve manipulating content and web properties to fool search engines into thinking those properties provide more value than they do.
However, while “black hat” SEO sounds extremely sinister, many businesses discover that they’ve been employing black hat tactics unknowingly. This is because many techniques for inflating search engine rankings have gotten so widespread that SEO agencies deploy them automatically. Moreover, some black hat methods are so subtle that Google has to continually launch new best practice initiatives to disincentivize brands from using them, and ensure any website caught exploiting their protocols is swiftly punished. Once discovered, Google can – and often will – levy harsh penalties.
What are those penalties? The worst Google will do is remove your brand from its search engine results until the matter is cleared up to its satisfaction. This punishment may only be for a few days, but if those days are during a holiday season, your income could suffer tremendously.
Here are a few of the most common SEO misdemeanors; so common, in fact, that even Google itself has fallen victim to some of them!
Unvetted User-Generated Content
User-generated (UGC) content can spell trouble for even the biggest platforms when it’s unmoderated.
UGC is anything created by the users of a website. This includes comments sections, forums, social media posts, videos – anything uploaded or posted on a platform by users otherwise unaffiliated with that platform. Comments sections and anything that encourages visitor participation and engagement can be excellent for search engine rankings, as it is a solid indicator that a site is valued by users and frequently visited.
However, all UGC is crawled by Google, and if yours is infested with spam (or if Google thinks it is), you could be penalized. However, Google does realize that monitoring vast comments sections can be difficult; you may be let off with a mere warning to remove the page if it’s an honest mistake. Google itself took down its Google Webmaster comments section because even it couldn’t manage its posts effectively.
Unnatural links are links that appear on a web page seemingly without editorial oversight. For example, if users who’ve posted to your comments section or forums have included suspicious links, you may be penalized. You could also feel Google’s wrath if your site links to web pages that Google deems “untrustworthy,” or don’t seem to have any natural association with the page content. Likewise, if Google discovers a high volume of low-quality websites with links to your properties, you could also be disciplined.
Large and respected brands are not immune to Google’s correction. The BBC got penalized for a single page that contained links to a particular site. You should periodically scan for suspect and unnatural links using a detection tool, and disavow them if they hurt your site.
While having unnatural links or low-quality UGC can happen to the most ethical and best-intentioned brands, cloaking is a deliberate manipulation of content for artificially-enhanced SEO. It involves disguising data on a website in such a way as to conceal the site’s actual content from search engine crawlers. BMW once got caught engaging in this practice, and its site was removed from Google search results for three days.
Oh, Google was also once found to be using cloaking tactics.
You can actually find ads for link-buying services on Google’s search results page, but it’s a practice that will get you swiftly penalized. You may view some forms of link-buying as being completely ethical and legitimate – a guest blogging opportunity, perhaps. Unfortunately, even if you guest blog and link-buy extremely carefully, Google has a way of sniffing it out. It may be due to its incredibly sophisticated algorithms, or it may be because your results aren’t as high-quality as you think.
However, guest blogging isn’t always a hanging offense. Some guest blog opportunities offer extremely valuable content designed to reach users of a particular site that you may not otherwise attract. But the goal must be to reach users, not manipulate search results.
Outright link-buying using link or blog farms will get you in instant hot water, as it has for brands like JC Penney and Forbes. Also, even Google itself was caught buying links to promote a Google widget.
No one’s SEO strategies are 100 percent flawless – even Google repeatedly penalizes itself for its transgressions. However, failing to monitor your web properties for compliance with Google’s guidelines can result in a search result blackout, causing you to lose money and the confidence of the public. Ethical SEO practices may not yield immediate, mind-blowing results, but with persistence, your site can eventually reach the top of the rankings.