Villing & Company

Low-down, Dirty Search Engine Tricks (And Why You Should Never Use Them)

The Internet is full of cheats, scam artists, frauds and charlatans. Some of these are obvious. That Nigerian businessman who needs to use your bank account to safely transfer funds; the sappy, sob-story that promises good fortune if you will only forward it 10 times; those colorful, bouncing advertisements that promise you a free iPod if you fill out a simple survey. Yes, it's like a minefield out there, if you're not careful.

Businesses also get this type of spam: companies you've never heard of offering to "trade links" with you; foreign companies contacting you about protecting your brand URLs overseas; and a steady stream of search engine optimization (SEO) companies promising that they can improve your search results. Before I discuss these SEO companies in particular, here's a quick tip: never, ever respond to e-mail from a company that you haven't heard of, even if the offer seems legit. As long as the response from spam is high enough, spam will continue to increase. If you are annoyed by spam, the best thing you can do is ignore it...or possibly use your e-mail tools to report it.

When it comes to SEO, a lot of marketers feel a bit helpless. We all understand the value of top search results, but it's hard to know who you can trust to get them for you. It's often tempting to go with the company who seems the most confident or who makes the biggest promises. However, often these companies use questionable methods. While they might work at first, shady SEO techniques may actually hurt your business in the long run. Here are some of the low-down, dirty search engine tricks that some companies might use. Don't be fooled; these tricks will likely do more long-term harm than good.

  • Web Content Cloaking
    Cloaking is the term used to describe the practice of presenting different content to search engines than it shows to users. A company might use this tactic because they want to include a bunch of keywords for the search engines, but don't want to clutter up the page for human visitors.
  • Irrelevant Link Pages
    Because search engines partly rank websites based on how many other sites are linking to you, it has become popular to "exchange" links with other websites in an effort to increase your incoming links. Webmasters frequently receive requests of the "link to me and I'll link to you" variety. Most of the time, this is a bad idea because it overlooks the fact that search engines include the quality of the incoming links, not just the quantity. Not only do you risk being blacklisted for this behavior, but you end up adding unnecessary clutter to your site.
  • Doorway Pages
    These are unnecessary, poor-quality pages that are added to a site, or across several sites, and are optimized for a specific keyword or keyword phrase. They provide very little real value to the visitor and exist merely to funnel users to a specific website or page. These pages typically frustrate visitors, since they include very little legitimate information and are added for the sole benefit of search engines.
  • Automated Queries
    Some companies might use software to automatically submit a ton of search queries into search engines in order to provide data and track keyword performance. This type of software or any sort of automated query tool is specifically forbidden by Google's Terms of Service and requires special permission in advance.
  • Keyword Stuffing
    Your page should never contain paragraphs that simply list keywords over and over. Often, shady SEO companies try to hide these paragraphs from human visitors by making the font color the same as the background color or using special HTML tags or attributes.
  • Multiple, Identical Sites or Pages
    Some people might think that it would be helpful to publish identical content across multiple sites or multiple pages of one site. It's not. Search engines will generally pick one of these pages or sites and ignore the others.

Because this is a competitive field, SEO companies often will try anything they can think of to give them an edge. The problem with using the methods I described above is that they involve deceiving the search engines and (often) degrading the human experience. Imagine a world where these tactics actually worked. Basically, search engines would become littered with useless pages that looked relevant to a machine, but were useless to real humans. Clearly, it is in the search engine's financial interest to crack down hard and often on this behavior. They each have teams of engineers dedicated to making sure that these tricks fail and that the companies that use these schemes are blacklisted. Yeah, maybe you'll get away with it for awhile, but in effect, you are declaring war on the most powerful technology companies in existence. Not a good idea.

For more information, I suggest reading Google's Webmaster guidelines, which contain much more information on what I've discussed here:
http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35769

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