Imagine this: In a blink of an eye your website vanishes from Google. Trying every variation of your domain name in the search box — but nothing. You, my friend, have been de-indexed from Google.
That’s a tragic place to be in. All your hard work gone up in smoke, you are effectively invisible to everyone in the world now. This is exactly the spot that iAcquire found themselves in May 2012 when they were caught up in the Dun and Bradstreet link buying scandal. JC Penny, Forbes, and Overstock also found themselves in a similar position (being penalized for link buying, but not necessarily flushed from Google’s index).
Never mind whether or not you agree with Google’s rules, and the punishment meted out, Google’s rules are the ones everyone has to play by. These rules, and the penalties, should not really surprise anyone. And no one should need to have described how crucial search is to a business’ success online either. Although social recommendations are catching up, search remains the number one way to drive traffic a website. All this is common knowledge, I only reiterate to hammer home how crucial it is to have a healthy relationship with search engines.
Now that we’re focused on the horror of “de-indexing”, unnatural link acquisition isn’t the only way to get banned by Google. There are actually quite a few more. If you are new to SEO, let this be a warning. If you are a seasoned SEO, let this be a reminder—or a crib sheet you can forward to anyone who is suggesting you do WHATEVER it takes to rank them. Here’s a list of absolute “don’ts” where ranking is concerned.
The cloaking process works like this: You show search engines one thing and your visitors something else. The most obvious example would be a site promoting kayaking in the search results, but sending the searcher to a pornographic page. Or one selling Viagra. Or some shady off-shore tax scheme.
Cloaking is accomplished by delivering content based upon the IP address or the User-Agent HTTP. If a search spider is detected, then a server-side script delivers the kayak version of the page. If a user is detected, then the pornographic content is served.
This practice is deceptive—and flat-out forbidden by Google.
2. Duplicate Content
Black hat SEOs will try to boost page views by creating multiple pages of the same content. This is a pretty straightforward tactic, but is equally condemned by Google. Spammy sites and repeat offenders will more than likely get canned from Google—or at least dropped to the bottom of the barrel in search rankings.
Here’s the thing: You can inadvertently create duplicate content on your website through category, tag, and archive pages. This won’t get you banned from Google, but it could get you penalized.
And what about people stealing your content? Notify Google.
3. Writing Content with a Machine
As you can probably guess, black hat SEOs are lazy, and this vice is seen most clearly in the tactic of getting machines to create content.
Sometimes this is generated from scratch, but more often than not, this content is created by scraping already existing content, modifying the document, and then re-publishing.
The motto in this example is “I’m not going to waste my time creating content when I can borrow someone else’s and make it mine.” Google will punish this.
4. Add Unrelated Keywords to Your Content
Keywords aren’t what they used to be in the search marketing game, so you don’t see a lot of keyword stuffing anymore. But that doesn’t mean Google won’t punish this practice. You see, some SEOs still recommend this.
Never list keywords that don’t relate to your site, repeat a keyword that does relate to your site dozens of time, and embed brand name (trademarked no less) and competitor name keywords. This may not only get you banned, but it could get you a lawsuit.
5. Joining Link Exchanges and Bad Neighborhoods
Online etiquette says that if someone links to you that you should link back to them. Well, that’s debatable.
Google will judge your external links just as closely as they will evaluate the incoming links to your site — and they will evaluate the quality of those sites sending and getting links from you. Linking out to low-quality sites can damage your reputation and lower your Page Rank. Trade in paid links and you will get banned. Just ask iAcquire.
6. Font Matching
Another old-school black hat tactic is to plaster keywords on a site in the same color as the background, inevitably hiding those keywords.
It’s laughable how easy this is for Google or anyone to spot (the keywords show up in the code as text—as does every other element of a webpage—no matter what color the font). What’s not so funny is the penalty; you could get dumped from Google.
7. Microscopic Font
Another variation of keyword stuffing is to place keywords at the bottom of a webpage in font so small that it’s incomprehensible to the naked eye.
Again, Google can de-index a site for this (no matter the size of the font search spiders still read the same code) for trying to game the system.
8. Stacking Titles
You have to give it to the old school black hat SEOs. They are a creative bunch. Title <title> stacking means nothing more than writing more than one headline for a page—stuffing keywords into those titles. You’ll get no love from Google on this.
If you want to optimize your headlines with keywords, then front-load the headline with those critical words … and take full advantage of all 70 characters.
9. Doorway Pages
This is a tricky one because doorway pages are in the end landing pages optimized for one keyword. The difference between a legitimate keyword optimized landing page and one that Google will pooh-pooh is that the legitimate page provides original content.
For example, bloggers will often create a hub page for a series of articles they did on a particular topic, like “content marketing” or “social media metrics.” They’ll provide an introduction (unique and useful) and then links to those pages in the series.
A spammy doorway page optimized for “content marketing” will not provide original content (and probably employ one of the black hat tactics above) and will not send you to useful content—more likely an ad to buy Viagra from some offshore pornographic studio.
Spammy doorway pages can get you banned. And this is why you need to be careful if you are using landing pages for affiliate links.
10. Point 100 URLs to One URL
Because keyword-rich, exact match domains are still a strong indicator of a site’s content, people want to abuse this by buying every single domain available—plurals, misspellings, adjectives, location, and loaded with keywords. Just think used-clean-cars-sale-city.com.
Next, they point all of these URLs to one domain because, they figure, 100 hits a day to 500 different websites is 50,000 hits a day. Makes sense, right?
That would be super cool if it worked out that way, but it doesn’t What happens is, these sites aren’t indexed except the one—and it may not be your main domain. Busted.
11. Abusing Rich Snippets Markup
Google automatically generates the rich snippets you see on search results these days, but that doesn’t mean they won’t intervene by disabling rich snippets for a certain site if they detect abuse or deception—like marking up invisible content or deceptive content.
Rich snippets can be gamed by creating fake reviews or, like the cloaking tactic, show Google one thing and deliver something completely different to the user (like cheap Viagra through an offshore pornographic site). This destroys user experience and will bring Google’s wrath down on you.
12. Sending Automated Queries to Google
Remember WebPosition Gold—the software tool that automatically tested a keyword’s organic popularity using Google’s SOAP API?
If you’re new to SEO, then probably not, because back in late 2006 Google changed its webmaster guidelines and killed WPG:
“As of December 5, 2006, we are no longer issuing new API keys for the SOAP Search API. Developers with existing SOAP Search API keys will not be affected.”
Here’s the deal: Google hates automated queries. Why? In their own words:
Sending automated queries consumes resources and includes using any software (such as WebPosition Gold) to send automated queries to Google to determine how a website or webpage ranks in Google search results for various queries. In addition to rank checking, other types of automated access to Google without permission are also a violation of our Webmaster Guidelines and Terms of Service.
Violate that and you get penalized. The consequences vary.
13. Building Water-thin Affiliate Sites
Making money selling other people’s products is a viable way to make a living. This is why online affiliate programs are pure gold for people who want a passive income.
But if your website is nothing but a warehouse for other people’s products (Read: You are not creating original content, but, worse, simply scraping product descriptions from the producers) and you’ve adopted a paper-thin template, then Google won’t tolerate you.
Mess with the user experience and you make an enemy of Google.
To get around this professional affiliate, marketers need to invest time and energy in providing useful and relevant content, as well as building sites with safe and secure themes and long-term hosting signals.
14. Scraping Content
Black hat SEO is really short-cut SEO. It’s the lazy man’s way to high rankings. These SEO tactics trade in short-term gains at the expense of long-term success. This is equally true for scarping content, scraping content is not something that the average person will do because most of us are programmed to know that taking something that isn’t ours is wrong.
But there are some fine lines on the Web. I’ve run into people who thought it was okay to copy and paste an article to their website—as longs as they left attribution (without the link). Sometimes they did link, but still grabbed the entire article. Still others publish a portion, but even this can spell trouble with Google.
The bottom line is this: “Are you producing original content?” This is where curators can get in trouble, too, if they aren’t adding value above and beyond the original site holder.
15. Sneaky Redirects
The adjective in the title of this section is a dead giveaway: “Sneaky.” That means there are some legal redirects, the 301 being the most common—sending a visitor to a different URL than the one requested. The most common example is when you are moving a site from mydomain.com to myrockstardomain.com.
16. Duplicate Sites
By now you should know that this is dead ringer for a Google Webmaster Guidelines violation. You should be saying to yourself, “Google rewards those who contribute value to the Web and user experience.” Google punishes lazy webmasters.
People who create duplicate sites are usually trying to outrank the original site. This might be an affiliate who wants to rank above the company he or she is promoting. And because it’s not a unique site with unique content, it gets canned.
Some SEOs might argue that this is grey hat: You know … it’s a method that exists in the grey area of SEO tactics — not necessarily black, but not necessarily white. Regardless, Google will punish you if you are guilty of interlinking.
What is interlinking? It’s basically a scheme that takes advantage of the importance of inbound links in search engine ranking by building dozens of sites, and then linking to each other.
This is a tough scheme to detect by either Googlebot or users—unless someone delves into some serious sleuthing or notices that a handful of similar sites dominate the search engines in the search listings. If caught all the sites could get de-indexed.
You might consider yourself a true white hat SEO guru, but falling into using one of these schemes (or some slight variation of them) can ruin anyone’s reputation. If you get a message in your WMT inbox indicating that there are serious problems with your site, the wages of SEO sin can come back to haunt.
If you are reading this, let’s say you do wake up one morning and find yours or your client’s site gone from Google. Sure you can appeal and recover — like iAcquire did, but there has to be some serious boot-licking and website code overhauling going on. What risk it? I hope this has helped.
Photo credit: De-indexed – courtesy © pepere24 – Fotolia.com