Bad SEO Techniques That Will Hurt Your Google Rankings

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What good is a site if no one can find it? That’s one of the basic premises behind search engine optimization, or as it is commonly called, SEO. Websites that rank higher in search engine results pages get far more hits than those sites buried several pages back. So ever since the dawn of search engines, clever webmasters have been tinkering away at finding the best ways to get their sites ranked higher, and in turn increase its traffic and visibility. It’s a race to the top, and as in any kind of competition there are things you can do to boost your chances of “winning”. Some, however, are more dangerous than others.

blackhat fish

There are some very basic things that everyone should do to their sites to optimize them to at least a bare minimum level. That would include such things as making sure you have meta tags for descriptions and keywords, different title tags for each page of your site, and alt tags for all images on your site. A sitemap will help spiders effectively crawl your site and better ensure that all pages are indexed properly, and a robots.txt file will help keep spiders out of places that you don’t want them going. Various redirects, such as 301 and 302 redirects, will help people and bots find moved or renamed pages on your site. These are amongst some of the most basic things that you can do to your site to begin optimizing it, and all of them are pretty safe and harmless.

As you begin to move onto more advanced SEO topics, you will undoubtedly uncover some techniques that sound like a good idea, but are really just dumb. Some of these techniques may be tempting to try, but are they worth it? What is the risk involved, and how easily will they get you banned from the likes of Google? What SEO techniques should you avoid?

Hidden Text

Hidden Text is a huge no-no. You as a human might not be able to see the white text on a white background, but you can bet that the bots can and you will get penalized for it. Think about it: bots are automated and they cannot “see” a page as we humans would, therefore they are reliant upon the source code of your site. Text that is the same color as the background sets off alarm bells. It’s not a clever way to stuff your site with extra keywords. It’s also something that you really want to watch out for. A site with less than adequate security can easily be exploited and injected with tons of spammy hidden text, so it’s a good thing to regularly check your logs and source code to be on the lookout for these things. Google doesn’t care if someone else did it to you – all they know is that it’s there, it’s bad, and you will punished for your ignorance.

Buying Links

This is a hotly debated topic. Is it or is it not alright to boost your rankings by purchasing links on high authority, high traffic, and high PageRank sites? Personally I think it’s alright. Google believes otherwise, and unofficial Google spokesman Matt Cutts has made an issue of it.

Putting aside the question of whether it is right or wrong, if it is something you choose to do, the stupidest thing that you could do would be to purchase a ton of links with the exact same anchor text. Did you just get 100 new links that all have the anchor text “blackhat fish”? If you did, shame on you. You just committed one of the cardinal sins of effective link buying.

If you’re going to go about buying links to your site, the key is to make it look as natural as possible, otherwise Google may slap you with a penalty. If you’re buying links purely for their link juice and not just for marketing and to get your name out, you want to make sure that none of these words appear near your newly purchased link: “sponsors”, “advertising”, “supporters”, and other similar words that might suggest your link was bought. This is why contextual linking within blog posts and articles has become so popular – it’s easy to sneak in a link, and if you throw in another link or two to some authority sites, it looks even more natural.

Instead of purchasing 100 “blackhat fish” links, why not try to mix it up a bit? Get a few “blackhat seo fish”, a few “blackhat fish”, and maybe even a couple “black-hat fish” or “black hat fish seo” links? Get the idea? Using similar anchor texts is alright, but using the SAME anchor texts will get you caught.

Never, ever buy a ton of links with the same text, and a lot of new links at all once might also raise some flags, so try to spread your efforts out over a period of time. Be patient, be smart, and don’t be stupid.


Cloaking is the practice of showing different content to the spiders that crawl your site than you show to your actual human users. Search engines don’t like it one bit, and no matter whether your intentions were pure or deceptive, they won’t care – you will be slapped with a penalty when they find out. You may even get banned and de-indexed, which really just defeats the purpose of doing SEO in the first place.

Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is another big no-no. Search engines only want to index original content, not the same thing 50 times. When duplicate content is detected, only one of them is likely to be indexed, and the others will probably end up in the dreaded supplemental index. These duplicate pages won’t rank.

On a similar note, doorway pages are also a very bad idea. These are pages designed specifically to draw search engine traffic to your site. How do you spot one? In general, if you can’t get to the page by following the site’s navigation, then it’s likely a doorway page. These pages serve no useful purpose than than attracting the attention of search engine users who will click the result, go to the site, and find that what they’re looking for is not on the page.

Link Exchanges

This was a popular technique in the early days of the web, and it’s not really effective today. The whole “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” thing doesn’t go over very well. It looks contrived, and it’s not natural. Link building should appear as natural as possible. Two-way link exchanges won’t get you banned, but it won’t help you any either. If you’re going to trade links, at least try to make sure it’s a three way thing. Never link to the same site that just linked to you. Instead, link to them from another site you own if you wish to return the favor.

Keyword Stuffing

On-page SEO is undoubtedly important, and some argue that on-page keywords have far more weight than those you stuff in your keyword meta tag. However, stuffing your site with an excessive number of keywords isn’t good, and delicate balance should be maintained. Sure, you want to rank for a specific keyword and the more times you use it on the page, the more likely you’ll rank for it. Just don’t go overboard. Try to keep your writing natural and use the keywords as you feel suitable. Using them too many times will make your site look spammy, which doesn’t sit well with either your actual human visitors or the spiders that crawl your site. It’s not likely to get you banned, but may in fact hurt your TrustRank, which is like your credibility and reputation with the automated bots.

Link Farms

Just say no to link farms. Link farms are sites whose only purpose is to artificially inflate link popularity through link exchanges. Google knows who they are, and if they’re not on their list yet, you can bet they will be soon. They’re considered “bad neighborhoods”, and will hurt your rankings. You may likely be penalized, and your site can even get banned for participating in these schemes. Avoid the problems, and don’t give into the temptation. An endorsement from a bad site is much more harmful than no endorsement at all.

Case Studies and Real-Life Examples

I can preach all day about bad SEO techniques and what could happen if you try them, but that might not be enough to convince everyone. So what better a way to show you the dangers of bad SEO than to share some real-life examples? Below are some example sites who’ve been bad, either in the present or in the past, that have felt the wrath of Big G.

The V7N SEO Blog:

These guys were recently slapped around by Google in a big way. Best known for its large webmaster forum, V7n also has a popular SEO blog which happens to have been hacked several months ago. Long after the problem was believed to have been resolved, Google banned them for some shady SEO.

Spammy text phrases were hidden all over in the V7n SEO blog, which in turn triggered Google’s spam bot detectors and got them banned from the index. This is the perfect example of how inadequate security on your site can lead to exploitation by a third-party, and consequently get you kicked out of Google. V7N admins claim that they were contacted by Google who said they would be temporarily removed from the index, not banned, but I’m going to go ahead and call bullshit on this one. Whatever the truth is, if V7N fixes the issues, begs for mercy, and files a reinclusion request, Google will likely let them back in. How long that will take though remains to be seen.

BMW Germany:

Think the big guys are immune to the effects of bad SEO? Think again! In 2006 Google infamously kicked the German BMW site ( out of their index after they were caught using doorway pages. Tsk, tsk! This incident made international headlines, and BMW was quick to remove the offending pages, which were apparently live for a whole two years before being caught.

So what happened to when they were served with the “Google Death Penalty”? Their PageRank tanked to an abysmal zero, and they no longer ranked at the top of the SERPS for their most important keywords. Ouch!

Other Low-Down, Dirty SEO Tactics

I have intentionally left out some other SEO tactics that many would consider shady or “blackhat SEO“. Some of these if not done properly can really hurt your site’s rankings and get you banned if you’re caught, while others you can use to effectively sabotage your competitors to move your own site up in the ranks. I will cover these another day in another post, in the very near future. Whether you think its morally wrong or not to engage in these tactics, it still exists, and these are techniques you should be aware of if at least to know when they’re being used on you.

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  • MarketingDeviant

    Nice tactics there. Three way linking sounds safer and better than two way linking. Cheating the system = Cheating yourself.

  • Mercy

    Very well explained Julie! But I am afraid that i wont accept with you on Link Exchange. You have asked to link back from another site one own if at all the webmaster want to favour the link exchange method! But Whats the use in giving link back from Business related site for a jewellery related site. Rather, It would be better we exchange links from both similar theme sites(say, jewellery). Both the links would be an
    useful resource for the users as well.

    On the other hand the post is worth a sphinn!

  • mxyzplk

    its really confusing me… I think everything that I do is almost listed there.

    What should I do? I even dont have google rank yet.

    • Michelle

      Hey there. check out my blog for an answer to your question about getting ranked in google. I have a free method and as well an effective low cost method. Hope that helps. Have a blessed day.

  • BlackHat

    Well written post Julie, I especially like how you pointed out that a blackhat technique a lot are not familiar with, yet which is widely used, is attacking ones competitor, in an attempt to de-rank them, and have yours seem to rank higher naturally, when in truth it’s not. This is very shady and from what I have heard, is actually safe for your site, no way it can get banned unless you are fingered as the bad blackhat behind these sites being attacks!

  • Jignesh Padhiyar

    Thanks for Posting Such Nice Information

  • Firetown

    Anyone can come claim someone else did it to them. How would Google know and why should Google care? If it smells bad, flush it. Case closed!

  • Dan

    Great post and an important subject.

    I wrote an article in my blog called “Banned from Google – what was the problem?”

    Your article completes mine.

    Great job

  • Wulffy

    Got to hear that people write about it, Julie. But if you take a close look at the web in many niches, you only find those methods. If somebody earned money, much money, with those methods, a lot of people getting to know it and do the same. And if people have to earn money, they will follow.

    The Google SERPs are so spammy and Google does not really fight against it. People buying domains from institutions that are closed with hundrets of links around the world and change the content totally and all of those links are still valid for Google. People writing articles and spam the web. In some niches you cannot search for good content, because all of the results are spammy. And so on, and so on.

    Google will never win the fight, if they not speed up to speed of light.

  • Designer Diaper Dude

    what exactly are link farms?

  • David

    Not sure I agree about 3 way linking. That is an outright attempt to fool the ranking algorithm. Reciprocals may not help, but they are not blackhat either.

  • Firetown

    I’m sure Google can detect 3 way linking, as they can detect too many incoming links from the same networks. Reciprocal and 3 way linking do help when done right, but one ways from many different sources help more.

  • James

    I know that duplicate content is an issue. The biggest issue for a site owner or a webmaster is to get the right page viewed, the page that you are trying to rank.
    You pointed out that the search engines don’t want to index the same page 50 times. Rather than turn off features like print, or pdf views in CMS systems the content can exist, it just needs to be blocked through robots.txt.
    Great post, thanks.

  • StarLink

    Interesting… Good to know these things. I have seen examples of all these tricks.

  • seofreak

    I do not see any real novelty in this post. Moreover, these are widespread tactics – and THEY WORK for a while. If and when they cause your rankings to slip in the serps is when a competitor reports the cheating or after a TIME google “decides” to push you out from the serps. You should point out that these techniques may boost your positions but it can be only TEMPORARY. I don’t think you should call them SEO techniques – only black hat workers (those who work for short time results) and webmasters that do not know much about illegal techniques use such methodes. TITLE spamming, keyword stuffing and bad neighbourhood are not mentioned here…

  • kugoo

    Exchange links will hurt your google rankings?

  • Craig Ritchie

    Thanks Julie.

    So often bloggers write How-to posts, but more often it’s the How-to-not posts that are more valuable to us. This is a great example. Several key nuggets that I will definitely be able to use in future web strategies.

  • jay paul

    @Julie : Why Most post of Peoples are not agree with this point:”Two-way link exchanges won’t get you banned, but it won’t help you any either”.

    I have discussed with many users but peoples said, Link exchanges are not bad idea in SEO and will not hurt in our sites but i know about the Real SEO, Real SEO Persons will agree with this technique.

    because they know about the link exchanges benifits and disadvantages , it will not much help you if you compare with one way links.

    I want the Fact and Real answer of this point from your side so please share your comment about this point when ever you’ve minutes.


  • SEO Solutions

    I like your Tip “Link Exchanges”
    What you write about it make sense,because Google want natural Link Building and Link Exchange is not natural like buying Links,i think you are right about it.
    Thank you.

  • Julie

    To clarify about link exchanges… I explicitly said it won’t hurt you, but it certainly won’t HELP you all that much. Google likes natural linking, and swapping links isn’t natural. They can easily detect that. Good SEO is about doing things that will boost your rankings. Two way link exchanges aren’t going to give you all that much help. One way links are the ideal links to acquire. But if you’ve agreed to give someone else a link in exchange for them giving you one, it would be better to give them a link from a site other than the one they just linked to, so long as it is relevant. Make sense?

    And, as someone said… many of the things I listed are widely use. They may sometimes help you in the short term, but you will get caught eventually and then it will really hurt you. It’s not smart SEO to practice any of the techniques I listed.

  • Firetown

    What works best is link spreading .
    Too many links within the same network is like inbreeding. Sure, you can produce babies that way, but they will not turn out all that smart.

  • seo4success

    Interesting! Thank you Julie for your clarifications on link exchange!

  • Kevin Gamache

    @Firetown – That is the best analogy I have ever heard for in network linking!

  • Michael Martinez

    There is no documented correlation between duplicate content and Google’s Supplemental Results Index (which should not be confused with the other search engines’ secondary indexes).

    You can find plenty of duplicate content in Google’s Main Web Index. They don’t really care if they index duplicate content as long as their users don’t complain, and in many queries users often find duplicate content to be acceptable.

    News and ecommerce queries often have duplicate content in them.

  • Wulffy

    Michael, I can confirm that. You are completely right beside of that Google is able to filter out DC in some cases. Try to make two domains with same content and wait. Some day one of those will disappear from the SERPs. Without any complaint from users.

  • jeff

    Duplicate Content

    how does this affect site’s that aggregate news? like, for example….

  • WebSite Design Orange County

    Not too sure I agree with you regarding the link exchange situation. If you pour over your analytics you will see where Google give you credit for back links and where they don’t. I bet you are getting credit for sites you have two way link exchanges with, thus proving that Google does in fact give you credit for these.

    And to further illustrate how Google doesn’t rate all links as being equal, check your stats to see if you are getting any juice from one way link backs. I’m sure there are some quality sites that give you a one way link back that for whatever reason Google doesn’t give you credit for. Why? Who knows.

    But I would automatically say that three way linking is better or worse than two or even one way link backs. You simply cannot open the Google algorithm and point to proof.

  • Totonet

    Great tutorial. I also cant undertand the meaning of
    link farms??

  • Mike Dammann

    in case of doubt check wiki http://

  • EGCG

    Was it the reason v7n finally decided to sell whole v7n network at very cheap price ($220,000)?

  • Mike Dammann

    the owner woke up one morning and looked at the good morning thread and wanted people to forget who started it all. He actually offered someone $220k to take it from him and the sitepoint mods accidentally turned it into an auction. He got lucky.

  • Water Fuel Cells

    Water Fuel Cells

  • Water For Gas

    I use this free website to get indexed quickly and it doesn’t cost you a dime…

    Water For Gas

  • Dan SPielman

    Is too many TAGS in your blog posts a way to derank in google?

  • Scott

    My question is the same as Dan’s (last poster before me)

    I have a few WordPress blogs and one of my first blogs I noticed quite a few “tag” pages being indexed in Google. Naively I thought this was cool, more pages = more visitors. Shortly after these tag pages were indexed I got, and still don’t have, many Google visitors.

    Oddly enough, I don’t see any tag pages in Y/MSN. I just recently added in my robots file Disallow: /tag/

    Even though pages have already been indexed, will Google DE-INDEX these pages and help my site do you think? Or is it too late?

    It’s hard to find info on Dupe Content when it comes to tags 🙁

  • Listorbit

    All those are advanced techniques but if u r caught then black hat or spammy.

  • Austin SEO

    Submitting to “Link Farms” doesn’t contribute to your credibility and is just not worth the risk. Instead, spend time submitting to credible directories and exchanging links with other relevant sites. Thought time-consuming, it is the only way to generate safe, site-specific traffic.

  • Christie

    Good post! The only point I’d like to expand on is the two-way linking point. I agree, if it doesn’t seem natural, then it won’t really help. But here’s a case, where it could be very natural and not forced at all (I actually just blogged about this one!):

    Say you’re a jewelry designer and a web designer designs your site. At the bottom of your jewelry site’s page, there is copy (and a link) that says, “This website designed by XYZ web design.” On the web designer’s site, they have a portfolio page with a screenshot your jewelry design homepage and a link to your site. This is a totally normal, natural two-way link that doesn’t feel forced.

    So, while I agree, one-way links are best, two-way linking does not always feel forced and can be just as natural as a one-way link.

  • Alexander Hemedinger

    I hope no one in our industry ever does this. But I am glad this article is here to inform people about the “no” in SEO. Good work!