Truth in SEO
Truth in SEO.
By Jon Burgess
I get lots of questions about search engine optimization (SEO): what to do, how to do it, what is it, does it work?
I rarely get questions about the dark side of SEO, what we call black-hat SEO. If I were to be asked those questions they would be:
- How come I lost all of my traffic?
- My phones are not ringing anymore!
- Why can’t I Google my own company?
- Why did my site get marketed as WebSpam?
Honesty is the best policy – and we are now in the age where Google expects to find truth in your content. If you are not truthful your site is severely pushed. There are two levels of this purgatory: first your site is marked as Web SPAM. Second: is that everyone connected to the offender could be included, in what Google calls a “Bad Neighborhood,” where the ripple effect pulls lots of websites down with the offender. I have even seen where sites on shared hosting are affected by one bad site using the same IP address.
I have seen too many sites that put their hand in the black-hat cookie jar, got caught, and then got locked in jail. Below is a site that crashed by bad SEO. You can see it was building a nice increase, then they crashed and never improved.
RedFusion takes a very pragmatic and data-driven approach to SEO.
3 Common Black-Hat Tactics
- Link Harvesting
- Cloning and Cloaking Content
- Scraping Content
Getting links from a website, to link to your website, is extremely valuable. What we call “inbound links,” become a major factor in how Google gives your website PageRank authority. These links go deeper into what site linked to your site, and as many as 5 levels of sites back from your own. Very complicated, yet it is meant to gain an understanding of how to value your pages.
Getting links “naturally” is hard. Real world leaders tend to simply attract links. Those who want to be a leader, but are not, are stuck wanting links. Getting black-hat links is easy and cheap for those who are not leaders. Generally, you pay a company in India that injects your domain into thousands of pages for pennies a link. You can quickly gain 1,000s of links.
If you do any Internet business with India, be ready to regret doing business with India.
Google isn’t dumb. They see that your lowly site just got 1,000s of links which appears very unnatural. They then look at the source, seeing that those are already named “bad neighborhoods,” and you quickly get punished. Google will also look at where the IP addresses are Geocoded. So if you are a service company in a city, it becomes very odd to see hundreds of links from Russia or India linking to your little company.
You can see in this Google traffic chart (below) over 4 years, when the site was hit with “Exact Domain Match” and “Penguin” penalties. We were able to gain 23% of traffic back when we disavowed links, but the site never returned to its best results.
Cloning and Cloaking of Content
Cloning is probably as old as the Internet. Cloning is basically when you copy your pages and spread them across lots of domains. Or copy pages, make some minor changes, thus populating your own site with 1,000s of pages. Google has long since banned cloning, yet it is still attempted.
Cloaking is a variant of cloning where a server shows people one thing and shows GoogleBot another thing. Thus they try to trick Google into thinking your content is great, then you redirect the person to another page. Here is Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s SPAM team talking about “Cloaking and/or sneaky redirects.”
Google determines quality by looking for expert, authoritative and trustworthy pages. When they see duplicate content or redirected pages your site gets dinged. When they see you have made an effort to be deceiving, they put you in “time-out.”
There are some rules of thumb about numbers of pages. The best is that my clients can regularly beat sites that have a 100 times more pages. We build solid content, and when competing against 1,000s of weak content pages, solid content will regularly win.
There is a secondary issue with cloning or cloaking. Usually the tactic is to run it on a cloning system. So, it isn’t isolated. When Google finds the master cloning/cloaking server, or someone simply reports it, they come down hard. All sites and shared IP addresses associated with the system can get lumped into the “bad-neighborhood.”
A common tactic to take up more spots in search results is to create 3rd party sites for cloning/cloaking, then forwarding traffic to the main site. The problem is that the clean sites will get lumped into the bad-neighborhood too. Google will see the obvious signs like shared images, common css files, and shared servers.
Scraping has been largely crushed by Google’s Penguin and Panda updates. The idea was that sites who were building content in a category would just steal paragraphs of content from other sites. They would take just enough, to not be noticed, and combine them with content from various sites. Therefore they created pages of disjointed, yet fairly targeted content. These sites generally ran on ad revenue, so they were only hoping to gain traffic, not actually be authoritative.
Rule of thumb; seven words in a sentence (or more) is considered copyright infringement. I often search press releases, students papers or competitors sentences in Google to see if they are legitimate.
Common sense is that you should know what you are talking about. You don’t need to steal other people’s ideas.
The conclusion is simple. If you are in business, you need to be honest. You need to be able to sell your product or service on your own, not steal or tricking people into buying. Black-hat SEO is anything meant to trick Google. Thus you need to keep your hands clean and earn Google is respect by doing the right thing.