Deal in 'black hat' tactics and risk Google's wrath

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Brian Goffman
Brian Goffman

Although it was JCPenney who recently made headlines for its involvement in “black hat” SEO, it is certainly not the only company to use these methods to drive website traffic. As outlined in The New York Times, the strategy consisted of getting a high number of inbound links to JCPenney.com with anchor text like “bedding,” “area rugs” and “skinny jeans” from sites with no content or relevancy around those items. This breaks one of the cardinal rules of SEO, which is that the content you create, the pages you build and the links you acquire should be both natural and relevant.

Breaking these rules for short-term gain is an extremely risky proposition. The more the content or links that a site acquires that are outside of the natural and relevancy guidelines of search engines, such as Google, the higher the probability to be penalized by way of dropped rankings.

Maintaining a legitimate SEO program and keeping a clean website is a far better proposition, not to mention it keeps your brand or company within Bing and Google's good graces. There is a laundry list of black hat tactics that the engines are good at identifying.  Avoid them. The most recognizable include the following:

  • Doorway pages: Pages of content built for a specific keyword and then redirected to a different page. BMW was penalized for this several years ago.
  • On-page deception: Keyword stuffing, or putting tons of loaded keywords beneath the footer of a page or using the same color font for the text as the background of the page. Anything where the end user – the person the engines care the most about – can't see the same content as the engines.
  • Acquiring non-relevant links: JCPenney reportedly received links from sites that had nothing to do with bedding, area rugs or skinny jeans. These kinds of sites sell links with whatever anchor text you want.
  • Acquiring links too quickly: The search engines spend a lot of energy looking at link patterns and trying to determine which ones are natural versus unnatural and evaluating appropriately.

Invest time and resources in creating good content. Good SEO is built on high-quality content. Mediocre content that is optimized for search engines might result in site visits, but it certainly won't keep visitors on the site, and it won't get you customers (i.e., ‘converted' visitors). 

Some websites are famous for creating content with the sole purpose of optimizing for search engines. Last week, Huffington Post got lots of attention for its headline, “What Time Does the Super Bowl Start?” The headline resulted in a No. 1 ranking on a Google search on the topic, but didn't exactly improve the media outlet's reputation or credibility. While Huffington Post took the easy route to attract site visitors, investing time and resources in creating good content that both serves as a useful resource and contains optimized keywords and phrases is crucial to ensuring that website visitors not only go to your site, but stay there. 

Invest your budget in building links, not buying them. The process of link-building requires time and resources invested in conducting research, writing content, syndicating the content and reaching out to relevant audience sites and engaging in that conversation. Buying links certainly proves the faster and easier route, but the return on investment won't be as high.  The only way to truly build a good reputation and recognizable brand is to invest the time and resources necessary to establish relationships within the industry.

Remember the cautionary tale of JCPenney and track your SEO programs to make sure you approve and monitor all tactics. Link tracking, regular reporting, pre-approving tactics and examples of completed work are all management tools that should be employed when working with a third-party provider, such as a search marketing firm. Additionally, implementing an auditing system using software to research and monitor link-building progress can catch these undesirable practices before they result in penalties. 

Remember to treat your brand and website as a long-term investment. Good SEO is not quick, but the benefits of it can last a long time. While SEO traffic takes time to build, it will sustain and build on itself over time. If you need quick traffic, look at paid media campaigns, such as paid search, targeted display and smart e-mail marketing.

Brian Goffman is cofounder and CEO at Optify, an online marketing software and services provider.

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