Friday, October 22, 2010

Spam and Illegitimate SEO Techniques

Google doesn’t appreciate being fooled, and once it discovers websites using inappropriate optimization techniques it may also punish them by reducing the website’s ranking and even removing the website from its search results altogether. If you’re not sure that what you’re doing is acceptable SEO practice or not, keep in mind the one golden rule: If it’s good for your users, it’s good for Google. Incorporating elements that are for Google’s bot eyes alone usually leads to fishy results. The following is a list of ILLEGITIMATE SEO practices. Here’s what you SHOULD NOT be doing:

Using Redirects to Manipulate Google Page Rank

An illegitimate redirect is a one that occurs automatically when you approach a certain URL. As you click on the link to that site, the page URL (address) will appear for a short while and then automatically redirect you to the main site. This technique is used to increase the number of times the website will appear in search results, as it will appear through different domains.

Google’s crawlers will see a different page than the users, fooling the robot into giving a false page rank.

Not all redirects are considered spam, there are several redirect types that Google accepts and acknowledges, which you can read about in other blog posts here, or through Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

100% Frames

We’ve already discussed iframes here in this blog. Just like the redirect, and the golden principle of SEO, if what your users see is different than what the Google bot sees, it’s a problem. A 100% frame page is a page covered completely by a frame that consists of different content from the rest of the website. End result – Google sees one thing on which it bases its page ranking and the user sees something entirely different.

Just like the redirect, this enables spammers to index the same site over and over again under different domains. While the different domains may have different content and get ranked as a result of that content, the end user will find himself viewing the same main site.

Hiding Texts and Links

If a text is visible to search engines only it is considered spam. So what does Google consider hidden text?

* Any text written in the same color (or close to) as the web page background.
* Any text situated in an area of the page that has been defined as hidden or invisible using CSS.
* Extremely small fonts that are not legible to internet user.
* Any text that is being hidden behind an image.

While you might find this useful, particularly if you don’t want to overload your web design with texts, it may very well backfire at you. It may get you kicked out of the ranking game altogether, not to mention that clicking ctrl-a in the browser may reveal your texts anyway.

Other Illegitimate Practices to Avoid

Spamming the keywords – using the same keyword over and over without any real content involved.

Cloaking – this is a technological ruse. As you enter the website, the website issues a query inspecting your status. If you are discovered as a crawler you will end up seeing a different page than you would have reached as a regular user.

Doorway Pages – these are pages created solely to optimize for a specific word. The chosen keyword is repeated over and over again on this page, suggesting high relevance to search engines. This doorway page will either include a link to the main homepage or it will include an automatic redirect to the homepage. Either way, this doorway is considered unethical SEO practice.

Excessive Linking between Websites – an exaggerated amount of links between two sites. What’s considered exaggerated? Good question. There isn’t a specific number of links and it depends greatly on the balance of the rest of the content. There is higher risk of getting caught when the two sites use the same IP. In general, triangle linking is much better for SEO purposes. This means that if your website is site A, and you sent a link to site B, site B will link to site C and site C will send the link right back to you – site A. Another unethical practice involves a bombardment of links on a single page or website. Link farms are a particularly deplorable practice.

Selling Links for PR

Lately, websites that have integrated a practice where they sell links to other websites (meaning, website x pays website y to include a link to it) have been losing ground fast. This is done in order to increase the page rank and is also considered deceptive.

So, How Will You Be Discovered?

Search engines use three different methods to discover culprit websites. The first is technological. Search engine bots are programmed to uncover some of the more obvious deception techniques. When the crawler runs in to such cases it will raise a ‘red flag’. This will lead to a temporary PRO penalty (in Google). Usually these penalties are only temporary but in certain cases they may become permanent.

Google and the other search engines also encourage users to report unethical website promotion techniques. You can report other websites through a special web page dedicated to this subject. This is Google’s Spam Report page. You need to sign in to use it though.

Forums are another method of discovering SEO scams. Apparently Google employees read webmaster forums and if they run into something suspicious… they do something about it.