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Dodgy SEO: Why you shouldn’t use it – and the companies that do

feature-cyberscam-3-200Tricking Google is getting a lot harder. With an algorithm update coming nearly every day, it’s simply not as easy to trick the search giant into boosting your website to the top of the page.

Search engine optimisation experts have told SmartCompany something unexpected: Google and other search engines are cracking down so much on blackhat SEO, there aren’t too many tactics left that make sense to use anymore.

Not that it stops people from trying.

“As long as something works, people are going to do it,” says Switched On Media head of SEO Daniel Bailey.

“Google is getting smarter about these things. They don’t want these tactics to work. However, ultimately, some are going to work.”

But that doesn’t mean you should be using them, even if they provide a benefit. Google is getter better, and better and finding dodgy SEO techniques and cracking down.

Here are 10 SEO methods you need to be aware of – and why shouldn’t be using them anymore.

1. Cloaking

What is it?

This is by far one of the most common blackhat SEO techniques, especially among larger businesses that should know better.

It works like this: Google uses bots to trawl your site, and collect the information including links and text. It categorises your site based on that information.

It’s against Google’s terms of service to show the Google bot one site, and then your customers another site. But companies do it, and it allows them to show users a clean, neat home page while showing the Google bot a page full of text and keywords that will help their rankings.

Plenty of companies in all industries do this, including retail.

Jewellery chain Michael Hill uses this exact tactic, showing users one page with clean video and menus, while showing the Google bot another.

The page users see:

Screenshot1

The page Google sees:

Screenshot2a

SmartCompany contacted the chain about this, and it responded by saying the following:

“The Michael Hill site is built completely using Microsoft Silverlight technology. Since search engines cannot natively recognise Silverlight website content, we use descriptive text for this content to improve accessibility to our site.”

In any case, the result is still the same: Michael Hill is showing the Google bot two different websites.

Why you shouldn’t use it

The obvious reason you shouldn’t do it is because it’s against Google’s terms of service. And as Reseo chief executive Chris Thomas points out, you’ll receive a pretty massive penalty if you get found out.

“You’ll most likely cop a ranking penalty, especially if Google decides to make an example out of you. Then you not only have to go to the trouble of fixing it up, but you’ll get penalties and it’ll end up making your life a lot harder.”

Just in case you think this can’t happen then think again. BMW was socked with a huge penalty after Google found it was using exactly this technique. Its page ranking score was set to zero, and it dropped to the bottom of the rankings.

Thomas says you should set up Google Webmaster tools, because the company may end up contacting you through there first if you’ve done something wrong and give you the chance to fix it up.

2. Inappropriate use of the style sheet

What is it?

Occasionally you may visit a website and see some odd words at the top or bottom of the screen. It’s pretty obvious what they are: keywords.

Sometimes businesses will try to get away with it by sticking these words at the very top of the screen in small text, as the Google Bot doesn’t really care what size font you use. But to be sure, it’s what Google calls an inappropriate use of the style sheet

Why you shouldn’t use it

Not only is inappropriate use of the style sheet against Google’s rules and regulations, but according to Chris Thomas, Google will notice if you’re using it and punish you in the rankings.

“It’s only a matter of time before they find you doing it,” he says.

3. Buying domains

What is it?

This is actually a more recent development. Similar to the idea of cyber-squatting, someone will buy a whole bunch of domains and use them to link through to their own website. These domains could be totally unrelated to what the business actually focuses on, but they end up moving through to the website anyway.

Considering domains are actually fairly cheap, this can be a cost-effective way to drive traffic to your website even if they have absolutely nothing to do with your company.

Why you shouldn’t use it?

Not only does this usage tend to annoy the people who are looking for the domain you bought, Google has recently started weeding out companies that use this tactic.

Monte Huebsch of AussieWeb says Google has been implementing ways to find out this tactic, even as recently as 10 days ago.

“The trick with this is that you hopefully get all of these indexed well through organic search. But Google has figured out that’s not a good user experience, so they’re starting to discount it.”

“If you think this trick will last long, it won’t at all.”

4. Buying links

What is it?

It’s actually one of the oldest techniques on the internet. Back in the 1990s, when early web developers were starting websites they would exchange links with other webmasters to share the traffic.

That worked when the internet was small enough to share. Now, it’s exploded beyond what anyone thought possible. And people are using bought links in a different way, to make sure they’re getting traffic to their site even though it may be through irrelevant gateways.

Why you shouldn’t use it

On the face of it, this is a hard one to nail done. After all, Google can’t possibly know if you’re paying for links.

But Daniel Bailey, head of search at Switched On Media, says Google can tell if you’re placing links on websites that have absolutely nothing to do with what you’re offering.

“It has ways to find these links and figure out if it’s relevant. If not, there’s an assumption these could be paid links.”

“Some sites are so obvious – they’ll just say “buy a link”. It’s such a dumb way to do it. You can probably still get away with it, even though it’s still not Google-approved.”

“Besides, it’s unfair. A site with a bigger budget can kill a site with a smaller one.”

But there’s a better reason you shouldn’t use paid links: Google is starting to value them less.

According to Bailey, the use of relevant, constantly updated content and social interaction is beginning to matter much more.

“They’re still important. But they’re becoming less important.

5. Duplicating content

What is it?

It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Instead of just making sure each page on your website is individually tailored to that piece of content, some sites will take that content, and then publish it twice.

Twice the content, twice the chance that Google will find it and think you’re actually updating your website more than you actually are. You’re getting twice the benefit with half the effort.

Why you shouldn’t do it

You may have heard of a little update called Google Panda. Last year, the company unleashed this massive update and it had a huge impact – especially on those companies using duplicate content.

It was a huge turning point in SEO, and one of the distinct points where Google started focusing on original, rich, relevant content. Content creation, in other words, became more important than ever.

So not only will Google find your duplicate content and punish you for it, there are actually plenty of companies doing it and not actually realising they are – due to one simple oversight.

Mike Hudson, SEO director of FirstClick, says when a company has its website accessible with a “www” prefix, and without it as well, then you’re actually creating two different versions of the site.

“It’s the most common mistake I see. For search engines, they figure it’s duplicated content. Normally what you need to do is divert one to the other.”

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