In the spirit of the nation being completely obsessed with deflated footballs and cheating this week, I thought I would touch on “Black Hat SEO” and how it can cause problems for someone. Much like deflating footballs, if you are doing it, you know you are cheating. At least as a professional Search Engine Marketing expert. The problem is many small business owners who don’t know the rules, often make the accident of hiring someone that promises them immediate results, which can get some nice happy results right away, but in the end gets them in trouble, or penalized by Google, costing you much more to fix or start over.
Just wanted to give you some quick tools to try to tell if your SEO person is cheating and maybe getting you in trouble, because unlike the NFL and the Patriots, if Google deems you a cheater, your business could be done for.
There are a number of obvious things that go back for years that people still bring up and suggest to me today. For the most part things like keyword stuffing and putting your keywords in as the same color as the background have passed as methods of cheating, but basically just figure if you think you are getting one over on Google, you aren’t. It has been thought of before and if the algorithm isn’t already checking for it, it will eventually.
Duplicate Content: One way to “cheat the system” that has been punished with algorithm updates is duplicate content. There are a number of ways to break the rules here. One is repeating the same content on your own site over and over with different pages and just changing a word or two to try to rank for different towns or slight variations of different product names. If you are doing this, stop. Just write original content for each page. It takes more time, but it keeps you safer. You can just look at your own site and tell if this is happening.
A not so obvious version of duplicate content is either copying someone else’s site for your own content or “article spinning” where you basically write the same content and place it in a hundred different low quality sites to link back to your site. One way to see if your page content is duplicating content elsewhere is a tool like this that checks the internet for other occurrences of your content. There are other tools out there, but wanted to give you one to run with. Check your own site and make sure you aren’t cheating.
I’ve run in to clients that were cheating without knowing it. They asked each person in their business to supply their own content and maybe a couple of them copied their info from another site and just changed their name. The marketing person didn’t even realize they had done it and this person didn’t even realize it would get the site in trouble with Google. If you don’t know exactly where your content came from and you are experiencing any trouble getting ranked, this is something to look in to.
Bad Links: Because links are so important to site strength, bad links or unethical links are a common type of “cheating” that a business owner may not have any idea about. Because they are a part of what we call “off page” SEO, a business owner may not even know who is linking to their site, but it can be a huge source of problems. The speed and quality of the links you get in an SEO program say a lot about you. If you have a large quantity of low quality links, it says a lot about your site and would be a huge sign of bad practices.
To take a look at your links, you can go to your Google Webmaster Tools (WMT) account, which you should have set up if you are serious about your search presence. You should also have access to it or your SEO should be happy to show you this. In WMT you can look at all the links to your site as Google sees them. Most smaller businesses will not have thousands of domains to look at here. If you do, this is a much tougher exercise, but if you have less than one hundred you can do a bit of a smell test. Do you know what these sites are? If you do, you are probably ok. If they don’t ring a bell, you should get an idea of the quality of site they are. There are a lot of pay tools that guys like me can use to analyze this stuff, but if you aren’t sure of a few and just want to get a very basic idea, if a majority of your links are not chambers or organizations you belong to and are a 1 or less on this tool, then you may have a problem and you should ask whoever built these links, where they came from.
These are two ways at addressing cheating in SEO. If you find you have a major problem, you may need an SEO to come in and help you resolve it or get past it. If you have too many links to do this easily, it may be a better use of your resources to have one of us run a report on all of your links and get you scores. It is just good to take a look at these and be sure you aren’t breaking some of the fundamental rules of SEO. Good links and Good Content should have you a winner without deflating any balls.