Posted on | August 4, 2014
Written by | James Laurenti
If you maintain a website, you likely have been approached by vendors offering services around search engine optimization (SEO). The objective of this service is to increase your business’s online visibility in relevant search engine queries (i.e., “get to the top of Google’s results”). Generally speaking, these services can help your site gain additional traffic. However, if you begin working with a vendor, it’s important to understand what techniques they plan on using. There are many ways to approach boosting a business’s search ranking, and some methods are not ethical and can lead to penalties once search engines see you’re using them.
Beware of The Black Hat
There are two main ways to go about trying to improve search ranking. You can use search engine-approved techniques (“White Hat SEO”), or you can attempt to find loopholes and exploit the search engine’s algorithm to get an edge on competing businesses (“Black Hat SEO”). While Black Hat SEO sometimes yields quicker results, it’s an extremely risky operation.
Most search engines update their algorithms frequently, and if one of their updates closes a loophole that you’re taking advantage of, the traffic it provided will soon disappear. What’s more, Google and other search engines will penalize and potentially blacklist websites that they see engaging in this type of behavior.
A common example of Black Hat SEO is stuffing and overusing keywords in the content and HTML data of your website instead of relying on more natural language. Additionally, vendors might set your website up with “link farms,” generic websites that only exist to create inbound links to sites to increase their page ranking. Other common Black Hat SEO techniques involve leaving spammy comments on blogs or social media sites with links to your online business.
Damage Already Done?
The good news is that search engines have gotten a lot smarter, closed many of the loopholes, and most SEO vendors, consequently, tend to use more ethical strategies. However, if you’ve already worked with a vendor in the past that has implemented these techniques and created problems for your online business, there are still some things you can do to help remedy the situation.
If there are widespread amounts of inbound links coming to your website from link farms and spammy social media/blog comments, you can disavow these links using tools provided by search engines, such as Google Webmaster Tools. Google can provide a list of inbound links to your site, which you can review so that you can compile a list of bogus URLs and upload them as a “disavowed URL list.” The process may be laborious, but it’s worth it to get back in good standing with search engines.
Hopefully you will not run into vendors proposing Black Hat SEO techniques. That said, before you begin working with a vendor it’s important to understand how they plan to optimize your site. When they describe the strategy, does it sound like something that search engines would find acceptable, or does it sound like something that cuts corners? If anything you hear suggests the latter, you should search elsewhere.