Dishonest. Sneaky. Unethical. Call it whatever you want, but the strategy remains the same. When businesses manipulate SEO practices to deceive consumers, they risk harming their reputations and customer base.
Unethical SEO practices extend far beyond Black Hat SEO techniques like keyword stuffing and paid backlinks. They are more duplicitous, often deliberately misdirecting consumers to websites or other digital content that have nothing to do with their user intent. These tactics blatantly violate search engine rules and best practices.
What is SEO?
SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization. Great, so what does that even mean? To make it simple for those outside the industry, SEO just means you’re engaging in certain strategies to make your digital content more visible to your target audience.
SEO keywords are one component of an overall solid SEO strategy. Using specialized software can help identify which SEO keywords you should be using for your brand. Long-tail keywords often correlate with questions consumers type into search engines when they’re looking to solve a problem.
For instance, if you wanted to know if it was safe to take Tylenol and Advil together, you might ask Google, “How much Tylenol and Advil can I take together?”
Why do businesses use bad SEO practices?
Bad SEO practice cuts corners and cheats the accepted code of conduct with one goal in mind: to achieve immediate ranking results.
Sometimes the purpose of bad SEO is even more nefarious. Some businesses use SEO keywords that have nothing to do with their industries to deceive consumers into thinking they’ve gone to a site that has what they need.
What are popular bad SEO strategies?
Like every industry, there are bad apples in SEO. They don’t want to take the time to organically rank well in search results. To do so requires content development, keyword research, and on-site optimization.
There are many bad SEO strategies companies can use to cheat the system. Here are two of the most deployed tactics.
Blackhat Google Ads
Google Ads is a marketing service that allows businesses to pay to boost their rankings in search results. When you pay to boost an ad about your business, it can appear in Google search, Google Maps and across all partner sites.
Google Ads clearly are marked as such; however, some consumers don’t notice or don’t understand the designation when they see it. They trust they’ve been directed to a reputable site with information relating to their search.
The problem is that Blackhat SEO practitioners use a technique called cloaking. It tricks crawling bots on search engines into promoting sites containing specific keywords. Users can find themselves on a website that has nothing to do with their original search query because the website used cloaking to trick Google into sending them there.
Clickbait titles are a perfect example of cloaking. A website may create an attractive headline about a specific topic to attract visitors. However, the content below the headline has nothing to do with the title.
Negative SEO campaigns
Negative SEO campaigns target competitors to tarnish their reputation and steal search engine rankings for important keywords. Sometimes this Blackhat SEO technique involves hijacking a website with questionable banner ads. Other times, it can be more complex and sophisticated. Here are a few other ways negative SEO campaigns work.
How do search engines spot bad SEO?
Search engines like Bing and Google have ways to spot when a web page is deceiving an end user. We already discussed cloaking, which is one of the most common forms of deception. If search engines catch you cloaking your site, they can penalize you. In Google’s case, its PageRank algorithm can downgrade or delist your site from its search engine.
Another way search engines discover bad SEO practices is through reports from end users. If you suspect clicking fraud, you can file a webspam report. Suspected negative SEO campaigns can be reported using the Disavow Links Tool.
Sometimes businesses unintentionally cloak their websites. For instance, they may be using alt text for images on pages that do not accurately describe the content on the page. Check your alt tags to make sure you’re not an accidental offender.
How can you spot deceptive SEO companies?
Deceptive SEO companies exist, and they entice businesses with promises of quick results. When asked about their methods, they may mention some of the following bad SEO practices.
Bolded text signifies to a search engine that the words are important for your readers. Maybe they answer a direct question. Maybe they are a critical SEO keyword. Using this technique isn’t bad unless you overuse it.
If your SEO provider is bolding entire paragraphs or multiple sentences throughout the copy, it can ruin the user experience. Write for people first and search engines second. It’s our mantra here at The Write Reflection® for good reason.
Complicated link schemes
Linking schemes come in many variations. Any SEO company that guarantees they can get you thousands of links back to your site in a few days is using deceptive SEO practices. Some companies have networks of blogs that exist for the sole purpose of supporting these complex plots.
Another devious SEO technique is hiding links in the code or footer of a website. They’re hidden because coders make them the same color as the website background so they’re not visible to the naked eye. They often are unrelated to the website on which they appear and can get you banned by Google in a hurry.
Yes, my friends, there is such a thing as too many keywords on your site. How do you know if an SEO company you’ve hired (or are thinking of hiring) engages in keyword stuffing? Well, the practice seriously downgrades the quality of your copy.
There are only so many times you can use the same long-tail keyword in a 600-word piece of copy before it becomes unnatural sounding. Keyword stuffing also makes it difficult to provide value to your end user.
What’s the best way to use SEO?
If you’ve found yourself involved with a company that does any of these things, run – don’t walk – away from them as quickly as you can. White Hat SEO may take longer to achieve results, but it’s worth the wait.
Here are just a few of the ways The Write Reflection® uses SEO best practices to grow your audience and boost your search engine ranking.
Claim and maintain a Google My Business listing
If local search is important for your brand, a great way to achieve results is by claiming your Google My Business (GMB) listing. Make sure all the information in the listing is accurate. It should include hours of operation, your website and contact information.
GMB listings also can support customer reviews. That’s another White Hat SEO way to attract more visitors to your website. If you or someone from your business takes the time to respond to customer reviews, it can boost engagement and your brand reputation.
Focus on mobile first
Roughly 90 percent of Americans access the internet from mobile devices. If your business hasn’t updated its website to prioritize mobile quality, you’re hurting your SEO ranking. Google has emphasized mobile-first websites in search results since 2016.
Most website development platforms automatically optimize your website to provide a smooth experience for mobile users. If you’re not sure how yours is performing, access it from your own mobile device. If there are too many display ads or email opt-in pop-ups, you could be annoying the crap out of your website visitors.
Prioritize people, not search engines
Google and other search engines have finally come around to the notion that it’s best to reward quality content over keyword-bloated drivel. Consumers don’t want to be directed to a website that is full of a keyword but doesn’t answer their query.
At The Write Reflection®, we strike a delicate balance between using the appropriate number of keywords and crafting high-quality content that adds value. We satisfy user intent and leave your visitors eager to return to your site.
Need help figuring all this SEO stuff out? You’ve come to the right place. Drop us a line. We’d be happy to schedule a hassle-free consultation to discuss your SEO needs.
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Shari L. Berg is the owner/operator of The Write Reflection, and a writing professional for 25 years.