Protect Your Site Reputation: Avoid these Unethical SEO Tactics
The search engine ranking game is full of pirates and marauders; sort of like the high seas of the 18th century. In order to navigate through these treacherous waters (and protect the good name of links to and from your clients’ and your websites), it pays to understand your enemy.
This article provides a short overview of the downside of search engine optimization as well as offers tricks and tips of how to ensure that your websites legally reach the page rank they deserve so you can attract clients.
What is Search Engine Optimization & Why Should I Worry?
Search Engine Optimization or SEO is a necessary part of developing and maintaining a website. SEO centers around ensuring that the reputation of your site is measured accurately by the major search engines, and specifically by Google. Google determines where a website (and its individual pages) appears in a search for a specific keyword term by its “PageRank.”
PageRank is a trademarked mathematical algorithm developed by Larry Page, founder of Google. It takes into account the importance of sites that cite your website’s links as well as how many external links from other important sites you reference; combines these measurements with how links are worded as well as where the links occur, and comes up with a numerical ranking of how your site measures up to others within its keyword targets. The other large search engines, such as Yahoo!, Alta Vista, and Lycos use similar algorithms to measure the popularity and importance of a website.
The Google Technology Page has this to say about the importance of PageRank:
PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important”.
Tip: You can see the results of your PageRank if you use the Google Toolbar. Google offers a snapshot of PageRank that can be viewed by choosing the PageRank button. You’ll see a small horizontal chart with a radio of your site’s rank versus the highest possible rank of 10. Most websites that serve as brochure sites are considered well-optimized if they reach a page rank of 5.
The secret of Google’s algorithm is that it is totally subjective, meaning it is based on the quality of links to and links from your site. The page rank of the site citing your site has just as much value as your site and you have no control over this vote of confidence.
If you wish your website to appear in the first page of a search, you have to pay attention to the quality of the hypertext links on your site.
Good and Bad Links
Google’s Webmaster Tools page has the best description of a good strategy to ensure your website gains a high PageRank:
The best way to get other sites to create relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can quickly gain popularity in the Internet community. The more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it. Before making any single decision, you should ask yourself the question: is this going to be beneficial for my page’s visitors?
What types of links should you avoid?
The term “Google Bomb” was added to the New Oxford Dictionary in 2005 to define the act of rigging the PageRank of a site by linking to pages that use a specific link anchor (the words used to identify a hypertext link that might lead to an innocent website having nothing to do with the anchor term), in the case of the first Google Bomb the term was “miserable failure” when referring to George W. Bush sites. A good article explaining the political ramifications of Google Bombing is provided by the BBC here. Google bombing is similar to another practice that is considered dishonest called “spamdexing.” Spamdexing is the practice of manipulating HTML pages with spurious keywords that mislead search engines with the hopes of affecting the category or PageRank of a site.
Try to also avoid dangling links by checking the health of any site to which you link. The Internet is ephemeral and sites come and go. The last think you want is to link to a dead page and cause your visitor to come upon the dread 404 page. Google has added mathematical values to its PageRank algorithm to combat these practices.
More About Spamdexing
- Spamdexing or Search Engine Spam is a series of dishonest practices used to influence PageRank for a website. Spamdexing should be avoided, including the following methods:
- Keyword Stuffing: Web crawlers are search engine scripts that index websites throughout the Internet for the various search engines. Keyword stuffing occurs when you strategically place hidden keywords around your web page to increase the PageRank whether they have anything to do with your site’s subject or not.
- Hidden or Invisible Text: You can hide keywords or phrases on the site by making their font the same color as the background, placing them in ALT tags, zero-width DIVs, no-script, or within no-frame sections. Hiding text should not be confused with accessibility efforts.
- Creating Gateway Pages: these are web pages containing little or no content but a large number of links with similar anchor terms. The sole purpose of such pages is to achieve a high PageRank as a gateway to the real website.
- Scraper Sites: Made for Google AdSense sites consisting of numerous Google AdSense listings along with the results of software applications that have “scraped” search engine result pages to create instant content without the permission of the parent site. These sites often contain extensive “Pay-per-click” advertisements and links that re-direct visitors to pornographic or spam sites.
More About Link Spam
Link spam are web pages containing links created for reasons other than the merit of the lined site. Link spam consists of such practices as building Link Farms, which are tightly integrated web pages that reference each other and appear to search engines as independent references. Use of the “Sybil Attack” is also highly dishonest and consists of the creation of domain names that all link to a single true site that may even be similar in name to a true site, but consist of either spam or pornography. Splogs are spam blogs, fake blogs used by spammers and containing little or no content but extensive advertising or pornography.
Page Hijacking is another form of spamming whereby a spammer creates a page extremely similar to an existing highly popular web page with a very close domain name. Web crawlers can tell the difference, but web surfers are taken to a possibly malicious and certainly meaningless site.
So, What Can You Do?
- Make sure that Google can index your entire site by adding a small text file named Robot.txt to your root directory. Add a tag in your home page to instruct Google to INDEX, FOLLOW, meaning index not only the first page, but all the pages of your site. You can use this free robot.txt file generator to create the file.
- Make sure your register your site map with Google on its Webmaster Tools home page. Then, verify your sitemap by copying and pasting the supplied meta-tag into your index page. The sitemap speeds up Google’s search.
- Make sure that you have at least one <H1></H1> HTML tag on every page of your site that delineates the title of the page for search engines. Secondary paragraph headings should be tagged within the HTML as <H2></H2>. Make sure that even Flash-based websites have hidden HTML with this structure that can be searched. It is a good practice for accessibility to prepare a hidden HTML page for your Flash pages.
- Try not to build websites using nested tables because search engines cannot index the contents of tables reliably. Tableless CSS has been developed to speed the indexing of websites (as well as to simplify and organize the structure of websites).
This post is part of our Birthday Giveaway competition — leave an excellent comment for a chance to win!