Black Hat SEO, Your Days Are Numbered
In the vast world of Search Engine Optimization, there are distinct battle lines drawn between acceptable “White Hat” SEO tactics, and questionable “Black Hat” practices. One of the biggest catalysts of this division has been the Penguin and Panda algorithm updates initiated (and continuously updated) by Google, since these updates have delineated what’s good and bad in the world of SEO.
What’s Considered Black Hat?
Back when the whole concept of manipulating search engine queries by any means was considered acceptable, people came up with different and creative ways of gaming the system in order to get those precious high-ranked search results. But as time went on, some methods have evolved (or devolved) into dark territory. Among the generally acknowledged bad tactics are:
- Keyword Stuffing: This consists of just throwing in as many keywords onto a web page as you can, without regard of relevancy, for the purpose of showing up in as many search results as possible. For instance, an unscrupulous business may place keywords about a popular topic, say, professional football, in order to the website to show up on searches for pro football sites.
- Doorway Pages: These are website pages that a web surfer doesn’t get any information from, but are designed to snag search engine spiders due to being crammed with phrases and keywords. In fact, as a rule, a visitor never sees the page, but is instead rapidly redirected away from it, but the very presence of the page is supposed to positively affect search engine results. Sneaky stuff.
- Link Farms: This is a group of websites that are absolutely crammed with hyperlinks that lead to each other. Think of it as an online version of a clique, with all of the sites pointing to each other. This isn’t the same as having two different websites exchanging links in a reciprocal agreement.
- Mirror Websites: This is where you have multiple websites with the same content but different URLs.
- Hidden/Invisible Text: A nasty little trick, this involves having text that’s the same color as the background, hence undetectable to the average reader, but it still gets picked up by search engines.
- Advertorials: This is advertising that is disguised as actual unbiased editorial content. It’s a portmanteau of “advertising” and “editorials”, and it’s actually existed in media long before the advent of the Internet. While not an actual Black Hat SEO per se, it’s usually justifiably lumped into that classification. Picture the Internet version of an infomercial, but it’s set up in such a way that you have no idea that it’s an infomercial.
Penguins and Pandas Battle The Encroaching Darkness
In the last few years, Google has unleashed penguins and pandas on the black hats; multiple versions of algorithm updates that are specifically designed to root out Black Hat SEO tactics, spammers, and weak or non-existent content. Sites caught committing these sins are either banned outright from search results, or else are pushed so far down in page ranking that they may as well be banned, because no one will take the time and effort to scroll too far down the page.
Panda targets duplicate, low-quality, or thin content. It’s a content quality filter that looks for overly short insubstantial articles, pieces filled with typos, and websites that feature redundant articles with slightly different keywords. When Panda finds these offenses, the search rank penalty kicks in and that site disappears into the Abyss of rejected sites. In other words, Panda looks for solid content that follows rules of style and spelling, and is not endlessly repeated and farmed out to numerous sites.
Penguin, on the other hand, goes after paid links, link farms, and over-optimized anchor text; it’s a link spam filter. Penguin looks at links to determine their relevancy, watching out for over-optimized anchor text, links to and from “bad neighborhoods” (low quality sites or sites with inappropriate content such as porn or gambling), and links from unrelated sites. For instance, if your site deals with action figures, there’s no reason whatsoever to have a link to WalMart’s power tools.
There have been over two dozen Panda updates, and five Penguin updates. There is talk that the next Panda update will be a kinder, gentler version, designed to help out small business websites that may have been unfairly impacted by previous algorithm versions.
Enter The Hummingbird
As if Penguins and Pandas weren’t enough, Google expanded its menagerie by releasing the Hummingbird search algorithm early last fall. One of the most significant changes with Hummingbird is that it takes every word of the query into consideration, so that the search is taken in context with the question. And if you provide your geographical information, that will be taken into consideration too.
For instance, if you ask “Where can I buy a stuffed Panda toy?”, you’ll be more likely to get results that steer you towards a toy store that’s in your general area, thanks to words like “where”, “buy”, “toy”, and “Panda”, as opposed to getting results like “Hungry Panda Chinese Takeout”, or feature stories about a zoo’s efforts to get two pandas to mate, or, even worse, links to “Kung Fu Panda”. It’s called a “conversational search”, because people doing a search may find it easier to frame their query in the form of a question, sort of like giving a Jeopardy answer.
Google has already gone on record as saying that Hummingbird doesn’t affect SEO. That is, of course, assuming that you’re doing what you’re supposed to, and avoiding the Dark Side.
So What To Do?
While it’s all well and good that the unscrupulous gaming of search engine results is being cracked down on, it still begs the question of what is the best way to score a high search page rank. The short answer is: content. Content is king. Sites with good, strong, authoritative content ranks higher up on search results, and also is more sharable, which, though it has nothing to do with search results, still drives more traffic to the site, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?
So avoid the Dark Side, and stay away from Black Hat SEO. Its days are coming to a close, as more loopholes are closed up with every successive update. Walk in the light, people. Walk in the light.
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