In the world of search engines, the dark side of SEO is battling to overtake Google’s Jedi force. OK so maybe that’s a stretch, but it’s a constant struggle to be a top contender in Google’s search results.
Google tries to provide a user with the best possible results or pages for the search query. These results are based on algorithms built by the search engine to ‘score’ different sites. As more people started to learn what these algorithms look for, people started trying to take advantage of ‘loopholes’ called Black Hat SEO. Enter: Darth Vader. Black Hat SEO is a term that is used to describe SEO tactics that focus more on taking advantage of the Google algorithms or search engines rather than prioritizing the human user. Over time, search engines have had to evolve based on user experience and adjust their algorithms with the goal of providing the best, most helpful search results. The supreme word, aka the Jedi code, aka Google Guidelines, were created to block these Black Hat tricks which tamper with the natural growth of SEO search results.
People have learned to take advantage of the ways Google ranks pages to have their pages rank faster, in turn, Google has learned of these tactics and has penalized those sites, in some cases, by removing sites from search listings entirely. Websites are screened by Googlebot, a web crawler that scans through the billions of pages on the internet to rank sites in the Google algorithm. This is the danger of Black Hat SEO, the quick gain may not be worth the risk, and getting out of that hole can be much harder than doing White Hat SEO from the start.
A few notorious Black Hat tactics are easily traceable by Googlebot, but as rules change, people find ways to break them. A few risky Black Hat techniques that will get you blacklisted are:
Duplicate Content – A little bit of duplicate content will not affect your status with Google, for example, a quote or a link, will not be seen as spam. However, when Google sees pages that are showing large swaths of the same content, the search engine will respond by penalizing the site that is copying the content and mark that site as spam.
Keyword Stuffing – Keyword stuffing is done by overusing certain keywords that you are trying to rank for in a site. Googlebot is now smart enough to recognize this trick as it does not provide well written, readable content to the user.
Spam Comments – Spam comments are created for the intent of having free backlinks. Although these links are technically ‘no follow’ links, which provides no SEO value, they can affect the user experience and show a lack of maintenance of a blog or site.
Cloaking – Cloaking is done by misleading Googlebot to a different site than what is seen by a human user. There’s good cloaking and bad cloaking. Some cloaking is intended to help the user—for example, in a bilingual country like Canada, a site will identify your IP address before determining whether to show you content in French or English. On the other hand, some cloaking is intended to trick Googlebot. A pornography site, for example, could redirect Googlebot to a site of something innocuous, like bunny rabbits, to avoid being flagged and blocked from rankings. This would be like if Darth Sidious put on a Yoda costume to try to trick Luke Skywalker.
Invisible Text – This is done by blending text into a site as a way of concealing the text. By making the text on a page match the colour of the background, it will not be seen by a user but will be read by Googlebot and marked as Black Hat. This could be for the purposes of keyword stuffing or padding the word count of a page.
Although Google has the Google Guidelines, people still try to take advantage of the system to get themselves on the top of search results without providing the expected effort and genuine content. Google’s intention is to generate the most natural, well informed results for the user. As long as there are robots making these decisions, people will find ways to trick them, which is in violation of the Jedi code.