There’s a lot of competition these days for coveted real estate on the first Google search engine results page. With Google receiving trillions of searches every year, search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most powerful tools for marketers to increase organic traffic to their websites.
As the founder of an online gold and precious metals broker, I’ve had to refine our marketing strategy over the years to avoid techniques that Google considers exploitative of its search engine guidelines. Below, I’ve put together a list of some of the hard lessons I’ve learned in the decade since I created Regal Assets when it comes to “black hat” SEO and how not to get flagged for Google penalties that can negatively impact your search rankings.
What is black hat SEO?
Google’s Webmaster Guidelines set the ground rules for your SEO strategy. If you incorporate techniques or SEO ranking shortcuts that go against Google’s guidelines, you’re committing black hat SEO — something that any serious marketer or website owner should avoid at all costs.
If Google detects that your website is using black hat SEO, they may issue a penalty. Receiving a penalty from Google will trigger an update to its PageRank algorithm such that your website’s ranking performance will be downgraded or, in worst-case scenarios, entirely delisted by the search engine.
Unsure whether you’re violating Google’s rules? To settle any doubts, there’s one question you should ask yourself: Is your SEO strategy designed to provide value to your readers, or merely to improve your ranking? If your answer is the latter, then you need to rethink your strategy.
Here are some black hat SEO techniques to avoid.
To avoid a Google penalty, be sure to avoid any of the six common black hat SEO tactics listed below.
Private blog networks (PBNs), used to be commonplace for marketers looking for a quick supply of link equity to a new or underperforming web property. PBNs are a community of high-authority websites built for the sole purpose of link building and promoting sponsored content. These websites are often derided as “link farms” because they’re set up to exploit Google’s PageRank algorithm.
Instead, you should naturally scale your outreach and offer guest blog posts to trusted outlets and platforms without paying for PBN access.
2. Keyword Stuffing
Jamming your articles with as many keywords as possible is no longer an effective strategy for ranking. WordPress and content management system (CMS) plug-ins such as Yoast SEO and All in One SEO can help detect keyword stuffing before you submit an article. The last thing you want is to produce an article that reads unnaturally or like spam — this is a common reason Google hands out PageRank penalties.
While nobody knows for sure what keyword density Google’s PageRank algorithm favors the most, many SEO professionals aim for 1-2% of their article to consist of the keyword they’re trying to rank for.
3. Content Cloaking
Be honest with your visitors. If your article’s title or headline has to do with, say, how to add gold or silver investments to your retirement savings account, don’t mislead them by having the content discuss an unrelated topic like stock market investing. Pulling a bait-and-switch with your readers is called “content cloaking,” and it can land your domain a severe penalty.
4. Article Duplication
Google rewards websites that produce regular, valuable and original content. Republishing content that already exists online, or content that’s only marginally altered from the original, can get you in trouble with Google. Since algorithms can easily detect duplicate web content, always be sure to publish unplagiarized material — even if you were the original author.
5. Comment Spamming
Although it’s becoming rarer, there was once a time when comment sections were flooded with comments written by bots in an effort to build backlinks. Google has since updated its algorithm to weed out and discredit links that arise from spam or bots. In any event, links generated from comment sections tend to carry “nofollow” HTML tags that won’t impact your ranking performance.
6. Buying Links
Links should be earned, not bought. Google discredits links generated via sponsored content or paid guest posts, but passes PageRank (or “link juice”) to domains that are linked to on the merit of their content. Your backlink strategy, in other words, should be organic. A successful link-building strategy starts with producing honest and original value-added content that your readers benefit from engaging with. If you can manage that, the backlinks will pour in naturally over time.
Stay in Google’s good graces.
Ultimately, Google is in the business of making the internet a better place for its users. As long as you’re striving to provide the most value for your readers, Google will reward your website and credit it with additional domain authority.
Although so-called white hat strategies may take longer to generate results, the results they bring in will be sustainable, and you won’t have to worry about receiving a penalty or having your website delisted by Google altogether. Simply keeping your content honest, original and insightful is often enough to stay in Google’s good books and drive long-term SEO success.
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