Of all the SEO mistakes you could make, webspam — also known as search spam or keyword spam — is one of the most potentially damaging.
Left in the hands of an amateur or untrustworthy consultant, improper SEO optimization efforts can harm your business much more than they can help. Understanding webspam and other “black hat” SEO practices will help you avoid getting on Google’s naughty list.
What Is Webspam?
Webspam is a term used to describe a set of underhanded techniques to artificially improve search engine rankings. Some common practices associated with webspam include keyword stuffing, invisible or cloaked text on a webpage, hidden or mislabeled links, abusing comment sections for link stuffing and pagejacking (illegal page redirects).
Several years ago, Google implemented an algorithm change to detect webspam techniques. Although this has helped reduce the incidence of search spam, it’s definitely still around.
Why Webspam Doesn’t Help Anyone
If you search on an innocuous term such as “buy roses Salt Lake City,” you would probably like to see results of florists near you. So what if your search included a result for “divorce lawyer Salt Lake City?”
Unless you really are planning to order flowers as a last-ditch effort to keep your relationship in one piece, you probably don’t have any need for the lawyer’s information. Nor should that result have come up in response to your search.
You can see how this example constitutes webspamming, as the lawyer’s page was optimized for a term that doesn’t apply to their business. It doesn’t benefit you to see this result, nor does it benefit the lawyer.
So who does this benefit? The answer may be an opportunistic SEO consultant who promised to put their client at the top of the search engines in exchange for an exorbitant fee. They just didn’t bother to specify which searches the client would rank for.
What Happens if Google Catches this SEO Mistake?
If you don’t optimize your site, the likely outcome is that Google and the other search engines simply won’t take any notice of you. Your site certainly won’t perform well in the rankings, but you’ll be out there somewhere — even if it’s 10 pages down in the search engine results.
When you violate the rules, however, Google takes it seriously. The first sign is that your rankings will begin to drop like a stone. Depending on how serious the SEO mistakes are, Google may suspend your Local account, your AdWords account or merchant account for a period of time, or if you were really naughty, permanently.
The worst-case scenario is that Google blacklists your site. If you’re blacklisted, this means that you are excluded from the search engines’ indexes and you will never be listed in search results. This will eliminate virtually all your organic traffic and harm your business accordingly.
Blacklisting doesn’t normally happen as a result of webspam, but it can occur from a variety of SEO mistakes, or even something as innocuous as choosing the wrong hosting company for your site.
Unfortunately, Google usually won’t tell you what you did wrong.
The Fine Line Between Webspam and “White Hat” SEO Practices
Because Google doesn’t publish its algorithm code or provide how-to guides, industry experts can only speculate on what constitutes an SEO mistake or violation. But because the penalties are so severe, it’s always advisable to err on the side of caution.
In some cases, the practices that constitute a serious SEO mistake for one site may not be a problem for another. So how do you tell the difference?
Some factors raise red flags that warrant attention. For example, Google uses narrower criteria in industries that are more prone to committing SEO violations (of all things, the locksmith industry is highly suspect in Google’s eyes).
If you are in the business of selling a product, Google welcomes you to optimize your page accordingly. But if you attempt to optimize by providing helpful information, you can expect the search engines to use a long lens to determine if you are providing information or simply attempting to disguise blatant promotional efforts.
How to Avoid Outdated and Illegal SEO Strategies
Many new businesses and small companies try to save money on search engine optimization services, attempting to do the work themselves or hiring an amateur SEO relative or friend.
But because Google updates its algorithms constantly, many techniques that were once effective are now off-limits. Because Google will make you pay the price if you commit a serious SEO mistake, you can’t afford to place your trust in anyone who doesn’t have up-to-the-minute knowledge of Google’s rules.
Even if your brother-in-law did SEO consulting 10 years ago, those outdated skills are as harmful today — potentially even more so — than no knowledge at all, because “black hat” techniques like keyword spamming and stuffing were the rules of the day 10 years ago.
Other companies fall victim to the false promises of telemarketers offering to provide unrealistic search engine results. And once the damage has been done, it’s extremely time-consuming and costly to repair, if it can be fixed at all.
The only way to ensure that your SEO efforts are both effective and acceptable to the search engines is to trust an expert like Be Locally SEO. We specialize exclusively in designing and optimizing websites for businesses, and we include complementary services such as pay-per-click campaigns and social media and content marketing services.
Your online marketing is critical to your business success. Don’t risk losing your ability to connect with prospects and customers online. Contact us today for a free review of your website. We can recommend strategies to help you rank legitimately, without fear of costly SEO mistakes.