Tempted by black hat SEO techniques? Here's how to spot a cheap SEO company


Have you been fooled? Some of the most common misconceptions fed to unsuspecting customers by unqualified and cheap SEO companies include:

“Instant results!” (…but are these the results I want?)

“Get to page one on Google!” (…OK, but for what phrase?)

“Cheap is just as good as anything more!” (…well to be honest, I am a little bit tempted)

“Keywords are more important than anything else on your website” (Really?)

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a complex and sometimes confusing world. With ever-changing algorithm tweaks and updates, true SEO is never quite complete. 

It’s an ongoing process that adapts and improves with new rules and best practices to follow, so it’s important that your SEO company is constantly on its toes.

Late last year, we spoke about the difference between white hat and black hat SEO. This time around, we want to delve a little deeper into some sneaky black hat techniques to help you spot a cheap, unqualified SEO company.


Creating fake reviews

Did you know that creating fake reviews (as well as spamming blog posts with fake comments) could fall under the umbrella of “misleading and deceptive conduct”? Known as astroturfing, these dodgy practices are actually a breach of Australian Consumer Law.

Instead:

It may sound totally crazy, but – and stay with us here – how about asking customers and clients to give you a review?! These can go up on your website as testimonials, and shared on social platforms, particularly Facebook and Google+.

The best way it to just ask. 

Make the process as easy as possible for the client, like a feedback form or survey on your website, and, if you can, offer a small incentive (like a discount on their next purchase) to say thanks. 

If you want to quickly build up reviews, you might like to offer a bigger prize (like a voucher or gift card) where all who submit a review within a given period of time are entered into a draw.


Keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing is the term used for unnatural and excessive keyword usage purely for the sake of including it as much as possible. 

Not only will Google spot keyword stuffing from a thousand miles away, but it also produces content with incredibly poor readability.

Instead:

Let the results from your keyword research serve as a guide that allows you to create the best kind of content possible. You might need to change your perspective. 

Instead of being consumed by keywords, think in terms of themes and context. 

What kind of person is looking for your product? 

What would they type in? 

What information are they looking for?

So instead of obsessing over the (very general and therefore very competitive) keyword “wedding dresses”, focus on the theme or context of “custom made wedding dresses in Melbourne”. With that, it becomes clearer to you what your audience wants. In turn, you can provide them with richer and more relative content.

Sure, keywords are important, but readability – for your visitors – is the most important factor of all.


Buying links and reciprocal linking

Buying links goes against Google’s terms of service, and as Matt Cutts, head of Google’s WebSpam team, put it so simply, it’s “a really bad long-term strategy”.

Google wants to reward sites that provide a good user experience, and unnatural links do not form any part of that concept. Link schemes may compromise your site’s ranking (something which can be extremely difficult to repair), consequently resulting in a whole lot of wasted money, and not much else.

Do you really need much more convincing?

Reciprocal linking is a tactic that could be interpreted as an honest mistake. Let’s say Business X and Business Y help each other by referring clients to one another. 

Perhaps a way to show their relationship would be to place a link on each site connecting to the other. Makes sense so far, right?

Right. 

But there is a wrong way and a right way to reciprocal links. Excessive use – that is, an unnaturally high number of links to and from your website – falls under Google’s link scheme violations and could place both sites in hot water.

Instead:

Concern yourself with how your website looks. Using thoughtful and relevant outbound links increases your credibility by showing readers that you have done your research and that they can further investigate a topic.

Don’t beg for reciprocal links. Instead, Google reasonably suggests:

The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.” (Source)


Invisible text

You do know that it’s quality over quantity, right? And it has been like that for a few solid years now. Google learnt that people were exploiting this keyword-heavy approach by stuffing terms wherever they could, visible or not.


via GIPHY

Again, it could be the honest mistake of forgetting about old invisible text, but either way, you will not be able to fool Google. Their crawlers can identify not only stuffed keywords disguised in the background, but also 1x1 pixel images stuffed with alt tags. 

Sneaky? Oh yes. Worth it? Absolutely not.

Instead:

We have said it many a time before but it cannot be stressed enough: simply creating good content will result in you having to naturally slip in some really good keywords (as well as several variations) into your website’s copy, so you’ll be killing two birds with one stone!

When writing for the web, focus on what benefits your product, service, or company can provide a user.

Are they looking to hire a function room for their 21st birthday? 

Then you can tell them about your competitive prices, tips on deciding on a bar tab, ideas for decorations and themes, and what type of AV equipment they should consider.

Perhaps they need birdseed for their aviary? 

Tell them about your mixes, where your product is stocked (or where you deliver), tips for maintaining a clean bird enclosure, and why they need different seeds for different birds.

All of the great product features result in benefits for users – spell it out to them!


Doorway pages

These sneaky pages are created purely for the purpose of attracting a visitor under false pretence and leading them to a different irrelevant page. 

This happens when a doorway page is optimised for a keyword, and a legitimate search brings up this page. It then captures a user and funnels them to a low quality or unrelated destination. 

This is obviously incredibly frustrating for users! As a result, Google had cracked down on them. (They have also recently posted an update on doorway pages, so you might like to check it out.)

Doorway pages contain thin, low quality content – something we know Google does NOT like! – and risk getting removed from Google’s index.

Instead:

If the quality and relevance is there, then there really isn't too much to stress over. Google makes their instructions quite simple: don’t use pages designed to take users to places they’re not trying to go.

If you think doorway pages are the answer, then you might need to reassess your keyword research. 

Are you aiming too high? Is "lounge furniture" an unrealistic target? Perhaps you can consider a long-tail keyword with the aim of attracting more qualified searchers, like "Australian custom made timber furniture"?


Consequences of any and all of these black hat SEO mistakes

So what kind of punishment can you expect for any of these black hat SEO tactics? You might be penalised in Google’s search rankings and you might even find that your site is banned altogether.

It’s a long process to get yourself off Google’s naughty list – so is it really worth it?

Some people will see these punishments as a threat from Google, but they’re simply Google’s way of fulfilling its number one aim: providing users with the best possible, high quality, most relevant, and most helpful resources in their search engine results.


What can you learn from all this? SEO is part of a complete digital strategy

Are you second-guessing your priorities after reading this? Perhaps you’ve always been a little keyword-obsessed? Maybe all you need is a little shift in perception.

Consider this: are you doing a certain SEO tactic purely to satisfy the search engines, or are you truly adding value for a user? 

There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with optimising your website for SEO, but always consider the user first.

If you’re obsessed with SEO, you might know that meta descriptions are not important for search engine rankings. So why bother writing good ones?

Well, while it mightn’t directly affect SEO, a great description – containing a keyword or two if possible – can convince a user to click through to your website. 

This is one instance where you are putting user experience ahead of keyword saturation. Just because you know your description mightn’t affect SEO, that still wouldn’t stop you from writing an explanatory, compelling one, right? 

Right.

This shouldn't be a cage fight where you pit user experience against SEO and crown one winner. 

These two elements work together, and that natural progression is that if you write well with your target markets in mind, you’ll create an online business that achieves true SEO as well as outstanding content for visitors.

It’s as simple as this: create a website (and business!) that you want the search engines – and therefore your customers – to see!

Learn more about the white hat and black hat SEO battle here. 

To see how Search Engine Optimisation can fulfil one part of your complete digital strategy, please get in touch today. Fill in the form below, or contact us here!

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