Where there is money to be made in any reputable industry, there will always be unethical practices. SEO is no exception. Unethical SEO practices are also known as Black Hat SEO. These are deceptive methods used to charge you more money and make you more promises.
These efforts will boost your ranking short-term. There’s a huge “but” coming, as you can guess. The reality is that these efforts hurt your search engine ranking. For sites who regularly practice these unethical SEO methods, you may find your site pulled from Google entirely.
How Do You Spot Unethical SEO Practices?
Content / Keyword Spamming
Look at how your content is written. Is it easy to read? Can you clearly understand the message? Do you feel like it’s written with the intention of a person to read?
Unethical SEO content is written exclusively for search engines, not people. Does the content feel misleading? Does it appear to focus on spamming certain words or phrases? When reading it, do you feel like it has zero human connection?
This may not sound bad, but it is. It could lead your readers to a terrible experience. Have you ever clicked a link and it was irrelevant content? Did you feel like you were misled? This could affect your reputation with your audience. It could also get you penalized resulting in lower rankings.
Keyword saturation is good at around 1-3%. That’s actually quite good. So does there seem to be words that are out of context often? Or perhaps the phrasing just doesn’t seem organic? You can use a tool like Tag Crowd to check to see what words are most commonly repeated. Check the percentage against the total amount of words. A few percent higher shouldn’t panic you, but make you cautious. Numbers around 7-11% should make you extremely nervous. Take it down, and change the content. If you have any numbers higher you may already be being penalized.
Paid Links or Link Spamming
Google will boost your authority as more and more reputable links direct to your website. Some links come from Link Farms, which are paid sources to spam links to your site. This is an unethical SEO practice because it affects the relevancy of your authoritativeness within Google. If Google discovers you paid for links, your site is penalized. If your site is found on a Link Farm, your site is penalized.
This is a little harder to spot if you aren’t sure if you have this practice. Is a page full of randomly linked text? Are there a high number of links on the page? This could be a sign of unethical SEO. Look at the hyperlinked words. Does the text there seem irrelevant to the content on the page? Does the link itself seem irrelevant or repetitive? Also, look at where the links are coming from. Does it appear to be a reputable page of authority? Or is it questionable? Many major SEO firms ARE using unethical SEO practices so this last part can be hard. Often times they’ll use a microsite or an alternate website so try to see where your links are coming from.
This includes Private Blog Networks (PBN) which is a method used to farm links, more privately. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a blog site that’s different from another website. You just can’t use that site to spam links to your other site, or any other site.
Redirect and Cloaking Websites
Most people are familiar with a URL redirect. It isn’t an unethical SEO practice if it redirects you to relevant content. For example, my former website www.shineconsulting.biz redirects you to my new and current site. If this site featured content that was prominently different, that would be problematic for your SEO score. Cloaking is similar but is a common hacking tactic. While search engines see legit HTML, you may see Flash video or images.
This is something that’s harder to spot if you don’t know what to look for. It’s a lot like Bait Click in social media. You click on a link expecting one thing but get something totally different. Except in this practice, you’re benefiting from content on an entirely different page. If your mobile site displays a different URL than your desktop site, this is another example of Black Hat SEO.
This isn’t as common of an unethical SEO practice as it once was, but it still exists. This is also harder for you to spot. You’ll need access under the hood. You’ll only see these things inside each page and you’ll need to know what to look for.
Google prevents the following practices:
- Having any text behind pictures/images
- Font sizes of zero (hidden text)
- White text on a white background, or matching any colors to hide text
- Linking only small parts of the text
You won’t see any of these unethical SEO practices with the naked eye without searching for them specifically. That makes these a lot harder to identify.
Google is smart. Very smart. Their algorithms are among the most sophisticated in the world. They know what to look for and they continue to improve on identifying unethical SEO methods. Google will penalize your site for this without question. If you didn’t know you were getting Black Hat SEO, well that’s too bad. While it does work in the short-term, it will cost you a lot more in the long run. Good SEO isn’t cheap. Wait until you see the cost of fixing it when you’re in trouble with Google.
Take a little time to read the work of the firm or person you’re looking to hire. Inquire as to what their efforts are. Don’t believe anyone who tells you they can promise you a top spot. Particularly #1. Be wary of options that seem too good to be true. You can’t get top rated results for a price that’s well below the industry average.