Google is secretive about its ranking algorithms. They are a complex mixture of over two hundred carefully weighted signals that contribute to deciding where on the search engine results pages a particular page appears.
People don’t like complexity and secrecy, especially when their income depends on the information that’s hidden. They yearn for quick and simple solutions, and so naturally there arises a group who will sell them spurious peace of mind.
In our industry, that place is occupied by the bad SEO, who promises a quick-fix ride to the top of the SERPs, often employing many of the methods we’re about to discuss.
No SEO worth his salt is going to rely on these techniques, or promise an easy and simple solution to the problem of ranking well. These techniques might have been successful at one point, but are now either entirely useless, or will cause damage to a site’s ranking in the long term, either because they just don’t work to improve SEO, or because they result in a penalty from the search engines.
Forum and Comment Spam
These are both types of link spam. Link-building is a legitimate part of inbound marketing and SEO, but not all links are of equal value. Google looks for a ‘natural’ link profile. One that contains a mixture of all sorts of different links. If it finds that a significant proportion originate from low-value spam forums and blogs, they can impose a penalty.
Google have recently introduced a link disavowal tool that can be used by sites that suspect they are ranking poorly because they have a large number of this link type.
In an effort to discourage link spam, many blogs and forums now use the ‘’ attribute in their links to signal to the search engine crawlers that they should not take such links into consideration. They pass no PageRank to their target sites, which means they carry no SEO benefit.
Keyword Stuffing and Title Stacking
Keyword stuffing is a long-used technique that aims to attract searchers using particular words or phrases. This is done by frequently repeating words, phrases, or phrase variants within a site’s copy, often rendering it barely readable for human visitors.
Google’s Penguin update was, in part, intended to combat this technique. Google aims to promote only high-quality content that is going to interesting and informative to its users.
Title stacking is similar. The titles on a page are used by search engines as a strong signal to indicate its subject. Title stacking involves having multiple titles using different or variant keywords in the hope of attracting search traffic.
Article Spinning and Duplicate Content
Content can be expensive to produce, and so it’s tempting to use the same content on multiple pages (or take it from another site). Google will ignore duplicate content, choosing only one of the duplicates to be the ‘canonical’ page, and it may penalize if they deem it a deliberate attempt to deceive.
Spinning content is an attempt to get around the prohibition on duplicate content by slightly changing it. Content creators or software will shift around sentences and paragraphs or replace words with synonyms to disguise that it is a duplicate. Google is quite good at spotting spun content, so it’s often going to be detrimental to a site. However, there is a continuum, and completely rewriting someone else’s content is unlikely to be spotted.
Doorway pages are a sneaky attempt to attract searchers to a page with particular keywords before redirecting them to another page, often with unrelated content. A doorway page is not the same as a landing page. Landing pages contain useful content to the searcher, whereas the only purpose of doorway pages is to deceive the search engines. Google strongly disapprove of doorway pages for the same reason they dislike cloaking, which we’ll discuss next.
Cloaking is related to doorways pages, in that both show different content to site visitors than to search engines.
Rather than using redirects, cloaking usually uses server-side scripts to send different pages to search engine crawlers and human visitors, as determined by the client’s user-agent.
This is against Google’s terms of service. Search engines cannot function if sites show their bots different content. If Google discovers that a site uses cloaking it will be penalized, and perhaps removed from the index.
SEO is a legitimate enterprise that can greatly boost a site’s traffic. But, the techniques we’ve talked about here, though tempting, will, in the long run, be harmful to a site’s reputation and ranking.
About the Author
Daniel is the Director of Business Developement for ASEOhosting, a leading provider in SEO hosting and multiple IP hosting. Follow ASEOhosting on Twitter at @aseohosting, Like them on Facebook, and check out all the services they offer.