Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals Part 5


Let’s get right into it. Search engines want to provide the most accurate and complete search results they can to their target market. After all, this is what drives all aspects of their business model. If people have no faith in a search engine the traffic will dry up and the search placement fees as well as advertising fees will cease to exist.

In this week’s newsletter we are going to look at the deliberately deviant techniques to avoid when optimizing your Web site – search engine SPAM.

Tips & Techniques

Some Internet marketers try various techniques to trick the search engines into positioning their sites higher in search results. These tricks do not work with every search engine and if it is discovered that you are trying to dupe the search engines, some may not list you at all. Search engines have been designed to detect many of these techniques and you will be penalized in some way if you are discovered.

Here are 12 common tricks some people try to get higher rankings:
  1. Repeating the same keywords over and over again hidden in your visible HTML, invisible layers such as the <noframes> tag, and in your meta-tags. Repeating keywords over and over again by displaying them at the bottom of your document after a number of line breaks counts as well! For example:
    …games, games, games, games, video games, games, games, board games, online games, games, games, games, games…
    This ill-fated technique is called Keyword Stacking and it is quite obvious when a site is doing this. Its not so obvious cousin is called Keyword Stuffing and this is when you exercise the same stacking techniques to aspects of the Web site that should not be optimized such as spacer images.

    A spacer image is used to by Web developers to properly align aspects of a Web page. The spacer image is a single pixel wide by a single pixel high. I mentioned in the last newsletter that applying descriptive Alt tags is an important part of the optimization. That’s true, but not for spacer images. Alt tags must accurately describe the image they represent in order to be relevant. A spacer image is used for just that – properly spacing items on a page. It is not good practice to include descriptive text in an Alt tag for a spacer image.

  2. Jamming keywords on your Web site by displaying them in your document using a very small font. Why would you even do this unless you were specifically trying to manipulate search results? Don’t do it. This SPAM technique is called Tiny Text.

  3. Inserting Hidden Text and Links in your Web site for the purpose of getting in more keywords should be avoided. For example, hidden text includes repeating keywords in your HTML document by making the text color the same as the background color. Another example is inserting keywords in areas not visible to the end user such as the use of the hidden layers in style sheets.

  4. Making frequent and regular title changes so that the bots think your site is a new site and they list you again and again; this is Misleading. In the case of directories one might change the name of their site to have a space, exclamation mark (!), or A as the first character so that you come up first in alphabetical lists.

  5. Page Swapping, which involves showing one page to a search engine, but a different one to the end user. Quite often you will find people jack content from a top ranking site, insert it on their page to achieve a top ranking, then replace that page with a completely different page when a desired ranking is achieved.

  6. Content Duplication. Say you have one Web page and it is ranking pretty good. You decide it would be nice to improve your ranking, but hey, it would be good to keep your current position too. You decide to duplicate your page, fine tune a few things, and call it something different. You then submit that page to the search engine. Not bad! Your ranking improved and now you have 2 listings. Why not do it again? And so on and so forth.

    If you are caught duplicating Web pages you will be penalized. Search engines want to provide unique content; not the same page over and over again.

  7. Domain Spam sometimes called Mirrored Sites, which is closely related to content duplication. This is when an entire Web site is replicated (or slightly modified) and placed at a different URL. This is usually done to dominate search positions and to boost link popularity, but in the end all it does it hurt you when you get caught. You will get banned for practicing this technique.

  8. Abuse of the Meta-Refresh Tag. Have you ever visited a site and then been automatically transported to another page within the site? This is the result of a Meta-Refresh Tag. This tag is an HTML document that is designed to automatically replace itself with another HTML document after a certain specified period of time, as defined by the document author – it’s like automatic page-swapping. Now that I’ve mentioned this, don’t use a redirect unless it is absolutely necessary. Only the permanent redirect (HTTP 301) is truly permissible by search engines because you’re telling the search engines that the page they are looking for has a new home; go there to index it. If you do use a meta-refresh tag to redirect users, then it is suggested that you set a delay of at least fifteen seconds and provide a link on the new page back to the page they were taken from. Some businesses use meta-refresh tags to redirect users from a page that is obsolete or no longer there. Meta-refresh tags also may be used to give an automated slideshow or force a sequence of events as part of a design element.

  9. Cloaking, a technique similar to Page Swapping and the Meta-refresh in that the intent is to serve search engines one page while the end user is served another. Credible search marketers do not employ cloaking and it is recommended that you follow suit.

  10. Use of misleading Doorway Pages. Doorway pages, also known as gateway pages and bridge pages, are pages that lead to your site but are not considered part of your site. Doorway pages are focused pages that lead to your Web site but are tuned to the specific requirements of the search engines. By having different doorway pages with different names (e.g., indexa.html for AltaVista or indexg.html for Google) for each search engine, you can optimize pages for individual engines. Unfortunately, due to the need to be ranked high in search engine results and the enormous competition between sites that are trying to get such high listings, doorway pages have increasingly become more popular. Each search engine is different and has different elements in its ranking criteria. You can see the appeal of doorway pages because developing doorway pages allows you to tailor a page specifically for each search engine before submitting to achieve optimal results. Search engines frown upon the use of doorway pages because the intent is obvious – to manipulate rankings in one site’s favour with no regard for quality content. Do not use them.
  11. Cybersquatting to steal traffic from legitimate Web sites. If someone were to operate a Web site called Gooogle.com with the extra ‘o’ or Yahhoo with an extra ‘h’ that would be considered Cyerbsquatting. Another type of domain squatting is when a company acquires the familiar domain of another company because it has expired or the original company no longer exists. The company then uses the familiar domain to promote completely unrelated content. Google, in particular, frowns on cybersquatting.

  12. Participating in Links Farms or otherwise irrelevant linking schemes to boost rankings based on achieving better link popularity. Having thousands of irrelevant links pointing to your Web site does more damage than good if you get caught! For best results, only pursue links that relate to your Web site and are of interest to your target market.
To summarize, SPAM to search engines is any Web development or copywriting technique done to intentionally manipulate search rankings in one Web site’s favor at the sacrifice of quality results for the masses. If a Web site is found guilty of SPAM it will either be penalized or banned from the search engine altogether.

How do you know if you are spamming a search engine? If the technique you are employing on your Web site does not offer value to your end user and is done solely for the intention of boosting your search engine rankings then you are probably guilty of spam.

Search engines post guidelines for what they consider acceptable practices. It is advised you read each search engine’s policy to ensure you conform to their guidelines. Here is Google’s policy (http://www.google.com/webmasters/guidelines.html) on quality:

“Quality Guidelines - Basic principles:

  • Make pages for users, not for search engines. Don't deceive your users, or present different content to search engines than you display to users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?
  • Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or "bad neighborhoods" on the web as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.
  • Don't use unauthorized computer programs to submit pages, check rankings, etc. Such programs consume computing resources and violate our terms of service. Google does not recommend the use of products such as WebPosition Gold™ that send automatic or programmatic queries to Google.

    Quality Guidelines - Specific recommendations:

  • Avoid hidden text or hidden links.
  • Don't employ cloaking or sneaky redirects.
  • Don't send automated queries to Google.
  • Don't load pages with irrelevant words.
  • Don't create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
  • Avoid "doorway" pages created just for search engines, or other "cookie cutter" approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.

  • If your Web site is mistakenly penalized for SPAM your best course of action is to contact the search engine and discuss remedies. If you are applying a technique that is considered SPAM, get rid of it. Know what is considered search engine SPAM and avoid it before it ever becomes a problem for you.

    A Web site is to be designed for the target market, not just the search engines. Sometimes a Web site is going to exercise design techniques that can potentially cause problems with search engines. In the next issue we will cover common Web site design problems and outline methods for addressing potential issues.

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    Tools & Resources

    For a refresher or if you missed the first two newsletters in the Search Engine Optimization series you can view them in the archive on by Web site at:

    Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 1
    http://www.susansweeney.com/newsletter/hottopicvolume2issue7.php

    Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 2
    http://www.susansweeney.com/newsletter/hottopicvolume2issue8.php

    Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 3
    http://www.susansweeney.com/newsletter/hottopicvolume2issue9.php

    Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 4
    http://www.susansweeney.com/newsletter/hottopicvolume2issue10.php


    Link popularity is a closely related topic and I advise you to review the article on my Web site at:

    Link Popularity Tips
    http://www.susansweeney.com/newsletter/hottopicvolume2issue4.php

    Visit my Web site at http://www.susansweeney.com