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“Black Hat” SEO: How to get banned in 5 easy steps

Thursday, 20 March 2008 — by

Banned From The Search EnginesTricking the search engines to rank your pages higher than they ought to is called “spamdexing”, or simply spam. I have warned people many times over about a host of different spamming techniques, and how they should avoid them. If you don’t mind a nasty wrench being thrown into your search marketing plans, please feel free to go ahead and ignore the rest of this article…

Please welcome Andy MacDonald of Swift Media to the fold! He’ll be an contributing editor for the Blah, Blah! Technology ‘blog, bringing you his take on all things SEO & SEM.

There are many different ways of tricking search engines, people being the clever creatures they are, but I’ll cover only the content spamming techniques today. My goal is not to teach you how to perform these techniques. Rather, to ensure you have enough information to spot them, and prevent your site from running afoul of the rules and suffering the consequences. Or even better, ensure you know enough to discover them on a competitor’s website, so that you can justifiably turn them in.

  1. Doorway pages. Doorway pages are simple HTML pages that are customized to a few particular keywords or phrases, and they are programmed to be visible only by specific search engines and their spiders. The purpose of these doorway pages is to trick the search engines into giving these sites higher rankings; Doorway pages are specifically aimed towards search engine spiders – once a searcher lands on a doorway page, they are instantly redirected to the “real” website.
  2. Keyword stuffing. Also known as keyword loading, this technique is really just an overuse of sound content-optimization practices. It’s good to use your target keywords on your search landing pages, and use them often, but when you start throwing them in just to attract the search engines, your pages can be flagged. Dumping out-of-context keywords into the alternate text for images, or into <noscript> or <noframes> tags, is a variation of this same unethical technique. Checkout my article on how to avoid keyword stuffing.
  3. Hidden text. HTML offers many opportunities to place text in front of the search engine spiders that the visitor will never see. Displaying text in incredibly small sizes, or with the same font color as the background color are hoary spam techniques. Newer approaches include using style sheets to write keywords onto web pages that are then overlaid by graphics or other page elements. In short, any time you can see text in the HTML source of a page that does not show up when you view the page in your web browser, it is probably spam and you are indeed looking at one of their shady tactics. So avoid hidden text, too!
  4. Duplicate tags. Using duplicate title tags or other meta tags have been rumored to boost rankings in times past. The same style sheet approach that can hide text can also overlay text on top of itself, so it is shown once on the screen but listed multiple times in the HTML file.
  5. Duplicate websites. Why stop at duplicate tags when you can clone an entire website? You duplicate the content in slightly different form under several different domain names and then have each of your websites link to each other (to increase their page ranking factors). Maybe your websites can grab six slots in the top ten results. Unfortunately for the spamdexers, the search engines can now detect duplicate content, you will in fact down-grade all of the websites which contain the same content, and could even have your websites banned! After all, learning how to reduce duplicate content can aid you search rankings.

And the really bad news about all of these techniques is that sometimes they do work. Search engines do get fooled usually by people who are harder working than us. Maybe they have the time to actively seek out and find new ways to fool the search engines. Most of the time, however, spam techniques are like stock tips. When you hear the tip, it is probably too late. The stock price has already gone up and the search engines are already implementing countermeasures…

Andy MacDonald, CEO of Swift Media UK, a website design & search marketing company. For daily tips on Blogging, Marketing, SEO & Making Money Online, Also, checkout his SEO & Marketing Tips for Webmasters blog or subscribe by RSS to his ‘blog.

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Comment and be known

David Bradley → Thursday, 20 March 2008 @ 18:23 BDT

Yes, all of those techniques can work very well…in the short term. Serial blackhatters couldn’t care less about the long-term of an individual site, they just create a new one and pile in with all these various approaches, and when that site gets banned, the build a new one(s).


Jeff Louella → Thursday, 20 March 2008 @ 19:45 BDT

Using CSS to overlay an image of, let’s say, a first level header, is not black hat SEO. As long as the copy in the HTML and the header image are the same, there is no reason you will be banned for this. This is how web pages are intended to be built. Removing style and functionality from the content are best practices in web development. It aids in code weight, accessibility, maintenance, and portability. It does not break any search engines code of conduct and is even used by yahoo’s own website.

Andy MacDonald → Thursday, 20 March 2008 @ 22:02 BDT

Thanks for the comments guys; however i cant totally agree with your comment Jeff. If you were to write, lets say some keywords onto a page which you wanted to hide from your users, and you did hide it by using css to put an image over the top of the text, that can be construed of black hat techniques because your hiding content from your users.

Anything which is not visible to the users but is viewable to the search spiders is ‘usually’ spam. The only acception to this is if you were to use html comments in the source code of a page which the search engines ignore. There has been a lot of talk over the last few years about this exact practice and many webmasters have been delisted as a result of this type of practice, therefore id recommend you don’t try these kinds of tactics if your aiming for top rankings.

Fat Lester → Wednesday, 28 May 2008 @ 20:49 BDT

This is kind of off-topic, but my comment has more to do with the subject of person-to-person communications.

I am a regular reader of the NowSourcing blog. Admittedly, while I enjoyed your recent guest post, I didn’t really pay attention to the author’s name, and likely would not have recognized it were I to see it on a billboard along the highway.

That is until you tracked me down on Mixx, and thanked me for the comment I left at NowSourcing. Upon receiving that, I searched NS for “Wayne Smallman”, found which post was yours, re-read it, and clicked through to your own site. I have read a number of your articles within the past 90 minutes, and I think it is safe to say that you have converted me into a regular reader.

This just goes to show that the time and effort required to pursue blackhat SEO techniques is much better spent building meaningful relationships with real readers.

There is something to be learned from this experience, and for that you should be commended, Mr. Smallman.

Wayne Smallman → Wednesday, 28 May 2008 @ 22:21 BDT

It’s pretty amazing to think I inspired someone to make such a wonderful comment. Makes all the research and the writing worth while.

Feels like a straight thanks doesn’t quite cut it, but I’ll say it anyway: thanks!

Shirley → Friday, 18 July 2008 @ 0:59 BDT

Yes, the worst thing about Black Hat SEO is that sometimes they out-compete legitimate websites.

But that also goes the same for conventional SEO tactics. I have seen some highly optimized websites outrank other sites whose content really is more relevant. For example some directory sites might outrank a website for its own domain name!

SEO Master → Saturday, 9 August 2008 @ 16:44 BDT

And we have to take care of Black Hat SEO SQL Injection.

The hackers injects some malicious code that generates html links to the sites they want. These links just appears for googlebot, difficulting the webmasters discover. Sometimes the google central webmasters alerts about this, sometimes not. The site can be penalized and the webmaster don’t know why!

It’s a very difficult situation and is more common to php and asp sites.

Be careful.

SlimQuick → Monday, 8 June 2009 @ 6:31 BDT

Thanks for this post. The fact is some newbies who are not blackhaters make those mistakes without the intention of fooling the search engines and they will get banned. Do Google send warning to the site owners before penalise them?

Wayne Smallman → Wednesday, 10 June 2009 @ 11:53 BDT

You may get a warning from Google, but only if you have a Google Webmaster Tools account.

Berks County Lawyers → Sunday, 21 March 2010 @ 6:15 BDT

Google rarely gives you any warnings in Webmaster Central. They can, but the reality is they won’t tell you. I’ve been there.

Sorry Comments are close. Quite possibly for a good reason. Share your thoughts on some of my other posts or contact me directly.

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