Cutting Corners on SEO? Google Is Stepping Up Enforcement of Its Policies

SEO and SEM is always a game of cat and mouse with the big search engines.  Professionals in the industry are always trying to determine the strategies that can help them place a website at the top of the rankings and deliver more traffic and business.  While the vast majority of SEO and SEM professionals are considered “white hat” using tools and strategies that are ethically sound and that conform to the major search engines quality guidelines and policies, there are individuals that do cut corners and to some extent use whatever means necessary to rig the game against the search engines in their favor (we’ll call this black hat). 

A couple of months ago, Matt Cutts of Google at PubCon 2010 conference stated that Google will be more aggressively going after those individuals that use “black hat” strategies which are against Google policies- including cloaking techniques and black hat linking techniques.  Video available at:  http://www.seroundtable.com/archives/023229.html

Three Things to Be Mindful Of
Google has been sending out emails to webmasters that are having their sites removed from their rankings regarding both unnatural link building and cloaking.  You can view what a sample email looks like for both types of infractions against Google’s quality guidelines and policies at the following link:  http://www.seroundtable.com/google-unnatural-links-warnings-12761.html

In addition to the two above black hat strategies of link building and cloaking, one other strategy that Google is definitely paying attention to also is plagiarism- or in many cases duplicate content.  This is why for those that are considering these types of strategies or currently employing them, it’s a good idea now to avoid them. 

Avoiding Cloaking
Unlike the other two strategies, it is fairly easy to avoid cloaking.  You won’t find usually anyone cloaking unless they want to- where as link building and duplicate content are much easier for both webmasters to make honest mistakes and for search engines to false positively identify your site for black hat strategies. Google defines a doorway page as:  “Doorway pages are typically large sets of poor-quality pages where each page is optimized for a specific keyword or phrase. In many cases, doorway pages are written to rank for a particular phrase and then funnel users to a single destination.  Whether deployed across many domains or established within one domain, doorway pages tend to frustrate users, and are in violation of our Webmaster Guidelines.  More information regarding Google’s definition can be found at: https://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=66355

Avoid Black Hat Linking
Black hat linking is obviously a little more in a grey area for many webmasters.  Google defines black hat linking as:  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.  They specifically mention that buying links in order to pass on page rank is against their guidelines.  You can find more info at:  https://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=66356

While purchasing links is a very common practice and not necessarily unethical, those that purchase large amounts of spammy links could be setting themselves up for a nasty notice from Google.  There is easily a difference between purchasing a handful of links on specific sites that target your industry, but purchasing hundreds of links with no rhyme or reason can definitely set off a red flag by Google.

Plagiarism and Duplicate Content
Obviously for those webmasters that are trying to create as many sites as possibly to generate ad revenue or target traffic, many, many keywords, pages, etc will need to be created- much more than the average site would ever need created.  Unfortunately, these operations usually involve plagiarizing or scraping already created quality content- either as is or slightly modified.  Obviously, stealing of one’s quality content is unfair and illegal in most cases- so Google tries to counter this impulse by implementing a duplicate content penalty.  This is why one should never post duplicate content on a website that they are actively trying to promote in the rankings.  Make sure your content is always unique and freshly updated.  Besides search engines looking for unique content, you’ll get more visits to your site from the robots if you update content on your site frequently.  Remember Google wants to deliver the most relevant, high quality content to its users.

It should be noted that you don’t need to be a big operation to steal someone’s content.  Individuals that are too lazy to create their own content easily duplicate other websites quite often.  Use tools such as Copyscape at: http://www.copyscape.com/ to ensure that no one is stealing your content.  Also, make sure if you have more than one website on a category that any content is unique to its own site.  If it’s not, you may see your keyword rankings drop dramatically or worse be removed entirely from the rankings.

Black Hat SEO is not Cut & Dry
Keep in mind that Black hat SEO is not always cut and dry.  In addition, Google and their robots are not entirely foolproof, they do make mistakes and can falsely identify your site for conducting black hat strategies.  If this occurs, it is always best to contact Google directly where you can explain your situation and usually submit your site for reconsideration.  

Ultimately, Google enforcing their policies is good news for the vast majority of SEO/SEM professionals that play by the rules.  No one wants an uneven playing field, so for the industry this is definitely a step in the right direction.

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