Have you heard of black hat SEO? No, it’s not a Marketing Guru donning a dapper hat. Black hat SEO tactics are search engine optimization (SEO) tactics that go against search engine guidelines. These tactics manipulate the search engine results pages (SERPs)—which is great for you in the short term, but it can easily lead to major penalties and poor user experience.
Thankfully, there are a variety of ways to improve your SEO to avoid black hat tactics and sync up with more modern search engine rules and algorithms. Let’s break down 5 tactics to avoid and the best SEO tactics to replace them with.
#1 Keyword Stuffing
Google—the most used search engine—defines keyword stuffing as “the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site's ranking in Google search results.” Overusing your keywords on a page sounds like a good idea. More keyword volume should mean a higher-ranking page... in theory. But Google can see right through you.
Keyword stuffing includes blocks or lists of text with your keywords but without context. The reader won’t be able to glean much information from it. It also includes repeating your keywords or phrases too much. This makes it clunky to read and sounds unnatural.
In the past, people would hide keywords in the webpage code or as text that was the same color as the page background. This saturated the page with keywords, but eventually the algorithm recognized what was going on and demoted those pages.
The Better SEO Tactic: Strategic Keyword Placement
Do not act like Goldie Hawn and go overboard with your keyword usage. Instead of overusing keywords and related phrases, use them in strategic locations. Try to include your main keyword in your meta title, meta description, and H1. You should also have a few mentions of it in your page copy.
It’s important to create content that is enjoyable and/or informational. Even though you're optimizing your content for search engine robots, a human will ultimately read the webpage. Don’t deter potential customers in an effort to game the system.
While we’re at it, let’s talk more about low quality content.
#2 Creating Low Quality Content
Low quality content is worse than generic Oreos. These pages have little content, or the content is lacking in what Google’s Search Quality Rater calls E-A-T: Expertise, Authoritative, and Trustworthiness. At least those inferior sandwich cookies have a little flavor and filling compared to low quality content; and we definitely want to EAT them. Alright let’s brush away the crumbs of this analogy...
Low quality content is quick and easy to create. It can even be autogenerated text that includes keywords but isn’t easy or enjoyable to read. Once a user lands on this page, they’ll be able to discern that it was written more for search engine robots over their needs.
The Better SEO Tactic: EAT Your Content
Write high quality content that has a beginning, middle, and end. Take it back to your elementary school days. Then, E-A-T it. Make sure you infuse the content with your Expertise on the subject. Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness must come through not only your content, but also your website and yourself as the creator. This ensures you’re creating high-quality content that achieves its intended purpose and is useful to your readers.
#3 Writing for the Robots & Algorithm
We’ve touched on writing for robots and algorithms in the previous two SEO tactics. In the early days of SEO, you had to be much more intentional in writing for search engines. However, we no longer need to be so obvious for them to understand. (Yes, robots are going to take over the world one day.)
This style of writing is very unnatural for real humans to read. Even though robots are not natural, they’re smart enough to know when our writing is unnatural. For example, we no longer have to overuse exact keyword phrases. Search engines can find and understand variations on them. Which is good, because your writing will be less monotonous.
When you ignore the user, you won’t be answering their questions. They type their query into a search engine, expecting results that will help them. You might have gamed the system and ranked near the top, resulting in increased visits to your site. But if your content isn’t helping users, you’ll quickly find your pages falling down the SERP.
The Better SEO Tactic: Write for Your Audience
Robots haven’t taken over yet, which means they can’t pull out their wallets and buy what you’re selling. However, humans can. So, write in a way that is relatable to everyday people. Create content for your audience first, and then go back and optimize it for the search engines.
The process can be similar to the chicken and egg scenario. If you’re unsure what to write about, you can use SEO tools to find recommended topics. Yet that doesn’t mean you get to write for robots because that’s what “they” want. Their data is still based on humans behind the screen.
#4 Bad Link Building Strategy
Link building can become a slippery slope. One minute you’re cross-linking pages of your site to and from a new blog post, and the next you’re shelling out big bucks for followed links on spammy websites.
When you create a bad link building strategy with black hat tactics, you’ll not only get poor SERP rankings, but you’ll also get irrelevant traffic to your website. Bad link strategy methods can include using link or article directories, paying for links and not including a nofollow tag, and overusing internal links and pointless anchor links.
Search engines still rely on backlinks for ranking your pages. However, similar to how they can tell the difference between high- and low-quality content, they can categorize high- and low-quality links.
The Better SEO Tactic: A Smarter Strategy–or None at All
If you truly don’t know where to start and are very lost, having no link building strategy is better than turning to bad tactics. But, if you’re ready to dig in, there are a few options to start with.
First, use just a few internal links on a page. You don’t have to link everything possible. Go with what’s relevant to the content or what will help your viewers convert (for example, a contact button). When using external links to or from your site, make sure they’re relevant as well. Build links with websites that have high quality content. And, if you pay for links or use a directory service (because it fits your niche or your competitors are there), use the nofollow tag. Then, search engines won’t count that link equity, but users can still access your site.
Going back to writing for people and not robots... When you create quality content that people want to reference, they will link to your site. This will help your link building, whether it’s done organically or if you ask them to link to your site.
#5 Writing Pages for Each Keyword
If you start creating pages for every variation of your keywords, your website will soon become unruly. Search engines will recognize the bloated content and crawl it less often and less thoroughly. This strategy may have helped in the past. But like we said before, earlier and previously... The robots are smart!
For example, Google’s RankBrain is smart enough to understand user intent behind a Google search. So, you won’t have to create separate pages for synonyms of your keywords. RankBrain also helps Google understand your content well enough to rank it for keywords that are not mentioned.
The Better SEO Tactic: Focus
If you have multiple pages of content focused on a keyword and its variants, first you’ll want to condense that content. Choose your best performing page and add any necessary content from the soon-to-be hidden pages. Once that’s done, redirect those extra pages to the new main page of content.
Going forward, create comprehensive pages for your keyword topics. One topic for one page. Subheadings are your friends.
Ready to Improve your SEO?
Now that you know what to avoid and what to implement, are you ready to improve your website’s SEO? Yes? Great! Oh, what’s that? You’re lost on where to start...
We can help! At The Karcher Group, we’ve been generating SEO results for more than 20 years by doing what’s right. We can help you transform or build a high quality, content-rich website that answers the questions and challenges of your clients and potential customers. Reach out to us today, and let’s get to work improving your SEO.