Don’t f&$% up your SEO: Why black hat SEO is bad for your business

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a way to make your website rank higher on Google and other search engines. When your customers are searching for “[your service] near me” on their smartphones, wouldn’t it be nice if they saw your business on the first page? For your phone number to appear at the top of maps? Done correctly, SEO will help you be seen and will drive sales—and it doesn’t cost anything to drive clicks.

Like all great things, though, there’s a catch. You can f&$% your SEO up by following black hat tactics. Black hat SEO is unethical webspam. It’s an attempt to rank higher and get more traffic by using workarounds or loopholes that don’t benefit the user. Using black hat SEO, as opposed to white hat SEO (more on this later), will also get you penalized by Google, meaning your site will actually rank lower in search results. In other words, black hat tactics are shady! They’re quick tricks that won’t work in your favor. One example would be obsessively featuring a keyword on a single page, so much so that it’s difficult to read the content aloud. This tactic, and the ones we list below, will negatively affect your search engine page rankings (SERP—where you appear on search). So, you end up with lower traffic, less sales, and you’re not featured on the first page of search. Google even takes it a step further. Are you a known black hat SEO offender? If you get caught, you can expect to lose up to 97% of your organic traffic. With an average SEO conversion rate of 2.4%, are you prepared to lose every two sales for every 100 visitors?

Black hat SEO is a manipulative way to get your website to rank higher on Google and other search engines. If your agency is recommending any of these black hat tactics, run. If you’re the one recommending them, it’s time to partner with Data Driven Marketers. We avoid all black hat tactics and follow search engine guidelines to help small and growing businesses be seen and drive sales. To us, SEO is about building longevity and following rules. Do the right things, and you’ll see more sales, leads, rankings, trust, and traffic.

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Don’t f&$% up your SEO: 12 things to avoid (black hat SEO tactics)

Don’t f&$% up your SEO! Here are the different types of black hat SEO techniques you should avoid to maintain a good relationship with search engines (Google, Bing, and more):

1. Keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing is excessively filling up your page with keywords or phrases to try to get your page to rank on Google or other search engines. We’ve seen people try to stuff keywords in headlines, content, alt text for images, and even captions. Avoid this! Google doesn’t like this—and neither do users. It’s annoying!

Here’s an example of what it might look like if you’re trying to target the term “dog food:”

Is Fido getting tired of his boring dog food? Does he avoid eating his dog food? Try Fido’s Favorite Dog Food, the only dog food your dog will want! This dog food is filled with all the nutrients your dog needs.

That’s a mouthful.

Best practices/tips:

Read your content out loud. Does it sound natural? Would your grandparents understand the flow of the page? Tweak your content until all sections sound normal.

  • Business owners, your page will still rank if you trash half of the “dog food” mentions. Work with an SEO/content provider that focuses on the intent and story of the page rather than how many times you can mention a keyword.
  • Agency owners, this method DOES NOT work. If you’re struggling with ranking or creating content, partner with Data Driven Marketers. We hire subject matter experts who work with our SEO team to develop content that ranks and converts.

2. Duplicated and automatically generated content

Repeating content and automatically generating content is another black hat SEO hack. Some people think this is a quick and easy way to rank, when it’s actually a call to be penalized—why would search engines want to share the same 50 stories in the top 50 SERP results? One of Google’s top ranking factors has to do with unique content. They want you to tell readers something new! Educate them on your industry and your expertise as a business owner. YES, this means more time and investment into content. But it also means better visibility on search and content that leads to sales.

What about duplicate content? Duplicate content is plagiarized content (even if it’s from your own site!), and it can negatively impact your SERP ranking. DO NOT copy the same content from page to page, and don’t copy and paste content from another website. Of course, there are only so many words people commonly use, so some duplication is expected, but your content shouldn’t be identical to anyone else’s. Use tools like Grammarly or ProWritingAid to check that your plagiarism score is under 7%, and where you do have a sentence that is identical to something else, rephrase it. Or, take our copy editor’s advice:

Okay, the English professor in me will never die. I’m okay (maybe) with overall similarities of 7%, but if someone has lifted even one sentence, I consider them a plagiarist. It’s a sin so severe that I’d be willing to force an offender to walk around with a giant P on their chest! – Becky

Are article spinning tactics an option? No. Article spinning is also a form of duplicated content. It involves rewriting an article by finding synonyms, restructuring sentences, or rewriting the content to say the same thing as the original article. This can be manually or automatically generated, and Google will penalize you for this as well.

Best practices/tips:

  • If you’re a business owner, dedicate one to two days per month to developing content that comes from the heart. Think about what questions your customers are asking and start by jotting down your answers/ideas.
  • If you’re an agency owner, consider investing in an in-house copywriter—or work with Data Driven Marketers to find and hire subject matter experts for your clients.

3. Low-quality content

What’s low-quality content? It’s the content that you rip from click-bait articles. You’re developing it “just because it has a high search volume.” Or, on the flip side, it’s content that you didn’t research. You think readers want this content, and without researching, you decide to start writing. You want to avoid low-quality content. To better optimize for search, make sure your content is valuable and answers search queries and search intent. Low-quality content can have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Has inadequate expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EAT)
  • Has distracting ads
  • Doesn’t include enough content
  • Has an exaggerated or shocking title
  • Has a mildly negative website or creator reputation

Best practices/tips:

  • The best way to avoid low-quality content as a business or agency is to start with research!  This can be audience research to see what your target demographic is expecting from you and what they’re interested in, or it can be researching your competitors to find what they’re doing to drive content engagement.
  • At Data Driven Marketers, we take care of the research for you! We also help agencies and their clients develop high-quality content by sourcing subject matter experts and working together to develop optimized content.

4. Hidden text

Hidden text can be another shady way to stuff keywords. In the past (and even today), businesses would hide keywords by making the text white, inserting it in webpage script (CSS/Javascript), or setting the font size to zero. If you hear of anyone doing this, run. Google DOES NOT like this and they WILL find this (everything is visible through script).

Best practices/tips:

  • If you’re looking for a way to shorten long pages and not overwhelm readers, add your text to an accordion or tabs or load it dynamically using JavaScript.
  • Agencies, work with a designer! A designer will help you find a way to thoughtfully layout long pages.

5. Shady mobile redirects

Shady mobile redirects. Is there more to say? Mobile redirects are a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. If you’re redirecting mobile users to another page (while still optimizing the content on the redirected page for SEO value), your site traffic will tank. Google and other search engines are dedicated to honesty and transparency. Users should expect to get what’s relevant to their search! Not sure if you have shady mobile redirects? Work with Data Driven Marketers to analyze your site’s links and 301/307 redirects.

How to check for suspicious mobile redirects:

  • Check your site on your smartphone. Search Google for your site and click on it from your mobile device. If you’re not able to check on an actual device, try using your browser’s developer tools. Chrome, Firefox, and Safari have mobile emulators you can use to check your site from a desktop.
  • Check your site on your smartphone. Search Google for your site and click on it from your mobile device. If you’re not able to check on an actual device, try using your browser’s developer tools. Chrome, Firefox, and Safari have mobile emulators you can use to check your site from a desktop.
  • Check your site’s analytics. Are mobile users spending less time on your site than they used to? Is your bounce rate close to 100%? This could be an indication of a shady mobile redirect. You can also set up a Google Analytics alert to track when your mobile activity drastically changes.
  • Listen to your users. Have mobile users reached out about something not working right? It might be time to look into their complaints and check for redirects.
  • Ask Data Driven Marketers for a URL export. We’ll analyze all URLs on your website, utilizing MarTech tools to flag shady redirects. At the end of our audit, we’ll send you a report and steps to correct these issues.

6. Pages that target irrelevant keywords

Another way to rank (and be flagged) on Google and other search engines is to create pages that target keywords irrelevant to the subject at hand. Sure, search engines will rank anything and everything on that page. However, if you mention the irrelevant keyword multiple times (throughout headlines, text, alt tags and more), search engines will catch on, and users will become confused and annoyed. In the eyes of a search engine, this tactic is wrongfully promoting the service or product at hand. Avoid targeting irrelevant keywords to avoid penalty.

How to check if you’re targeting irrelevant keywords:

You should conduct keyword scans monthly. Check out what your website is ranking for (or request your agency to pull that for you) to ensure Google and other search engines aren’t ranking funky keywords. If they are, revisit the page and edit the content accordingly.

7. Unwarranted redirects

Like our shady mobile redirects, unwarranted redirects (or cloaking) will be penalized. Long story short, your unwarranted redirects are providing a different experience (and different content!) to users and search engines. Your intent might not be sinister, but search engines will consider it threatening.

How to check for unwarranted redirects:

Not sure if you have unwarranted redirects? Work with Data Driven Marketers to analyze your site’s links and 301/307 redirects.

8. Paid backlinks or manipulative links

Paying for links or participating in link schemes is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes giving away free products for links, using link farms to generate links, or using private blog networks to place links. It also includes charging businesses to place a link on a private blog network. Paid backlinks are at the top of our list for “worst offenses” and “most common offenses.” People do it all the time! Why? Backlinks play a big part in organic rank. Is it good to do? NO. Since Google’s Penguin update, it’s been made clear that sites, businesses, and marketers will be punished for this black hat offense.  You want to avoid this unless it’s relevant; otherwise, you risk being flagged/penalized as a spammer.    As a business owner (or even a marketer), you know how hard it can be to ignore the 15+ emails a day you receive around “we help build backlinks.” But ignore them! This will affect your site and your sales. When Google flags this, you could lose a ton of traffic and credibility.

Example from Katheryn’s inbox:

Steps to gain backlinks naturally:

  1. Create relevant, high-quality content. Simple as that! Focus on current needs and trends within your industry, and provide your expertise.
  2. Work with an SEO expert to optimize the new content. Publish it and share the new link with search engines.
  3. Reach out to existing blogs and web pages that talk about related content. Ask for them to evaluate your content and add a link.
  4. The better your content resonates with your audience, the more likely they are to share it, creating a natural backlink to your website. Monitor these links.

9. Thin content or shallow pages

Thin content, or low-quality content, will also be penalized by Google. You want to avoid pages with little to no added value, as well as any pages with very little or irrelevant content—we recommend that all pages (excluding the sitemap page) have at least 320 words of content.

But there’s not much to say on this page…. I don’t want to bog users down with content.” We hear this all too often. Listen here: Good design can simplify user experience, making pages feel shorter and more concise. And good content will be optimized for scanners and skimmers. (They’ll be able to quickly read the page without feeling overwhelmed—and the content can be expanded without sounding repetitive.) In a world that demands more content (from search engines and users), you better find a way to give it more content!

Best practice/tip:

We’re not all writers—that’s a fact. If you’re struggling to develop good content, hire Data Driven Marketers. We hire subject matter experts to ensure the content is accurate and optimized, all while maintaining brand standards.

10. Overused anchor text

Anchor text is the clickable, highlighted, or underlined link you see on a website. There’s value from an SEO perspective (good links build trust, and optimized anchor text equals relevancy), but you want your anchor text to be brief, relevant to the subject at hand, and unique. You’ll also want to avoid stuffing the anchor text with keywords. You can include keywords, but make sure it relates to the image and page. Below is a good example of overusing anchor text.

Best practices/tips:

Here’s an easy rule to follow—you should have no more than two anchor text links per paragraph.

  • Business owners, really think about what internal or external pages you’re linking to. Will it deliver value for your users? Does it provide them extra education? Does it prove a point? Share more of your story? More anchor text isn’t better, and neither is excluding it. Work with your SEO/content provider to find an optimized balance.
  • Agency owners, evaluate the use of anchor text links regularly. Not only will anchor text impact a page’s ranking, but it will improve (or hurt) the indexability of a client’s site. As a web design agency or web developer, you should make this a part of your maintenance plans.

11. Negative SEO or falsely reported competitor sites

Negative SEO is an unethical attempt to make it look like a competitor is participating in black hat SEO tactics. For example, it could be creating a bunch of unnatural links to someone else’s website in the hopes that they’ll be penalized for it. Competitors of the business will try to do it to get ahead, and agencies might do it thinking it will help their clients’ site. Both are dubious “reasons.” Falsely reporting competitor sites is also a black hat tactic. Google’s Transparency Report regularly checks the safety of a website and will penalize you for making a false claim.

12. Abusing schema markup and rich snippets

Lastly, abusing schema markup and rich snippets will get you penalized by Google. What’s schema? Schema markup is a type of code that tells search engines exactly what’s on the page. Sure, it can crawl and read the content, but schema summarizes it for crawlers for quick reading and easy understanding. When executed correctly, schema markup will bring tremendous value to your pages. As an unethical hack, users will manipulate schema to show false information. Any abuse to schema—from sharing incorrect product information and pricing to displaying false content and reviews—will get you penalized. Don’t follow this black hat tactic.

Best practices/tips:

  • Business owners should invest in schema and prepare a thoughtful plan beforehand. It’s a useful SEO technique that’ll help improve your rank on search.
  • Agencies should also use schema markup and work with qualified technical SEO professionals and developers to implement it. Data Driven Marketers also has the tools and testing mechanisms to ensure you have a properly built schema.

What are Google penalties?

We don’t want to be penalized! A Google penalty negatively impacts a website. If you’ve followed a black hat tactic and/or you’re a previous offender, Google will drop your search engine rankings. For some, that means up to a 97% traffic loss. Yikes! Google typically flags black hat tactics when crawling a website. It’s important to stay up to date on Google algorithms because, while our list consists of 12 tactics, there are always new and shady things that Google will penalize.

What about other search engine penalties?

Other search engines—like Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Yahoo—similarly penalize websites for practicing black hat SEO tactics. If you want your website to be found on any search engine, it’s best to follow good SEO techniques to improve your position on SERP.

White hat SEO tactics: What you can do for good rankings & more sales

So what about good SEO? In the black hat vs white hat SEO debate, white hat takes the cake for the best technique. How do we optimize without making these black hat mistakes? How can we make SEO work to drive new business? Follow these techniques to improve your rank and traffic—and, in turn, sales:

  • Focus on mobile-first design
  • Claim your Google My Business profile for optimized local search
  • Focus on good UX principles
  • Conduct keyword research
  • Use quality schema markup
  • Make sure you’re linking to relevant pages and sites
  • Provide high-quality content that’s not copied and pasted from elsewhere or developed by AI
  • Use descriptive (not keyword-stuffed) meta titles, meta descriptions, and alt tags
  • Make sure your pages have a fast loading time

Here at Data Driven Marketers, we proudly use white hat SEO tactics to help our agency partners succeed. There are no gimmicks, tricks, or black hat tactics up our sleeves! We simply follow search engine guidelines and let the magic happen.

Why we don’t like artificial intelligence for SEO

Artificial intelligence for SEO is all the rage. Artificial intelligence (AI) content writers generate content for you, claiming that it’s researched and optimized for SEO. Marketers believe that it can cut down on writing time and think, “There’s already so much content out there…. Do we really need to develop something from scratch?”

We disagree. Content should be written by experts! And while we may say the same thing as 100+ articles, we can customize it to speak to a specific audience, to reach a specific individual, and to excite a specific buyer. The internet is only growing, and so is the amount of users utilizing search, so why not provide more information and education?

When content (web pages, blogs, and even podcasts) is written by someone who knows their stuff, you can increase the authority of the page. You’re providing their expertise in a consumable web format. This is great for SEO! When content is written by AI, there can be a lot of technical jargon and repeated content. The content should be 93–100% unique when checked for plagiarism. Plus, AI doesn’t always sound natural (or human), which doesn’t result in a great user experience.

About DDM & our approach to SEO

At Data Driven Marketers, we focus on customers and content—simple as that. We know that this is the BEST formula for small and growing businesses, and it’s a competing offer for agencies. Our process? For every account, we get to know their audience first. We research their target audience by looking at who they are (demographics, location, etc.) and how to reach them (e.g., what social channels they’re frequently visiting). This is important to establish before anything else!

Knowing your audience will help you optimize for the right keywords, which will increase traffic and leads. At Data Driven Marketers, we use a bunch of MarTech tools to get this done, including Audiense, SparkToro, SEMrush, and much more. Next, we hire subject matter experts, and we have on-staff CX (customer experience) experts to help refine all content that’s waiting to be published. When it comes to optimizing existing content and websites, we only follow white hat SEO tactics. We don’t want you or your clients to get penalized by Google—we want businesses to be seen and to drive sales.

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