Remember the early days of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) when all you had to do was fill your website with repetitive keywords?
It sounded awful, but search engine spiders thrived on awkward sentences like: “Come and see our amazing office space in New York, this is the most beautiful office space in New York, it’s like no other office space in New York you’ve ever seen!”
Fortunately, today’s online experience is a much happier place. In the world of flexible workspace, prospective clients can now find valuable, usable content to help them make informed decisions about their future choice of workspace.
However, for workspace operators, keeping up with changing SEO rhetoric has become a sweat-inducing challenge. Search engine algorithms are constantly updating in order to make the online user experience as positive as possible, and to ensure the very best and most relevant online experiences are the easiest to find. Just like a bottle of milk, search engine algorithms ensure the good content (the cream) rises to the top, while the less preferential content sinks to the bottom.
It is important to keep up with SEO and search engine alterations as much as possible – or seek out a reputable agency or consultant to help you do so. As for the basics, that’s something you should do yourself. It certainly pays to have a little insider knowledge to ensure your website isn’t falling foul of search engine preferences, and to make sure your nominated SEO person isn’t trying any risky short-cuts.
With that in mind, here are 5 black hat SEO tactics that you should avoid at all cost:
Black Hat Tactic #1: Keyword stuffing
Today’s SEO standards are a far cry from the high keyword density, low quality sentences of yesteryear. It’s still important to use keywords and keyphrases in your website content, but rather than ‘stuffing’ your web pages and footers with repetitive phrases, writers must now focus on crafting quality, relevant content that covers your services and the wider industry.
For instance when writing about your flexible workspace, you needn’t stop at your own services. Think about the people you want to attract – most likely they are SMEs, startups, mobile workers and freelancers. What do they want to read about? Why does it interest them? How does it solve their problem? Create articles, guides, FAQs and blog entries about how your services meet their needs, but don’t go overboard on the sales pitch. Offer relevant, balanced and usable advice that genuinely helps them, and you’ll find that those all-important keywords and long-tail phrases will appear in your content naturally.
Black Hat Tactic #2: Plagiarism
Plagiarism is stealing, and pasting content from another source into your website has always been frowned upon. Search engines prefer unique content because, according to Moz, multiple pieces of identical content makes it “difficult for search engines to decide which version is more relevant to a given search query.”
There are some exceptions, such as using a quote that has been published elsewhere (as per the Moz quote above) or uploading a press release that already appears in multiple locations. What then? In our experience, it’s all about honesty. Allwork.Space publishes hundreds of press releases every year and we quote many different sources on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. We don’t plagiarise, or steal, or mislead. If we quote from another publication, we always add appropriate references such as the author or speaker’s name and a link to the original source.
You can take things a step further by adding a small piece of HTML to your article in the form of a ‘canonical’ tag. This simply means ‘official version’, and it informs search engines of the location of the original version. Learn more from Andy Crestodina via this informative post on KissMetrics.
Black Hat Tactic #3: Link farms
As dependence upon link popularity grew in the early 2000s, link farms sprang up across the web. These are clusters of websites that link to each other and to other websites through link exchange systems, in order to provide any given website with a supposedly high-value link. Some networks also sold links to business websites as an SEO method to increase PageRank. However search engines value relevancy, and receiving links from such ‘farms’ has become a black hat technique.
Some link farms responded by clustering their groups of website links by industry or service, in order to appear more relevant. It’s not always easy to identify a link farm, but this post by web design consultant Jennifer Kyrnin helps explain the tell-tale signs of a black-hat operation.
Don’t confuse genuine directories with link farm spam. Chances are, you’ll know the difference through instinct. Above all, the directory should be relevant to your industry and to the service you are promoting. An example of a genuine directory is Allwork.Space, which is solely dedicated to flexible workspaces and doesn’t charge for links, only for the advert itself.
Black Hat Tactic #4: Comment spam
Watch out for this on your blog. Special software programmes automatically upload comments on blog and forum posts with spam links to external websites. The idea is that the spammer will publish a number of posts on external websites with backlinks to their own or their customer’s site. It’s incredibly annoying, particularly if you’re the one tasked with moderating comments.
Search engines are typically efficient at devaluing such links, but your blog still runs the gauntlet of receiving scores, often hundreds of spam comments in any one week. Fortunately there are many tools designed to block comment spam, which may already be built into your blog or available as a plug-in. Check them out or ask a web developer for help.
Black Hat Tactic #5: Invisible or hidden text
You don’t see this much anymore – and not only because the text is invisible. Years ago, some search engine optimisers would deliberately write content into their website that search engines could crawl, but users couldn’t see. One example is to write paragraphs of keyword-laden text and change it into the same colour as the background, making it invisible.
Unsurprisingly, search engines no longer tolerate such practices. However, there are some cases when hidden text is permitted – mainly for accessibility reasons. For instance, screen readers can describe an image to a blind or partially-sighted web user via its alt text, which is otherwise ‘hidden’ to the naked eye.