Keyword Stuffing This is probably one of the most commonly abused forms of search engine spam. Essentially this is when a webmaster or SEO places a large number of instances of the targeted keyword phrase in hopes that the search engine will read this as relevant. In order to offset the fact that this text generally reads horribly it will often be placed at the bottom of a page and in a very small font size. An additional tactic that is often associated with this practice is hidden text which is commented on below. Hidden Text Hidden text is text that is set at the same color as the background or very close to it. While the major search engines can easily detect text set to the same color as a background some webmasters will try to get around it by creating an image file the same color as the text and setting the image file as the background. While undetectable at this time to the search engines this is blatant spam and websites using this tactic are usually quickly reported by competitors and the site blacklisted. Cloaking In short, cloaking is a method of presenting different information to the search engines than a human visitor would see. There are too many methods of cloaking to possibly list here and some of them are still undetectable by the search engines. That said, which methods still work and how long they will is rarely set-in-stone and like hidden text, when one of your competitors figures out what is being done (and don’t think they aren’t watching you if you’re holding one of the top search engine positions) they can and will report your site and it will get banned. Doorway Pages Doorway pages are pages added to a website solely to target a specific keyword phrase or phrases and provide little in the way of value to a visitor. Generally the content on these pages provide no information and the page is only there to promote a phrase in hopes that once a visitor lands there, that they will go to the homepage and continue on from there. Often to save time these pages are generated by software and added to a site automatically. This is a very dangerous practice. Not only are many of the methods of injecting doorway pages banned by the search engines but a quick report to the search engine of this practice and your website will simply disappear along with all the legitimate ranks you have attained with your genuine content pages. Interlinking As incoming links became more important for search engine positioning the practice of building multiple websites and linking them together to build the overall link popularity of them all became a common practice. This tactic is more difficult to detect than others when done “correctly” (we cannot give the method for “correct” interlinking here as it’s still undetectable at the time of this writing and we don’t want to provide a means to spam engines). This tactic is difficult to detect from a user standpoint unless you end up with multiple sites in the top positions on the search engines in which case it is likely that you will be reported. Grey-Hat SEO Tactics The following tactics fall in the grey area between legitimate tactics and search engine spam. They include tactics such as cloaking, paid links, duplicate content and a number of others. Unless you are on the correct side of this equation these tactics are not recommended. Remember: even if the search engines cannot detect these tactics when they are used as spam, your competitors will undoubtedly be on the lookout and report your site to the engines in order to eliminate you from the competition. It is definitely worth noting that, while it may be tempting to enlist grey-hat and black-hat SEO tactics in order to rank well, doing so stands a very good chance of getting your website penalized. There are legitimate methods for ranking a website well on the search engines. It is highly recommended that webmasters and SEO’s put in the extra time and effort to properly rank a website well, insuring that the site will not be penalized down the road or even banned from the search engines entirely. Grey-Hat SEO Tactics: Cloaking There are times when cloaking is considered a legitimate tactic by users and search engines alike. Basically, if there is a logical reason why you should be allowed to present different information to the search engines than the visitor (if you have content behind a “members only” area for example) you are relatively safe. Even so, this tactic is very risky and it is recommended that you contact each search engine, present your reasoning, and allow them the opportunity to approve it’s use. Arguably, another example of a site legitimately using cloaking, is when the site is mainly image-based such as an art site. In this event, provided that the text used to represent the page accurately defines the page and image(s) on it, this could be considered a legitimate use of cloaking. As cloaking has often been abused, if other methods such as adding visible text to the page is possible it is recommended. If there are no other alternatives it is recommended that you contact the search engine prior to adding this tactic and explain your argument. There is more information on cloaking on our black-hat SEO tactics page. Paid Links The practice of purchasing link on websites solely for the increase in link-popularity that it can mean has grown steadily over the last year-or-so with link auction sites such as LinkAdage making this practice easier. (You can read more about LinkAdage on our SEO resources page. When links are purchased as pure advertising the practice is considered legitimate, while the practice of purchasing links only for the increase in link-popularity is considered an abuse and efforts will be made to either discount the links or penalize the site (usually the sellers though not always). As a general rule, if you are purchasing links you should do so for the traffic that they will yield and consider any increase in link-popularity to be an “added bonus”. Duplicate Content Due primarily to the increase in popularity of affiliate programs, duplicate content on the web has become an increasingly significant problem for both search engines and search engine users alike with the same or similar sitesdominating the top positions in the search engine results pages. To address this problem many search engines have added filters that seek out pages with the same or very similar content and eliminate the duplicate. Even at times when the duplicate content is not detected by the search engines it is often reported by competitors and the site’s rankings penalized. There are times when duplicate content is considered legitimate by both search engines and visitors and that is on resource sites. A site that consists primarily as an index of articles on a specific subject-matter will not be penalized by posting articles that occur elsewhere on the net, though the weight it may be given as additional content will likely not be as high as a page of unique content. White-Hat SEO Tactics: Internal Linking By far one of the easiest ways to stop your website from ranking well on the search engines is to make it difficult for search engines to find their way through it. Many sites use some form of script to enable fancy drop-down navigation, etc. Many of these scripts cannot be crawled by the search engines resulting in unindexed pages. While many of these effects add visual appeal to a website, if you are using scripts or some other form of navigation that will hinder the spidering of your website it is important to add text links to the bottom of at least your homepage linking to all you main internal pages including a sitemap to your internal pages. Reciprocal Linking Exchanging links with other webmasters is a good way (not the best, but good) of attaining additional incoming links to your site. While the value of reciprocal links has declined a bit over the past year they certainly still do have their place. A VERY important note is that if you do plan on building reciprocal links it is important to make sure that you do so intelligently. Random reciprocal link building in which you exchange links with any and virtually all sites that you can will not help you over the long run. Link only to sites that are related to yours and who’s content your visitors will be interested in and preferably which contain the keywords that you want to target. Building relevancy through association is never a bad thing unless you’re linking to bad neighborhoods (penalized industries and/or websites). If you are planning or currently do undertake reciprocal link building you know how time consuming this process can be. An useful tool that can speed up the process is PRProwler. Essentially this tool allows you to find related sites with high PageRank, weeding out many of the sites that would simply be a waste of time to even visit. You can read more about PRProwler on our search engine positioning tools page.