Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing the content of your webpage so that your site is easily and readily found by your potential customers who are using search engines to research their purchases. SEO is necessary and although time consuming, can be done fairly easily.
Whether or not you choose to tackle your own SEO on your website or you choose to hire an SEO to do it for you, you need to know that there are good, ethical SEO practices (White Hat) and there are BAD, unethical SEO practices (Black Hat). Some professional SEO’s do use black hat practices whether they know it or not, so it is important that you know some basics.
The major search engines (Google, Yahoo and Bing) frown upon black hat practices and before you know what happened, could blacklist your site from their indexes and you will not be found at all by your customers and potential customers. Just recently JC Penney.com was ousted in a Newyorktimes.com article for breaking Google’s basic regulations and was penalized by the search engine. Closer to home, I have had at least 5 businesses who suddenly lost their high ranking. They had engaged in some bad practices because of bad advice and without even knowing it and were banished from the search engines and lost a lot of business.
Here are some of the biggest culprits in Black Hat SEO practices and things you as a small business need to avoid.
Key word stuffing – The correct keyword phrases in your content is very important, however as soon as the keywords outnumber the useful and relevant content of your site you may be keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing also includes the practice of hiding keywords in the background of your page by making them the same color as the background.
Cloaking Your Content this practice involves designing your Website so that search engines see one thing while human visitors see another. This is commonly called “cloaking,” or using “doorway pages”
Link Brokering – Google favors sites that have relevant links from relevant websites. They do not like the practice of businesses buying links on other websites, especially if those websites do not relate at all to the website in question. As a small business you want to seek out websites, bloggers and even directories that will help your customers find your webpage. You want to avoid link farms, link exchange programs and link brokering schemes.
Duplicating Content – This involves having duplicate pages on the same domain or sub domain and could for the short term result in higher results for your page.
This is not an exhaustive list of black hat practices. A good rule of thumb is if you are doing something that doesn’t benefit your reader at all and is done solely to achieve higher rankings, then it is probably a black hat practice.
I highly suggest that before embarking on any SEO or website project, that you as the small business read Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. I would also suggest downloading Google’s Search Engine Optimization Startup Guide. And finally, before hiring an SEO read Google’s recommendations for hiring SEO’s .
The Iowa Western Small Business Development Center is a free service serving Council Bluffs, Iowa and Southwest Iowa. If you need help with SEO or anything in your business, contact us. If you are in a different area or state contact your regions SBDC through the ASBDC. Iowa’s other SBDC offices are listed at the Iowa SBDC website.
If you have any experiences with SEO firms or black hat practices, please share them in the comments.