» Do You Know What Search Engines Hate?
Most of us think of spam as junk email — the come-ons for cheap vacations or off-shore prescription services deposited in millions of inboxes regularly.
SEO spam is different. SEO spam is any means of manipulating search engine spiders to artificially boost a web site’s page rank or positioning on search engine results pages. In other words, SEO spam is any tactic employed by site owners, designers and SEOs to fool search engine spiders. Not a good idea.
What’s Spam and What’s Not?
Hard to say, actually. Every search engine has its own definition of what constitutes SEO spam so, in essence, spam is whatever SE geeks say it is. However, there’s an obvious, widespread consensus among search engine professionals as to what constitutes SEO spam. Further, search engine information pages provide clear guidelines for what SEs consider acceptable and unacceptable practices.
Three of the most common SEO spam tactics are: hidden text, doorway pages and mirror sites. Let’s look at each one.
Hidden text, sometimes called search spam, is text that is invisible to visitors but readable to search engine spiders. Drop a block of white text on a white background and it’s completely invisible to human eyeballs but easily readable by spiders.
Hidden text is usually just a slew of keywords, variations on keywords and other information of interest to SE spiders but not very helpful to humans. So, when you visit the site, you see nothing but white space. Spiders scan line after line of keywords which may well artificially boost the site’s page prank.
Another ruse employed by many SEO rookies is to hide text in the HTML code that supports the site skin. This is another wrong-headed ploy that will get your new site slammed faster than you can say “Welcome”.
Remember, search engines rely on the quality of their SERPs. The more useful and relevant the SERPs are, the happier the SE user. And, the more likely that user will continue to use that search engine. That’s why the management behind search engines takes such a dim view of hidden text and other SEO spam.
Doorway pages and/or splash screens are nothing more than full-sized advertisements and though search engines have been able to detect these pages for almost 10 years, site owners and unknowing webmasters still employ this subterfuge.
A doorway page or splash screen is a stand-alone page in front of the main site. It’s purpose? To land high in the SERPs and get you to click on the doorway page link. So, let’s say you’re shopping for surf boards on line. So you Google surfboards, scroll down a few links and see what appears to be the perfect site for what you’re looking for. You click the link and you’re taken to a garbage page with lots of PPC adverts, usually some hidden text and the simple direction, “For Surfboards, Click Here.” You, web surfer, have been hoodwinked.
Doorway pages have one purpose — to drive traffic to a site. They don’t provide information, product listings or contact information. They’re like full-screen banner ads that you have to pass through to get to the actual site you’re looking for. Search engines hate doorway pages because they diminish the quality of their SERPs and annoy the SE user. That’s a very bad thing.
So, how do you distinguish between a doorway page and a very active homepage? Simple. The home page appears on the site map and can be accessed from other pages within the site. Not so with a doorway page. It’s strictly one-way — in! You can’t access a doorway page from the interior of the site. You can only access it by clicking on the SERPs link again.
Here’s what Google has to say about doorway pages right on the Google Quality Guidelines page: “Avoid doorway pages created just for search engines.” Simple advice. Good advice.
Mirror sites, at first glance, don’t appear to be a deceitful tactic. A mirror site is simply a duplicate site that uses different keywords and HTML descriptor tags. So, let’s say you sell sporting goods online. You might have one site with football-related keywords, the same site, perhaps with a different web host, with baseball-related keywords and another mirror (duplicate) site with nothing but keywords related to scuba diving. Seems like a reasonable approach to driving traffic with a variety of sports interests.
It’s not. Search engines take a very dim view of this duplicate content cluttering up their SERPs. Here’s what Inktomi states in its guideline for posting content to any of the SEs that employ the Inktomi search algorithm. (There are lots of them).
Inktomi considers the following as deceptive, undesirable practices:
- “Pages that have substantially the same content as other pages…” (within a single website)
- “Sites (employing) numerous, unnecessary virtual hostnames…”
- “Multiple sites…(that contain)…the same content.”
The reason? Because this would allow any site to have an infinite number of listings on SERPs, simply by changing keywords in site text and HTML tags. And that would most certainly diminish the quality of results pages.
SEO Spam = SEO Slam
You may get away with deceptive practices for a while. Maybe even a month or two. But eventually you will be found out and the consequences could be lethal to your online enterprise.
Google, Inktomi, Yahoo and the other big search engines will ban a site that employs illicit black or gray hat tactics. In the case of mirror sites, one will certainly be banned from SE indexing. Perhaps all of your mirror sites will be banned. And with search engines driving most of the traffic to your storefront, it’s going to be extremely difficult to recover, if you can at all.
So, if you use mirror sites, take down all but your main site. If you employ mirror pages within your site, lose them. If you’ve got three doorway pages in front of your site, each employing a different set of keywords, eliminate all of them.
And, if your site is deep in hidden text, written for search engine spiders and not for human consumption, lose the invisible spider text.
A Final Word of Caution
One last word of caution. If you’re new to the world of ecommerce and you’re unfamiliar with the dos and don’ts of SEO, visit each search engine and carefully read their statements of acceptable practices. This is essential because what you view as a harmless marketing ploy may be viewed by a search engine as deceitful.
And, if you still don’t understand what SEs will and won’t accept after reading their content guidelines, hire a professional search engine optimizer to do the job.
You’ve spent a bunch of time and perhaps money to take your place in the realm of ecommerce and, indeed, you will need to optimize your site for consistently improving results. But there are plenty of ways to get your site noticed and properly indexed without resorting to SEO spam.
If you can do it yourself, perfect. If you aren’t sure of what you’re doing, even a completely innocent mistake can cost you. You’ll drop in page rank, your site will be mis-indexed or under-indexed and you could be banned altogether.
Play it smart and keep your sites SEO spam free.