If you’re tempted to use search engine optimization (SEO) tricks in an effort to get organic search performance faster, cheaper, and easier, don’t do it. You’ll only end up scaring your rankings away.
But what if you don’t know if a strategy you’re planning is a trick at all? The simple litmus test is this: Are you doing something for your customers’ benefit or to get better rankings? If the answer is better rankings, you might be about to engage in the kind of SEO trickery that Google and other search engines take a dim view of.
Google in particular publishes clear webmaster guidelines on the types of strategies that constitute bad behavior, including the following 13 SEO tricks.
- Automated Content: Using shortcuts like spinning content — a process that runs existing content through a software program to create “new” content — or using other automated methods to generate content typically produces garbage. Poor-quality content is one of Google’s pet peeves. Searchers hate it, and as a result, Google doesn’t rank automated content highly.
- Link Schemes: Increasing the number of backlinks from high-quality sites is key to SEO. Buying or bartering for links, reciprocal linking, link rings, and overly optimized guest posting, press releases or articles with embedded links are all examples of link schemes that violate Google’s guidelines.
- Thin Content: To earn the right to rank, your site needs to have valuable content that contains relevant keywords. Creating pages with little content or content cobbled together from different sources just isn’t good enough.
- Cloaking: Don’t show keyword-rich content to search engines, and then show humans a clean page of images, videos, or other streamlined content. Humans and search engines must always be shown the same content when the page loads.
- Sneaky Redirects: Similar to cloaking, sneaky redirects are used to show search engines one highly optimized page of content while sending humans to a different page. The same tactic can also be used unethically to send desktop and mobile visitors to different, spammy pages of content.
- Hidden Content: Text and links need to be clearly visible to both humans and search engines, not hidden from human view. Common tactics include using white text on a white background, hiding text behind images, and other ways of deceptively serving richer content to search engines than to humans.
- Doorway Pages: Highly optimized pages of content created to rank for similar keyword variants that then funnel searchers to one page rather than providing value on their own are known as doorway pages.
- Scraped Content: Plagiarism is always wrong. Scraping content from other sites is just another form of plagiarism, even if you change that content in small ways.
- Low-value Affiliate Sites: If a site exists for the sole purpose of making money through affiliate programs without adding content that searchers will value, Google won’t rank the site well. These sites are really just another form of thin content.
- Keyword Stuffing: Anytime keywords are crammed into content in a way that hurts the readability, you’re running the risk of getting dinged for keyword stuffing.
- Malicious Intent: Google is especially vigilant for pages that download content or install viruses on visitors’ computers, phish for information, change visitors’ browser homepage, or do other sneaky or unwanted things.
- Abusive Structured Data: Google loves structured data as a way to help it understand the content on a page. Stuffing too much or irrelevant structured data markup is against Google’s guidelines.
- Automated Queries: Don’t send automated search queries to Google without permission, either by creating your own or by using software that scrapes search results for rankings data or other purposes.
SEO is a long-term strategy for growing performance over time, not a quick fix. Examine anything that sounds like a quick-fix trick closely to be sure that it doesn’t violate Google’s webmaster guidelines. Whatever short-term gain you might sneak through won’t be worth the longer-term pain when Google discovers your tricks.