Search engines want to provide the most accurate and complete search results they can to their target market. After all, this is what drives all aspects of their business model. If people have no faith in a search engine, the traffic dries up and the sponsored listing fees as well as other advertising fees cease to exist.
In the olden days, Internet marketers used various techniques to trick the search engines into positioning their sites higher in search results. These tricks do not work with the search engines today, and if it is discovered that you are trying to dupe the search engines, some may not list you at all. Search engines are programmed to detect some of these techniques, and you will be penalized in some way if you are discovered. A few of the search engine tricks that used to work—BUT THEY DO NOT WORK TODAY, SO DON’T USE THEM— pertaining to Web site design are included below. I include them so you can go
back to look at your site to see if they have been used on your site, and if they have, this is probably the reason you are having difficulty with search engine placement.
- Repeating keywords—Some Web sites repeat the same keywords over and over again, by hiding them in the visible HTML, in invisible layers such as the <NOFRAMES> tag, and in meta-tags. Repeating keywords over and over again by displaying them at the bottom of your document after a number of line breaks counts as well! For example: <META-NAME=“keywords”CONTENT=“cabins, cabins, cabins, cabins, rental cabins, cabins, cabins, forest cabins, lakeside cabins, cabins, cabins, cabins, cabins”>
- Keyword stacking—It is quite obvious when a site is using this ill-fated technique. Its not-so-obvious cousin is called keyword stuffing, which is when you exercise the same stacking techniques on aspects of the Web site that should not be optimized, such as spacer images. A spacer image is used by Web developers for just that—properly spacing items on a page. It is not good practice to include descriptive text in an Alt tag for a spacer image.
- Jamming keywords—If you are displaying keywords on your Web pages using a very small font, then you are jamming keywords. Why would you even do this unless you were specifically trying to manipulate search results? Don’t do it. This spam technique is called “tiny text.”
- Hidden text and links—Avoid inserting hidden text and links in your Web site for the purpose of getting in more keywords. For example, you can hide keywords in your HTML document by making the text color the same as the background color. Another example is inserting keywords in areas not visible to the end user, such as the hidden layers in style sheets.
- Misleading title changes—Making frequent and regular title changes so that the bots think your site is a new site and list you again and again is misleading. In the case of directories, you could change the name of your site just by adding a space, an exclamation mark (!), or “A” as the first character so that you come up first in alphabetical lists.
- Page swapping—This practice involves showing one page to a search engine, but a different one to the end user. Quite often you find people hijack content from a top-ranking site, insert it on their page to achieve a top ranking, then replace that page with a completely different page when a desired ranking is achieved.
- Content duplication—Say you have one Web page and it is ranking pretty well. You decide it would be nice to improve your ranking, but hey, it would be good to keep your current position too. You decide to duplicate your page, fine-tune a few things, and call it something different. You then submit that page to the search engine. Your ranking improved and now you have two listings. Not bad! Why not do it again? And so on and so forth. If you are caught duplicating Web pages, you will be penalized. Search engines want to provide unique content, not the same page over and over again.
- Domain spam (mirrored sites)—Closely related to content duplication, this is when an entire Web site is replicated (or slightly modified) and placed at a different URL. This is usually done to dominate search positions and to boost link popularity, but in the end all it does is hurt you when you get caught. You will be banned for practicing this technique.
A tag used to automatically reload or load a new page.
- Refresh meta-tag—Have you ever visited a site and then been automatically transported to another page within the site? This is the result of a refresh meta-tag. This tag is an HTML document that is designed to automatically
replace itself with another HTML document after a certain specified period of time, as defined by the document
author—it’s like automatic page swapping. Do not abuse this tag. Additionally, don’t use a redirect unless it is absolutely necessary. A permanent redirect (HTTP 301) can be used to tell the search engines that the page they are looking for has a new home; this tells them to go there to index it.
- If you do use a refresh meta-tag to redirect users, then it is suggested that you set a delay of at least 15 seconds and provide a link on the new page back to the page they were taken from. Some businesses use refresh meta-tags to redirect users from a page that is obsolete or is no longer there. Refresh meta-tags also may be used to give an automated slideshow or force a sequence of events as part of a design element.
- Cloaking—This technique is similar to page swapping and using the refresh meta-tag in that the intent is to serve search engines one page while the end user is served another. Don’t do it.
- Doorway pages—Also known as gateway pages and bridge pages, doorway pages are pages that lead to your site but are not considered part of your site. Doorway pages lead to your Web site but are tuned to the specific requirements of the search engines. By having different doorway pages with different names (e.g., indexy.html for Yahoo! or indexg.html for Google) for each search engine, you can optimize pages for individual engines. Unfortunately, because of the need to be ranked high in search engine results and the enormous competition among sites that are trying to get such high listings, doorway pages have increasingly become more popular. Each search engine is different and has different elements in its ranking criteria. You can see the appeal of doorway pages because this allows you to tailor a page specifically for each search engine and thus achieve optimal results.Search engines frown upon the use of doorway pages because the intent is obvious—to manipulate rankings in one site’s favor with no regard for quality content. Do not use them.
- Cyber-squatting—This term refers to stealing traffic from legitimate Web sites. If someone were to operate a Web site called “Gooogle.com” with the extra “o” or “Yahhoo” with an extra “h,” that would be considered cyber-squatting. Domain squatting is when a company acquires the familiar domain of another company, either because the domain expired or the original company no longer exists. The new company then uses the familiar domain to promote completely unrelated content. Google, in particular, frowns on cyber-squatting.
- Links farms—These are irrelevant linking schemes to boost rankings based on achieving better link popularity. Having thousands of irrelevant links pointing to your Web site does more damage than good. The search engines are on to this technique and they don’t like sites that try to manipulate placement. For best results, only pursue links that relate to your Web site and are of interest to your target market.
How do you know if you are spamming a search engine? If the technique you are employing on your Web site does not offer value to your end user and is done solely for the intention of boosting your search engine rankings, then you are probably guilty of spam.
Search engines post guidelines for what they consider acceptable practices. It is advised that you read each search engine’s policy to ensure that you conform to their guidelines. Following is Google’s policy (http://www.google.com/webmasters/guidelines.html) on quality.
Quality Guidelines—Basic Principles
- Make pages for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users.
- Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a Web site that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
- Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to Web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the Web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.