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Unethical SEO – 9 Online Marketing Gaffes to Avoid

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By Barry Hurd

RISMEDIA, Jan. 29, 2008-Every industry has rules. In the world of online marketing, every rule is a shade of gray that is constantly going through technical evolution. While many marketing techniques had periods of proper usage that were beneficial to how the Web works, this article details some of the known online marketing styles that have been considered abusive (black hat) by the search engines. As with all marketing, there will always be unscrupulous businesses that cause techniques used today to become frowned upon by the majority. Making sure that your company is aware of certain basic standards and not accidentally infringing on discouraged techniques is essential to making sure your online brand is a flourishing asset that is building value.

Top Online Marketing Techniques to Avoid

• Page cloaking

In broad terms: using various techniques to fool a search engine to deliver different Web pages under different circumstances. Using various technologies, a site attempts to detect whether or not a human or search engine is requesting a page to view. If it detects a search engine, it serves up a visually unappealing page intending to maximize SEO results. Most search engines dislike this technology as it prevents them from grading actual pages that a human visitor would read, and it detracts from the ability to serve relevant results to the end user.

Spamming of the submission process

Each search engine has a specific period that it will accept submissions for the same site. If a search site has guidelines of every ninety days, it means every ninety days. Many unethical SEO groups know of ways to submit nearly identical content located on different pages. When caught with such duplicate content submissions, sites are typically pulled from being indexed.

• Automatically generated doorway pages

A doorway page is created for the purpose of spamming the index of the search engine by providing multiple pages listed with particular phrases, for the purpose of sending that visitor to another page. They have many other names: portal pages, bridge pages, gateway pages, entry pages, etc. Some doorway pages redirect visitors without their knowledge by using page cloaking, which has taken on the nickname of page hi-jacking.

• Keyword Stuffing

This technique is defined by a Web page that is loaded with a variety of keywords in the tags or main content. Used with caution and skill, this technique is one of the basic building blocks of SEO. However the engines frown upon sites excessively flooding keywords on a page or hiding them in code that is irrelevant to the viewer of the page. The most abusive version of this technique is when words that are completely irrelevant are including on a page solely for the purpose of organic traffic results.

• Irrelevant Keywords

This technique is very straight-forward. You have a site about luxury real estate that lists random luxury car names or the names of premium golf clubs on it without providing actual information about the cars or clubs to the reader. The only reason the terms exist is to have traffic come to the site when they search for “New York Jaguar.”

• Duplicate content on different pages or sites (mirror sites, etc)

This technique is often one of the most common “accidental” black-hat techniques that many unknowing site owners commit. Once information is indexed by a search engine, any other sites that have the identical information indexed are considered “duplicate.” For established sites, this is not a large problem. For new and un-established sites, having large amounts of duplicate content may cause the site to be flagged as a SPAM site and completely removed from the index process.

• Misspelling of common words, or well-known brands/sites

This is very similar to irrelevant keyword and keyword stuffing- where popular brand names such as Google are misspelled for traffic results. Gogle, Goole, Googl, etc. It can also happen with longer names that have 2-5 parts that may or may not be searched for, such as: Trans American Airlines. Such variations as trans-america, America Airlines, or even Trans American Airline (without an s) can produce temporary traffic results for a savvy search marketer who is willing to break rules.

• Data blogs with no unique content (also known as splogs or scraper sites)

With the creation of RSS (really simple syndication) the ability to import data into another site has become increasingly simple. Millions of spam blogs exists that have re-purposed duplicate content from hundreds of other sites, programmatically making changes to the original content to make it look slightly different. Typically these blogs give absolutely no credit to the originating author of the material and are breaking several copyright laws. Well-read online authors have this problem daily, hundreds of my articles have been stolen this way over the past two years. The primary reason for the existence of these sites is monetization through programs like Google Adsense which allows the site to profit off random traffic lured in using the stolen content.

• Code Swapping

Code swapping is when an established page is changed to an entirely different page once a top ranking is achieved. Common instances of this include pages that originally very text heavy or have many comments and eyes looking at them (forum areas, popular articles, etc) and then switching it out with a “buy me now” page that has a call to action for a completely unrelated item. Successful online campaigns can profit during the short period of time the search engine doesn’t recognize the change, but risk having the page disappear entirely when the search system properly analyzes the new information (which is often worthless to the reader)

While the above techniques are not a comprehensive list of every discouraged method, educating yourself on the beneficial and damaging effects of online marketing will allow you to maneuver around obvious pitfalls and avoid very serious repercussions. Repairing the damage caused by utilizing these techniques is often far worse than the benefit they may provide, and most companies who find themselves being flagged or black-listed for these errors often found themselves there simply because they didn’t know better.

To learn more about online marketing techniques, see 3net Search Engine Marketing Blog.

Barry Hurd is president of Social Media Systems, an online marketing and advertising consultant group working with search engine marketing and leveraging social media communities. He has over 15 years of entrepreneurial Internet and online marketing experience. As an author and prolific blogger, he has reached online audiences around the world. Since the mid-1990s, Barry has been involved in numerous efforts to bring forth technical innovation through online business models. Past projects have included NIKE, REI, TMP Worldwide, Monster.com, Verizon Superpages, Intuit, and RISMedia.

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