Whether it’s a fledgling business getting off the ground or an established company looking to do damage control on negative publicity, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) can help boost a company website’s rankings in search engine results pages, or SERPs. Because the optimization of a site is such an involved process, many companies outsource this responsibility to Internet marketing companies who specialize in SEO.
Unfortunately, some SEO companies use less-than-ethical tactics to boost search engine rankings, and over time, it has become recognizable even to those who have no experience with Internet marketing. Black hat SEO is the practice of manipulating a site’s search engine rankings artificially through a variety of channels, including hidden text, awkward use of key phrases, and keyword stuffing. Any company who uses an Internet marketing firm engaging in this practice should be wary of the risk of building a negative online reputation.
Keyword stuffing is perhaps the most obvious of these tactics: this is when keywords are lumped together into the meta tags, separated by commas. Normally these meta tags are used to briefly describe the website in SERPs; after all, it is going to be the first impression that the site offers to users. This practice can easily turn away a potential customer, since he or she will want to be informed, not met with a long string of keywords that don’t convey an idea.
A less obvious tactic is the use of invisible text, which can be easily hidden throughout a page by the webmaster. Although a person who briefly visits the page doesn’t notice it, search engines will. On a white background, for example, the font is simply written out in white as well. One easy way to find whether this has been done on a website is to hit Ctrl-A (Select All). If “hidden” text appears, then the webmaster of that site has indeed used this black hat tactic to his or her advantage.
Since the advent of the Internet, users have been “spammed” in one way or another, starting with barrages of junk e-mails. These days, it often happens through the overuse of keywords in a piece of web content. Sometimes SEO companies will use a key phrase throughout an article, blog post, or press release to boost a site’s page rankings; however, the overabundance of key phrases can easily make the content awkward to read. There is a fine line between the strategic incorporation of key phrases and the overuse of these key phrases, which is what makes organic, ethical SEO such an intricate process.
There are many companies who claim to apply SEO to a web site and create content and links that will drive more traffic to a website, while at the same time burying any negative feedback lower in the SERPs. However, these Internet marketing companies must be researched carefully to ensure that they will use ethical SEO practices. A quality SEO company will gladly direct potential clients to their current clients’ websites as proof of their experience and abilities.