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June 10, 2013

Unethical SEO Practices and Why They Should Be Avoided

Search engine optimization, or SEO, can be a vital and successful element of your larger marketing strategy. It can also be abused and used in a dishonest, unethical way. SEO is a method of bolstering rankings by linking to quality content — it’s not a way to trick search engines into ranking you higher, and it should not be used to spam.

SEO is a powerful tool, but using it unethically will draw the ire of Google and your contemporaries.

Why You Should Play it Straight

When it comes to SEO, eventually the cream rises to the top. It’s a long-term strategy that rewards the consistent production of quality content over time. It will be obvious if you’re looking for a quick fix. Your reputation will be diminished, and the legitimate SEO community will out you on the multitude of message boards and forums that they frequent.

On top of that, Google, which has become incredibly savvy at rousting scammers and spammers and SEO cheats since their game-changing Panda and Penguin updates, will punish you by sinking your rankings.

Avoid Keyword Stuffing

Stuffing keywords is not only wrong, but it’s ineffective. The jig is up. All major search engines can now recognize if you’re repeatedly using your meta tag keywords over and over in your content, which is the core principle of keyword stuffing. It once was a slick, but shady technique. Now it’s just shady.

Don’t Embed Ghost Text and Links

When someone types a phrase into a search engine, the engine searches for Web pages that contain those words. By hiding words or links on a Web page by using black font on a black background or some similar strategy, scammers used to be able to flood their page with popular keywords without them being seen by the people who visited them. Now that strategy is old hat. You can no longer hide ghost text from engines.

Don’t Use Popular But Unrelated Keywords

It’s easy to find out what words are trending, but if you use those words arbitrarily, you’re advertising the fact that you don’t believe in your content. If you sell golf clubs and notice that the term “Brad Pitt” is trending, don’t say “If Brad Pitt used our clubs, he could improve his drive by 30 feet.” Instead, say “Our clubs can improve your drive by 30 feet,” and then link to compelling content that explains why.

Use SEO to your advantage, but don’t take advantage. If your conscience doesn’t stop you from using unethical practices, your common sense should. The search engines will likely catch and punish you, your contemporaries won’t respect you or take you seriously, and most importantly, your reputation and, therefore your business, will suffer.

Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles who writes about SEO practices and strategies. He has profiled several top business leaders, including Steve Wynn.