Website owners have been trying to outsmart Google to get a high search engine ranking since it launched in 1998. However Google's teams of engineers and Ph.D.'s know all the tricks and schemes, and using them can violate Google Webmaster Guidelines. A violation will damage your search results and can even get you kicked out of the search results.
In a webinar presented by LawLytics, Community Manager and blogger Victoria Blute covered 10 of the most dangerous ways to manipulate search engine results. Avoid these tactics at all costs, or risk never being found by any of your potential clients.
- Automatically generated—or “auto-generated”—content is generated by a program. Often this will consist of paragraphs of random text that make no sense to the reader but which may contain search keywords. It can include text generated from scraping Atom/RSS feeds, and stitching content from different web pages without adding any value.
- Thin content, shallow material. This includes low-quality guest blog posts, and content that doesn't add anything valuable to the conversation. Thin content is not good for law firm SEO.
- Scraped and duplicate content. Some webmasters use content taken (“scraped”) from other, more reputable sites to increase the volume of pages on their site, regardless of the relevance or uniqueness of that content. Purely scraped content, even from high-quality sources, may not provide any added value to your users.
- Duplicate content - Duplicate content is copied from another website, or modified just slightly before being published. It can match something elsewhere on the web, including your own website. Google recommends consolidating those pages into one page, or expanding the detail so that they are less similar. You easily find duplicate content with Copyscape, which is a free plagiarism checker. The software lets you detect duplicate content and check if your articles are original.
- Link Schemes: These are links that are intended to manipulate search rankings. Examples include paying money for links, sending someone a free product in exchange for writing about it including a link, or placing inbound links to your website from link farms.
- Cloaking: This is the practice of presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engines. An example of cloaking is displaying a page of HTML text to search engines, while showing a page of images or Flash to users.
- Sneaky redirects: This is sending a visitor to a different URL than the one they initially requested. Some redirects deceive search engines or display content to human users that is different than that made available to search engine crawlers.
- Keyword stuffing: This refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site's ranking in Google search results. Often these keywords appear in a list or group, or out of context (not as natural prose). If the footer on every page lists all the cities where you practice, that's keyword stuffing. For example: “Here's a paragraph about keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing is something players will want to avoid. There are still people who do keyword stuffing, but keyword stuffing is unlikely to trick search engines because keyword stuffing is usually detected by them.”
- Hidden Text and Links. This includes white text on a white background -- the visitor cannot see it, but Google can. Other examples include locating text behind an image, setting the font size to zero, or hiding a link in one character, like a hyphen.
- Doorway pages: Having multiple pages or domains that funnel users to a single page. A doorway page can serve as an intermediate page that is not as useful as a user's ultimate destination.
Rather than stooping to manipulation, Blute recommends publishing high quality content on a regular basis. “Make pages for users, not search engines," she said.