The search engine optimization industry has exploded into a multi-billion dollar market, creating one of the most cut-throat sectors to come from the dot com boom.
Because of the fierce competition in the industry, some search engine optimization firms began using tactics that the search engines have labeled as “black-hat”, or “illegal”, in the search engine world. The “Big 3” (Google, Yahoo, and MSN) have all issued rules and guidelines listing several of these black-hat tactics. Failure to comply with these guidelines will most likely get you de-indexed, or worse, banned from the search engines white label internet marketing tools.
Generally, black-hat is the “intentional deception of search engines” to gain ranking or popularity in search engine listings. Keep in mind, many of the tactics discussed below have valid and legitimate uses.
Keyword stuffing is the most commonly abused tactic currently. Keyword stuffing is the intentional overuse of a particular term or phrase in hopes of achieving higher search engine rankings for that term or phrase. The best way to avoid this is to fill your page with text that was written naturally and do not over use your target phrase. Often keyword stuffing leads to sentences sounding funny or awkward. Many instances of keyword stuffing appear at the bottom of a web page with a term or phrase repeated over and over, or with slight variations to the term.
Hidden text is setting the color of text the same as the background of a webpage. Additionally, this can be used in conjunction with keyword stuffing. By having your text and background the same color, the text or repeating phrases is invisible to human visitors but not search engine bots. Search engines now look for the color of the text and compare it to the color of the background. Some webmasters create a colored image and set it as the background to the page to avoid being detected; this tactic does circumvent the search engines, as they are not able to tell the color of an image, however, your competitors will be quick to report you to the search engines if they find you are using this strategy.
Clocking, in short, is intentionally displaying different information to human visitors than to search engines. There are numerous ways of cloaking content, and not all have been determined “black-hat”. A fairly reliable way of measuring black-hat verses white-hat cloaking is to ask yourself, “am I intentionally trying to trick the search engines?” Would you be willing to share you tactics with the search engines themselves? Black-hat cloaking will work for a short time, however, you run a high risk of having your domain banned permanently.