Dodgy SEO tactics are the kind of tricks that those naughty SEO types employ to get your website to rank highly in the Search Engine Results – sometimes known as Black Hat SEO.
Google and the other engines are always looking out for people who are trying to game this system, and that's why they make all those changes to their algorithms. They’re not doing it to annoy us, they’re trying to root out those dodgy people and improve the results for normal humans like us – the customers.
Now the problem is that some of these tactics do work, or they give you short-term results, and boost your rankings. Everything looks wonderful, but then things quickly go a bit bleak. You drop out of the rankings and you could actually receive a penalty from Google, which is not a fun experience.
So how do we avoid these SEO tactics?
The first step, of course, is knowing what they are and avoiding them, so we don't get a smack on the bottom from Google.
Dodgy SEO tactic number one: Buying Links
You'll have seen on sites like Fiverr and Upwork, and even if you just type ‘buying links’ into Google, that there are lots of companies who offer link packages. You pay them a set amount and they guarantee to provide you twenty backlinks from amazing websites.
It looks like a great deal because we all know that backlinks are a powerful indicator of authority for our site. But is it a good deal?
Andrew: ‘I think it's completely bad. I see it time and time again. I probably get four or five calls a day from companies that have been burned in the past by using tactics such as buying links and stuff like that. We always have to think about what buying a link actually means.
‘If you're buying 100 links, or 20 links, or 1,000 links, or whatever that might be – why? You're not adding any value to another website for them to link back to you.
‘Obviously, the link you're getting off the other site is going to be very, very average. At the end of the day, if you're buying a link, over time it's going to be pulled off anyway. The value that you're going to have is going to be very, very short-lived. But I guess, most importantly, you're buying a link that's going to be an average link. It's not going to be a link posted on a great publication such as Entrepreneur.com, Huffington Post, or Forbes, so the chance of actually getting results is going to be very, very dismal.’
The best way to think is that the harder the link is to get, probably the better the link is to have.
Dodgy SEO tactic number two: Article submission
Article submission is the process of submitting an article to another site in the hope that they'll publish it and you'll get a backlink.
This is a tactic that causes a bit of confusion with lots of small businesses because, on the one hand, we're told that article submission is bad, but then we're also told that guest posting can be a really great tactic. Let's explain the difference.
Andrew: ‘I'm actually going to name and shame a website as an example. Articlebase is a good example that I can use. Any website that you can just go on, publish an article, and list it straight away is always going to be an issue. Websites such as Articlebase provide that service. If you go on some of these sites and read the type of content actually getting published, it's actually really, really, really bad. It's terrible. The quality of the content is bad.
‘The site is publishing thousands of articles a day because people are just pushing articles. And then, all of a sudden, you're getting a link back to your site. Is it good? No, because all of a sudden the quality of the article is terrible, and it's pushing so-called authority back to the site. At the end of the day, if Google is looking at this big site and all they see is all those articles getting pushed out on a regular basis, they're not going to pass much authority to you at all.’
The truth is, we should be using guest posting more to reach a new audience, to engage new people – not just for a backlink.
Dodgy SEO tactic number three: Buying multiple domain extensions
I don’t think businesses actually mean to be dodgy when they do this, but it involves buying every possible iteration of your domain: .net, .com, .co.uk, .com.eu, and then all the odd ones like .sydney, .tv.
The hope is, that by having all these domains they're covering all their bases. But in fact, buying all these empty domains and pointing them to your website will do absolutely nothing.
Andrew: ‘Back in the day, you could literally buy a website, such as “windowcleanernewtown” if you wanted to work in Newtown, put a piece of content up there and Google would pass a lot of authority because of the exact match they made. And it would work. Now we literally have to look at every single site as a separate business in a separate site. It actually takes a lot of time. You actually have to build 10, 15, 20 pages of good, quality content. You'd actually have to do separate SEO on every single site, so it would be very, very different now than it was before. It passes no authority, and it does basically nothing unless you want to put in good time and resources on each site.’
Dodgy SEO tactic number four: Web 2.0s
Andrew: ‘Yes. A lot of people do it just to build a site log or something along those lines, something that we used many years ago in SEO, but not so much anymore.’
Dodgy SEO tactic number five: Spam commenting
This involves heading to other people’s blog posts and commenting just for the sake of trying to get a backlink. It’s actually a big fat waste of time because most of those backlinks are ‘no follow’ – which means they pass no authority back to your website. (Most commenting tools like Disqus and CommentLuv use ‘no follow’ links.)
But I still get heaps of spam comments on my site – so why do people still do it?
Andrew: ‘Spam commenting is actually a blast from the past. It doesn't work anymore. It's something that, unfortunately, overseas companies that do it cheaply still do because, once again, it can be automated. It can be done very, very quickly. It adds no value to a site or to a user.’
Of course, there’s still value in commenting on blogs if you enjoyed the article. Also, if it's a great blog post and you're one of the first people to comment, then your comment will be read by lots of people as well, and that can be good for branding.
Dodgy SEO tactic number six: Exact match link building
Exact match link building involves posting content on another website to get a link back to your website. You use your chosen keyword phrase in the link.
Andrew: ‘Yes, so for example, with a window cleaning business, the link would be “window cleaning Sydney”, or “window cleaning Melbourne”, or “window cleaning Newtown”.
‘So four, five, six years ago, people used to just spam that and make ten articles saying, “window cleaning Sydney, window cleaning Sydney, window cleaning Sydney,” and Google allowed that site to actually rank. Now, not so much.
‘These days, big publications, in some cases, don't even allow it to link back to your site, but when they do link you back to your site it's, “Click here to visit this website. Here's the source for where we found this image.”
‘At the end of the day, exact match link building is completely finished now. A lot of sites get penalised pretty badly by doing that.’
There are, in fact, a whole stack of other dodgy SEO practices, and generally they’re fairly easy to spot with a little common sense. If it feels dodgy, it probably is. If it doesn’t serve the customer or the users, it’s probably not a good idea
The best Search Engine Optimisation is about creating a great experience for your customers. Keep the humans happy and you’ll keep the Google bots happy too.
About Kate Toon
Kate Toon is an award-winning SEO copywriter and SEO consultant with almost two decades of experience in all things advertising, digital and writing. Originally from the UK but now based just outside Sydney.
She has worked with big brands such as eHarmony, Curash and Kmart. And she’s helped countless small businesses produce great content and improve their copywriting and SEO.
Kate is also the founder of The Clever Copywriting School and The Recipe for SEO Success eCourse, as well as co-host on the Hot Copy Podcast.
She presents the Write for Business show for the Dale Beaumont’s Brin.ai app and recently launched The Copywriting Conference – Australia’s first dedicated Copywriting Conference.
Andrew Raso is the co-founder and General Manager of Online Marketing Gurus, an award-winning SEO company based in Sydney. Andrew writes about SEO for publications such as the Content Marketing Institute, Jeff Bullas and Search Engine Journal. He was recently shortlisted for the 30under30 award.