Eight worst search optimization techniques

Some webmasters and SEO companies will use any means they can think of to get a high rank in search engine listings. That’s not always a good idea. Krissi Danielsson gives a detailed list of eight search engine optimization techniques you shouldn’t use, and why you shouldn’t use them.

Every site owner wants to be at the top of the search rankings. Better search engine rankings mean more site visitors, which means more business. Naturally, with the stakes as high as they are, site owners look for any means possible to get into the coveted top ten placements on the main search engines – especially Google.

There are a million and one optimization techniques out there that claim they can guarantee placement in the top ten results. Obviously, they all work with varying degrees of success. However, while many popular strategies may get you short-term success and temporarily boost your rankings, some tactics can actually end up hurting your placement, resulting in penalties or outright banning of your site from search engines – as well as alienating the very site visitors that you are trying to reach.

However, it’s in your best interest to look at any potential optimization technique with a critical eye and to be sure you know what you are doing. If you do your own search engine optimization, be very careful before trying any of the following techniques. If you hire an optimization firm, you will want to have a serious talk with your consultant before using any of the following strategies. In most cases, these tactics are a bad idea.

Invisible keywords embedded on the page

What it is:

Invisible keyword spamming is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Using text that is the same color as the background of a site, webmasters place “invisible” keywords on a site to increase the instances of targeted search terms and artificially inflate the relevance ranking for a particular search. It’s a common trick used by adult sites and Internet casinos, but it’s also used by a surprising number of mainstream sites and businesses. A similar tactic involves placing the keywords in a very small, sometimes unreadable font size at the bottom of a page.

Previously, keyword spamming had a downside in that the block with the invisible keywords took up space on the page and had to be tacked on in white space someplace, but now with DHTML many site owners place keywords in an invisible layer so that it doesn’t affect page layout and can actually be invisible to users.

Why you shouldn’t do it:

Not even considering the search engines, keyword spamming is annoying to users that pull up your page and discover it is not actually relevant to the terms for which they were searching. Secondly, search engines are starting to scan for this automatically and penalize sites that use this technique by dropping them from the database for a specific period of time.

{mospagebreak title=Repeating keywords excessively}

What it is:

Regular occurrence of a keyword is supposed to mean that a page has high relevance to that search term. If a search user is looking for a page about dog grooming, ideally a page that’s highly related to dog grooming will repeat the phrase “dog grooming” with a high amount of frequency. However, some site owners take it a step too far and repeat the phrase dozens of times in a row in the META tags or in the content to try to boost the relevance rating. The keywords may also be packed in via invisible text, mentioned above. Some sites go so far as to hire copywriters to replace instances of pronouns in otherwise fine site copy in order to get the maximum repetition of key terms.

Why you shouldn’t do it:

While this may be a good idea in theory, it is regularly abused. Directory editors frown on this technique, and your site could be banned from a directory if an editor notices you using this technique on the page. Packing the copy with excessive repetition also hurts the readability and makes your site awkward for potential visitors, which may hurt their opinion of your site and reduce the odds of a repeat visit. In addition, some search engines now have filters to screen for overly repeated keywords, which could result in a penalty – even in cases where you may not have intentionally packed the keywords.

Completely irrelevant keywords

What it is:

Everyone knows that certain terms are very popular. Some site owners scan the lists of frequently searched terms and insert those terms as keywords for a page regardless of whether they actually relate to the site content or not, causing a page to show up in the rankings for a common search term and trick visitors into clicking on the link.

Why you shouldn’t do it:

Many search engines consider this spam, but it would be a bad idea even if they didn’t. For example, “sex” is a common search term, but if a search engine user is actually searching on the term “sex” and you have stuffed the keywords for a site about golf with excessive references to this term, you are not exactly gathering your target audience to the site anyway, and this is not useful traffic.

{mospagebreak title=Link farms}

What it is:

Link farms are pages that consist solely of links to other pages but fail to offer any kind of useful content themselves. Site owners typically place their links on farms to artificially boost linking popularity and thus rankings on sites like Google. Some link farms are automatically generated, while site owners manage others as a repository of reciprocal links.

Why you shouldn’t do it:

Human-edited link farms are certainly preferable to automatically generated ones, but it looks pointless to site viewers to come across a page full of links with little to no relevance to your actual site content. The major search engines are starting to crack down on link farms by scanning for linking patterns that analyze inbound links to a site, and in some cases it can hurt your page rankings to be on a link farm.

It’s important not to confuse link farms with actual pages of well-chosen relevant links. It is an excellent idea to email site owners that cover similar content to your site and ask them to post a link, but it is a bad idea to try to get a link posted to your site on every URL you can find that is willing to post a link regardless of subject matter.

Hidden links

What they are:

Invisible links are hidden in images or in text on pages and exist for the benefit of the spider rather than the user. The idea behind them is to provide additional links within the page for the spider to find and index or to artificially boost link popularity.

Why you shouldn’t do it:

This is another attempt to trick search engines that many frown upon and will ban you for if you are caught. As always, search engines’ primary concern is maintaining highly relevant search results for their users and this tactic is frequently abused to boost rankings for irrelevant sites. In fact, it’s quite common for some optimization firms to hide links to their own sites within clients’ websites – which can definitely backfire for the clients.

{mospagebreak title=Cloaking or using redirect pages}

What it is:

It has become increasingly common for site owners to create a separate page for search engine spiders than the one for viewers. When the spider hits the site, it crawls a specific robot version, but when actual site viewers click through to the link it automatically redirects to a different version of the site. This allows the site owner to create a version of the site to optimize rankings without affecting the readability or content of the actual site intended for viewers.

Why you shouldn’t do it:

This tactic is difficult for spiders to detect, and it has great potential for abuse. Site owners could create a page to optimize a site for terms that are not actually relevant to the content. Ideally your site should gain rankings through the merit of its content and not through this type of deception. In addition, most search engines are very much against this and if they detect you using it, they may ban your site, which eliminates your rankings entirely.

Oversubmitting your site to search engines

What it is:

This is the practice of repeatedly submitting your site to crawlers, on a schedule that could be as frequently as weekly or daily, despite the fact that the crawler has already indexed your site.

Why you shouldn’t do it:

More is not better for submissions to search engines. Submitting multiple times is a waste of time and has no bearing on your search rankings. Most search engines simply delete multiple submissions, and they may end up ignoring your site altogether.

{mospagebreak title=Using untrained SEO consultants}

What it is:

If you have looked around at all for a search engine optimization firm, you have noticed that there is a wide range of options with an associated wide range in prices. Some firms are run by well-trained and knowledgeable experts, who often charge accordingly, and other firms are run by people who are out to make a quick buck but may not have your site’s long term interests at heart.

Why you shouldn’t do it:

Sometimes untrained consultants will be cheaper, but as with all things, you get what you pay for. It is far better to fork out the money for a qualified professional firm to optimize your rankings through legitimate, long-term methods that won’t cost you a penalty than to risk unsavory techniques that may get you good short-term placements but could result in bans and penalties if their methods are detected. Since many untrained or unethical SEO consultants may use the above tactics, you could end up with terrible return on investment if you pay for an optimization firm that ends up getting your site banned from the major directories.


Again, many of the above tactics may temporarily increase your page rankings, but for the reasons mentioned, few are a good idea to do. It is not a case in which the end justifies the means. You don’t want to have people visit your site because you tricked them into it by outwitting the search engines. You want them to visit because the content of your site is interesting and relevant to what they were looking for. That’s the way you wnt to get the word out about your sites. As search engines increasingly grow wise to these unethical tactics, they will increasingly and rightfully penalize those webmasters that use them, so it is best — as always — to play by the rules and put in the time to gain traffic the right way.

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