Don't get blacklisted by Google

There are so many SEO companies and so much advice about how to get ranked highly on Google. How can you tell the good from the bad?

Jason from Toronto recently wrote to me with a questions about search engine optimisation:

I am desperate to improve the search engine ranking of my company website but I am confused by the contradictory advice online. We have even considered hiring an SEO company, but aren’t sure who is reputable. The last thing we want is to be blacklisted. Do you have any advice which might help?

It is true that Google comes down hard on sites who disregard their webmaster guidelines. Probably the highest profile example of this was when they effectively removed car manufacturer BMW from their search results for using doorway pages.

With many search engine optimisation companies still using these ‘black hat’ techniques, it is important to be able to tell the good from the bad.

Later we will look at some of the SEO techniques that can get you blacklisted but first lets examine ways to identify a less than reputable SEO company.

Spotting the black hat operators

Always be sceptical of any company that contacts you out of the blue. If you are going to hire an SEO company, ideally you should use a personal recommendation.

Definitely beware of companies who guarantee a particular ranking. If a company promises that you will be ranked number one on Google, ask for more information. It is relatively easy to get a website ranked number one on Google for an obscure term. However it is much harder to get ranked for something that is useful from a marketing perspective.

Also ask what happens if a company fails to live up to its guarantee? Is there any real value in their promise? The answer is probably not.

Finally ask the SEO company to clearly explain the techniques they are intending to use. If they are evasive with their answers they should be avoided.

If you do discover the techniques they are intending to implement, this will enable you to judge whether you are in danger of being blacklisted.

Know their techniques

Most search engines provided guidelines about unacceptable SEO techniques. Google in particular provide excellent documentation for website owners looking to improve their rankings. They provide advice on selecting an SEO provider and layout what it considers unacceptable techniques. These include:

  • Hidden text and links – Some SEO companies use hidden keywords and links that provide no value to the user, but are designed to increase search engine rankings. Techniques include adding text that is the same colour as the background, hiding content with CSS, setting the font size to zero or hiding text behind images.
  • Search engine only content – Using techniques such as redirects and cloaking it is possible to show different content to a search engine than to a real user. This approach is often adopted on sites built using Adobe Flash. However, this breaks Google’s terms of service and could led to you being removed.
  • Sending automated submissions to Google – Many website owners and SEO companies use software packages such as Web Position Gold to automatically submit their websites to multiple search engines. Again, this breaks Google’s terms of service and could led to you being removed.
  • Duplicating content – Although Google recognises that some content is duplicated for legitimate reasons (e.g. a separate print version of your site), it frowns on websites that deliberately duplicated in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings.
  • Doorway pages – These are pages that are created with the sole purpose of ranking well for certain keywords. They often have poor content and exist solely to funnel users into the main site.
  • Keyword stuffing – This refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking. This can results in a negative user experience, and could harm your site’s ranking.
  • Participating in link schemes – Although your site ranking is partially based on who links to you, link exchange programs are still a bad idea. Exchanging links indiscriminately without considering their relevancy will damage rather than help your ranking.

Will implementing the above techniques get you removed entirely from Google? Probably not. However, they could damage your ranking over the long term and will almost certainly be a waste of money implementing.

Should you therefore avoid hiring SEO companies? Not necessarily. There are many reputable companies offering superb advice on how to improve your rankings. It just depends who you go with.

  • Hi Paul,
    Good words of advice – if a company sells it’s services as pretty much back-handed ways of getting up the rankings, that generally says a lot about the way they conduct their business…
    In my opinion, a company that is up-front and honest about your chances of being number one for “funny videos” gets my money.
    On a side note, do you feel Meta tags such as keywords in page headers are still as relevant as they used to be? Should developers really worry too much about these anymore?

  • Black Hat is only bad if you get caught.
    Meta tags aren’t as relevant as say five years ago. But they are still useful because your pages’ description in the SERPs is based on the meta tags.

  • @hugh and @felipe, i refute your statement felipe that meta is irrelevant even google has recently said it still counts for something with an ideal keyword ration of about 4-8% in theory.
    @felipe no black hat tricks are always bad, ALWAYS! if you say otherwise you clearly have never worked with seo for a company with more than one or two websites!
    @pual nice blog, :D cya on twitter < paul < me

  • Great article. I can tell you that MY SITE was blacklisted, and it sucked. All links pointing to my site were erased from Google. That was one reason I thought it was a good idea to jump-into a re-design. I can also tell you that if you’re running WordPress, ALWAYS UPDATE when they release new patches. I blogged it here:

  • Meta keywords add little to no SEO value.
    Key elements of the page are what appears in the search engine result pages. Page title = very important. Meta description appears and should have key phrases there so they get bolded when people search for them. Words used in the URL have some influence.
    Internal link structure and labeling as well as links and content from other authoritative sites are very important.
    In terms of what you can do with your own site, I highly recommend this page:

  • good stuff… always nice to read posts that are short and sweet and gets down to business, and leaves you with something to put in your arsenal when talking to your own clients… because as we all know, our clients always come to us with “facts” that they have heard from a friend of a friend.

  • Has anyone got more info on the point about not “Sending automated submissions to Google” because it “breaks Google’s terms of service and could led to you being removed”? I’ve never heard of this so it’d be interesting to learn more.

  • All good words.
    According to me some important and basic things for SEO as per my listing are:
    Page Titles.
    Meta tag for keywords & description.
    Page content – richness, easy visibility and richness.
    Incoming and outgoing links -quantity, quality and relevance.
    Age of domain.
    Would love to know more about “Sending automated submissions to Google”, because I know many companies who still rely on WebPosition Gold.

  • Also see my mini blog entry on SEO.

  • The only time I’ve had SEO problems was when I transferred a site to a new domain. It moved from a .org to a domain and dropped like a stone in Google’s listings.
    I solved that problem by 1) setting up proper redirects on the domain and 2) using Google’s Webmaster Tools to upload the XML sitemap for the new location.
    Every site owner should have a Google account and use Webmaster Tools, it’s so useful.

  • @Ryan and @Vikas:
    Submitting your site to search engines is old-school. You should be setting up an XML sitemap and pointing Google Webmaster Tools to it.

  • good stuff, anyone know how bad doorways are?
    I see so many sites using this technique successfully to boost rankings.

  • Another obvious method of getting blacklisted is to click on your own AdSense ads. Obvious I know but I have come across many webmasters who have tried this and got blacklisted very quickly.

  • Don’t forget to make sure your headline is related to your keywords. This has a huge pull in SEO.

  • I have noticed that a few sites have lost pr in the past is that because they are blacklisted or is it just for selling links.

  • Jason A.

    hi guys, i am totally new on web design and seo, now i am creating 40 different sub domains under my main domain lets say each sub domain is a city name, because i want to sell my products on all these cities! now but the ebsite is same website! only meta tags on the website is different! it is related with the city names. is that gonna be the problem and am i gonna get in to the black list or no? i mean since articles are same but it is under same domain! just adding a sub domain to it. Please help