Chapter 9: Violations & Search Engine Spam Penalties

So far, we’ve discussed the positive signals that make up the Periodic Table Of SEO Ranking Factors. But there are also some negative factors that you should avoid.

A word of reassurance. Very few people who believe they’ve spammed a search engine have actually done so. It’s hard to accidentally spam. Search engines also look at a variety of signals before deciding if someone deserves a harsh penalty.

OK, let’s talk about things not to do!


Vt: “Thin” or “Shallow” Content

It’s a brand new penalty, because Google until recently couldn’t even decide if just having so-so content really should be treated the same as overt spam techniques.

But when Google rolled out its “Panda” update in February 2011, having what it described as “thin” or “shallow” content, content that was lacking substance, became a reason for that content to take a penalty hit.

To learn more about this, see some of our articles below:

  • Google Forecloses on Content Farms With “Farmer” Algorithm Update
  • Your Site’s Traffic Has Plummeted Since Google’s Farmer/Panda Update. Now What?
  • Lessons Learned at SMX West: Google’s Famer/Panda Update
  • The Farmer/Panda Update: New Information From Google and The Latest From SMX West
  • Google Rolls Out Its Panda Update Internationally And Begins Incorporating Searcher Blocking Data
  • It’s Panda Update 2.1, Not Panda 3.0, Google Says
  • Impacted By Google’s Panda Update? Google Asks You To Consider This…

Vs: Keyword Stuffing

It’s one of the oldest spam tactics on the books. Search engines say to use words you want to be found for on your pages. OK, I’ll give them those words over and over again! How about 100 times. In a row? That work for you, Google?

Actually, no, it doesn’t. But “keyword stuffing” like this could get you penalized.

How often is too often? There’s no correct answer here, but you’d really have to go to extremes to cause this penalty to kick in. It’s most likely to happen to non-SEOs who just don’t know better and might decide to paste a word many times in a row, typically at the bottom of a web page.

Vh: Hidden Text

Once you decide to keyword stuff, you’re next thought will probably be “Why don’t I hide all this text that no human wants to see.” You might make the text white, so it blends with a page’s background. In doing so, you will have spammed a search engine.

Search engines don’t like anything hidden. They want to see everything that a user sees. That’s because when people do content just for the search engines, they’re often going to extremes.

Don’t hide text, whether it be using styles, fonts, display:none or any other means that means a typical user can’t see it.

Vc: Cloaking

Let’s talk sophisticated hiding. How about rigging your site so that search engines are shown a completely different version than what humans see?

That’s called cloaking. Search engines really don’t like it. It’s one of the worst things you could do. Heck, Google’s even banned itself for cloaking. Seriously.

While most people are unlikely to accidentally spam a search engine, the opposite is true when it comes to cloaking. That’s why it’s such a heavy penalty, if you’re caught doing it. It’s seen as a deliberate attempt to go beyond acceptable SEO practices.

Vp: Paid Links

Speaking of Google banning itself, it also banned Google Japan, when that division was found to be buying links. For 11 months.

That’s longer than JC Penney was penalized (3 months) in 2011, but JC Penney suffered another penalty of having its paid link purchase get turned into a giant New York Times article. As did several large online florists. And Overstock got hammered via a Wall Street Journal article.

The debate over whether Google should act so aggressively against those who buy and sell links has gone on for years. The bottom line is that to be in Google, you have to follow Google’s rules — and the rules say no buying or selling links in a way that they pass on search engine ranking credit.

If you choose to ignore Google’s rules, be prepared for little mercy, if you’re caught. Don’t believe programs that tell you they’re undetectable. They’re not, especially when so many of the cold-call ones are run by idiots.

As for Bing, officially it doesn’t ban for paid links, but it frowns upon such purchases.

Vl: Link Spam

Tempted to run around and drop your links on forums and blogs all over the web, perhaps with the help of automated software?

You suck.

You’re also not doing SEO, though sadly, all the people who hate the spam you leave behind get the impression that’s what SEO is about. So SEOs hate you, too.

If you do go ahead with it, it’s most likely that the links won’t give you the credit you were thinking they would. Potentially, you could face a penalty on top of that. But can you face yourself for doing the internet equivalent of peeing on everything you see, to mark your territory?

Leave a comment