Search engine optimization (SEO) can help boost your site’s page ranking and garner more viewers. However, search engines are designed to punish sites using “black hat,” or spammy, SEO tactics. You can get caught in these filters unintentionally, even if you’re not spamming on purpose.
Luckily, there are clear guidelines you can follow to avoid inadvertently using black hat SEO. Following these guidelines will ensure your site is not being pushed down in the rankings by factors within your control.
And understanding how search engines operate can help you to get more viewers for your affiliate website.
This article will go over what black hat SEO is, the factors search engines use to decide whether content is spammy, and how you can fix three black hat tactics you might be using unintentionally. Let’s get started!
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A Primer on Black Hat SEO
It’s important to understand black hat SEO before you can learn how to avoid it. First off, you might be wondering what it is, and why it’s called that. The term originated with reference to the black hats that villains often wore in old movies, especially Westerns.
One example of a black hat SEO tactic might be intentionally overloading your text with highly searched keywords in an attempt to game the system, a practice known as “keyword stuffing.” This tactic generally creates hard-to-read, unnatural sounding articles.
In contrast, the positive use of SEO techniques is referred to as “white hat.” The white hat alternative to keyword stuffing would be to write text focused on what’s important to your readers, working keywords in when it is natural to do so. However, how do search engines differentiate between the two? We’ll discuss that in the next section.
How Search Engines Judge Your Content
You might be wondering where and how search engines draw the line between black hat and white hat SEO. The primary difference between the two is in the value you’re adding for your visitors. Search engines favor fresh, original content. They penalize tactics that may be scamming the system, trying to boost a page’s ranking without necessarily offering additional value.
That isn’t to say that black hat SEO is always malicious. You may be using some of these techniques without being aware of it. However, search engines use an algorithm to determine rankings – so whatever your motives, you should make sure to avoid black hat tactics, as they will likely lower your ranking.
Lower rankings mean that viewers will be less likely to find your site via organic search, which can cause your page views to tank. In turn, this may hurt your affiliate sales.
In the next section, we’ll go over what some of these methods are and how you can avoid them.
3 Black Hat Tactics You Might Be Using (And How to Avoid Them)
Now that we know why black hat SEO is undesirable, we’ll go over three of the tactics you might be unintentionally using on your affiliate site, and how you can replace them.
In general, to avoid black hat SEO, you should focus as much on quality as you do on optimization. However, following are three of the most common SEO mistakes to avoid:
1. Keyword Stuffing
We briefly touched on keyword stuffing, the practice of overusing keywords, especially when they’re not relevant to your content. Keywords are commonly searched words or phrases, kind of like internet buzzwords.
When you abuse keywords, it creates bloated text that’s hard to read. Worse, if you use keywords that aren’t related to your text, you may be leading your visitors down a hole toward content they aren't looking for.
Search engines detect keyword stuffing by finding frequently repeated words or phrases or lists of keywords without any context at all. This practice harms your site because, aside from lowering your search rankings, it makes your site harder to read.
If your site is hard to read, visitors may flee, increasing your bounce rate and negatively affecting your page views and your profit as an affiliate site.
You can avoid keyword stuffing by focusing on writing natural-sounding text and mentioning keywords only when necessary. You also want to be providing valuable content.
For example, if you were selling a 100% silk sweater, it’s not enough to repeat the phrase “100% silk sweater” over and over again. You might want to write a description about the organic, eco-friendly conditions the silkworms were raised in, or a blog post about 12 outfit pairings that are cute for spring, and work in mentions of the sweater as you can.
2. Abusing Anchor Text Links
Another spammy tactic is overusing anchor text links. Anchor text links are any links attached to text – like the red text pictured in the above screenshot.
Text links can be beneficial in link building, the process of increasing external links to your site to improve SEO. If you're writing an article, and it touches on the content you’ve already written on your site, it’s fair game to post a select number of links to that content.
However, text links can also be used for advertisements, such as when another company has paid you for links to their site. It's fine to post high quality paid links in moderation, but it constitutes abuse if you're overdoing it.
Behavior that’s interpreted as spammy includes having many links containing the exact same text or having many sites link back to your website using the exact same anchor text.
Having an overabundance of links to low-quality content (especially the oft-hated pop-up ads) can lower your brand’s reputation and its overall influence.
You can avoid this tactic by only including links where relevant. Even if you want to link to your affiliate content, you should make sure to work these links in naturally. It helps to only choose affiliates that match your niche as closely as possible.
For example, if you’re trying to sell a power drill on a makeup site, you might have a problem naturally working in links! But you shouldn’t have a problem working in one or two links to a new blush or mascara on the same site.
3. Copied Content
Copied content is another SEO killer. Remember back in college when you were required to produce original work or risk expulsion? SEO is similar to that. Duplicate content can lower your rankings.
Some website owners will copy text point-blank from other sites. That’s a definite no-no. However, even if you’re not doing that, the algorithm might still pick up your site as copied content.
For example, if your site has multiple links for the same content, it may show up as a duplicate. This can happen if you have one copy of your website with the www. extension and one without, or if you have a mobile version of your site and another version for desktop.
To avoid this, one solution is to use canonical links to tell search engines when you have multiple versions of the same content on your website. This way, you can tell search engines when you have intentionally created duplicate versions of pages, as for a mobile and desktop site.
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Using the best SEO practices is vital to the success of your affiliate program. The lower your SEO, the less likely it will be that anyone sees your affiliate site’s content – including the ads for your business.
However, you can easily implement strong SEO practices. Make sure you avoid these three tactics, which mirror black hat SEO:
- Keyword stuffing
- Repeated or overused Anchor Text Links
- Copied content
Do you have any other questions about the best SEO practices? Let us know in the comments section below!