I recently received an advertisement for a company claiming to be able to remove a competitor from the Google rankings per my request and a nominal fee of about $5000. If you’re in a highly competitive realm, 5K may seem a very fair sum to remove competition from that Google SERP. I began to wonder if this indeed was possible to do, as I have in years past, but never spent much brain power on it until now.
If a black hat company could run a mass push to place links in very bad neighborhoods (porn sites, gambling sites, link farms, etc.) and do it so that it appears that the company is trying to buy links or acquire better rankings through techniques that Google greatly frowns upon, it could very well do what they say. Google could see those efforts and recognize them as tactics that don’t comply with the Google rules and regulations and hit the site with penalties or worse, de-indexing.
Google great Matt Cutts released a video (shown below) to discuss this practice referred to as “Negative SEO” and he mentions that it’s “very unlikely” and then uses statements such as, “We TRY really hard to create an algorithm that is resistant to those types of thing.” Most of what indicates to anyone reading between the lines, that they know the practice of negative SEO exists and have algorithms in place to recognize it, but that it doesn’t catch it all.
So much so, that they’ve implemented a Disavow Tool which allows you to create a text file listing websites that you wish to, well, disavow. That way, Google can ignore those websites that you’ve listed and not consider them when deciding where you’re going to rank.
The problem with the disavow link is that you have to already be aware of where those bad links are, decide whether they are actually bad links (as best you can guess in Google‘s mind), and to have either already been a victim of a rankings hit or guess that the presence of your link on that website will have a negative impact on your rankings.
While Google may well be able to identify a huge percentage of the companies that are trying these negative SEO tactics, the very existence of the disavow tool only acknowledges and gives credence to those companies claim that it can be done. And with fees upwards of $5000, this also gives those companies some monetary “wiggle room” to buy links on those evil sites which adds even more validity to their claims.
While 90% of the black hats that claim it can be done, couldn’t pull it off if their life depended on it due to Google’s efforts, there still remains a 10% chunk that just may be able to do what they say. As Matt Cutts noted in his video below, if you’re a company trying to oust a competitor from the front pages of Google, your time would be better suited putting efforts into your own site to make it better. But it’s still disturbing to know that it can be done.
Back in the early days of website design, ranking on various directories and search engines was as simple as putting some info on a page and then crafting your meta tags. Search engines relied on what it said almost disproportionately to what was actually going on with the page itself. Its influence was so weighted that it quickly became misused and frustrating for developers who were playing by the rules as they got outranked by people gaming the system by keyword stuffing.
As it became glaringly obvious that the “honor system” wasn’t going to prevail, search engines quickly began to disregard it and it became the bastard child of meta tags. There were some meta tags that were still useful such as the title and description which gave developers an opportunity to convey what the site was about and there was no threat of misuse as search engines simply wouldn’t rank the site if the content didn’t match.
Other meta tags like content type, robots tags, content language, etc. were also no threat of being misused because if they weren’t correct, a wide host of problems could occur including your website not being displayed correctly. Those tags gave the search engines some of the meat and potatoes of how your site was structured.
It’s insinuated across the board that the meta tags will have no impact on your rankings, but that it does still provide an indicator to the search engines (Google, at least) that it is being used to add to their understanding of what’s on the page.
Additionally, you should make different meta tags for each page you have indexed. Duplicating your meta tags keywords on every page wouldn’t hurt your rankings, but you’d only be doing a disservice to yourself by not taking advantage of an opportunity to give a clearer picture to Google about your site regardless of how insignificant it may or may not be.
Most importantly, Google can smell keyword stuffing a mile away. There will be many who will continue to misuse the keyword meta tag and they’re only shooting themselves in the foot. Andre Weyher stated, “You shouldn’t overdo it. I see a lot of sites with a huge amount of them in the META data. Webmasters need to remember that the more of them you have, the less each one of them is worth!”
To stuff your meta tag keyword area or fill it with useless words like various city names (Atlanta car dealer, Lawrenceville car dealer, Marietta car dealer, etc.), colors (blue car, red car, green car) is a crying shame to waste your efforts on that ignorant decision. Let’s not forget that somewhere in that algorithm lies the schematic of what was once Google’s Wonder Wheel. That essentially means that littering your code with a dozen unnecessary variations is worthless since Google is well aware of the keyword hierarchy. Variances are fine, but within reason.
All of that being said, it’s time to start using those tag areas again, but to keep it in check. Keep your keywords to a minimum and a good rule of thumb may be no more than 6. Think of the top 5 keywords a customer or potential client would use in the search engines to find that particular page and use them. If the variations are too close, replace them with other possibilities. It’s not rocket science. Don’t overdo it and know that you will never be able to game the system for any length of time. We still can’t believe it’s back again.