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To many, the art of search engine optimization is all a bunch of mystical voodoo that somehow produces results. If it were as easy as waving a wand and chanting we would probably be unemployed. However, we do love to give out free information (see Beerstorming) and, in the interest of both preparing for future posts and protecting smaller businesses from villainous “black-hat” SEO, here is how to not get screwed: black hat edition.

Let’s start this off right: if you hire an SEO and they do not ask to have access to the code of your website, hire someone else. There simply is no way to effectively begin an SEO campaign that does not start at the code of the website, even if it just to evaluate it for strategic planning. In many cases, a “black hat” SEO will not even glance at the code and move right on to their two most nefarious deeds: Scraping and Link-Spam. (On a side note, their other creepily-named activities include stealth accounts, link pyramids, youtube exploitation, auto-blogging and other nasty stuff)

Scraping is probably the most obnoxious of the practices they do. Scraping involves having a robot search millions of pages and “scrape” the content. They continuously use proxies to hide their IP address so that Google will not catch on. The process isolates keywords you specified and lists the pages they appear on. Many of the programs you can buy to “scrape” will also generate a list of thousands of generic names and automatically post comments on any blogs with the keywords you wanted. The comments are almost always some gibberish about increasing this or enlarging that and they include a link back to the client’s site. A few programs have an option to reply if their comment gets rejected which involves harassing the blogger. Yuck…

Link-spam is another black hat activity that makes us growl. This particular activity is similar to scraping, however scraping is more focused. Link-spam involves posting links in any blog the black-hatter can find. But it does not just stop there, it also includes the devious practices of paid-links and link-networks. Paid links are simple, you simply buy a spot on a site that is full of links and they add your site. Link-networks are similar but are just spread across different sites that all link to one another to generate link-juice.

So why is this bad? Because Google is not stupid, but let’s start with scraping. For starters when (not if) Google detects that your robot is searching millions of pages, it will shut down your searching privileges and track your IP. When it sees that you are posting spammy comments on huge amounts of blogs it will likely blacklist your site and you will not be searchable until whenever Google decides to remove its logarithmic foot from your site’s back-end. That means a lot of money lost for you (both on your site and to your shady SEO). Paid links and networks are bad for two reasons. The first is that those pages have so many links on them that getting a link is worth next to nothing. The second is that Google does not like them and will, in some cases, downgrade your site as spammy for having them. Generally speaking, when Google finds out you are breaking the Webmaster Guidelines it will drop the hammer on you. So don’t do it.

So how do you avoid black-hat? This part is easy, you just have to keep in contact with your SEO. Make sure they are looking at your code and representing your site well. Be aware of what they are doing and how they are doing it. If need be, you can use Open Site Explorer to check where your links are coming from. Make sure you know where your money is going because you do not want to suddenly see your rankings drop and your SEO vanish back to the shadows from whence he came.