This story was co-authored by Carrie Royce and Tom Cox for the Self Storage Association Spring Conference round table sessions. Click here to download the PDF handout. Red Nova Labs (parent company of StorageFront.com and WebWorks for Self Storage) regularly writes advice pieces on marketing for self storage.
Linkbuilding is a key component of any SEO strategy. This may surprise you, but with the way Google’s algorithm is written today, inbound links are said to determine well over 60 percent of a website’s reputation with the search engine. Sixty percent!
Of course, how the search engine evaluates inbound links is constantly changing. (Watch for Carrie’s Mini Storage Messenger article on “The Search Shift.") Nonetheless, there are certain no-no’s that will never change. These are what’s known as “black hat” tactics.
The purpose of this article is to tell self storage operators what’s considered “black hat.” That way, you can keep an eye out for tricks when shopping for a web agency or industry directory. Google is ramping up its anti-webspam efforts and will eagerly punish SEO sinners. You don’t want to put your company’s name or domain into the hands of a high risk system—you might feel the flames too. It’s hard to recover.
Black hatters try to bait search engines with vast amounts of text and links, but they don’t want to offend human eyes. So the trick is to camouflage the wordy mess. Examples include using the same text color as the background color, making text too small to read, or using special code that hides text off-screen in some way. Google’s algorithm is changing constantly to detect these tricks. If it finds them, punishment is automatic. Google’s wrath comes in the form of moving pages far down the list, or de-indexing them all together. Ouch!
Links can be bought – often in volume – from web spammers. Link buyers expect to climb to Google’s first page faster than they would through natural web influence (getting inbound links can be difficult, slow, and tedious). The problem is, links from unrelated sites (say, a link from a cookie company to a storage site) are all but worthless. If Google detects paid links, it will devalue them. And it’s not hard for Google to spot too many unrelated links, especially in self storage. You can’t be lazy and win at linkbuilding; there is nothing quick or easy about it.
To make their sites appear bigger and heavier in relevant content, black hatters create hundreds or even thousands of pages with similar text and links. However, Google now automatically penalizes copies, so true SEO experts are careful not to repeat material on a website, no matter how great they think it is.
Once upon a time on the web, black hatters would overload pages with keywords in meta tags, in page content, and in links. That might explain why reputable search engines like Google no longer rely on meta tags to accurately describe a web page. Google also cleverly checks keyword density, counting the number of times a term appears on a page relative to the paragraphs around it. A good rule of thumb is one keyword phrase per 250 or more words of content.
The goal here is to take over a domain that has already earned a high PageRank (the numerical score Google applies to a domain using tons of qualification factors), to take advantage of that domain’s incoming links. We all envy websites that have earned a PageRank of 5 or higher (out of 10 possible), and when you get frustrated with SEO, you might be willing to do anything to draw good linkjuice from a site like that. But be cautious. There is some debate over whether the strategy to buy old, good domains actually works. And the owner of such a domain will inevitably want big money for it.
Inbound links are considered better quality if they appear in anchor text (keyword phrases rather than domain names) and alongside unique, relevant content. That’s why black hatters steal copyrighted text by the pageload. Google now largely ignores duplicate text, so spammers run it through a synonym generator – an article spinner – to give the impression of unique content. The resulting text is a glut of gibberish, but not to Googlebots. For now.
In a link farm, a community of sites exchanges links to each other. Link farms are built to fool search engines into thinking that certain websites are more popular with people than they really are. Even though you may want it bad, link spamming won’t do it for you. Google tries to wipe out the value of reciprocal links. It also diminishes the value of sites that have relatively numerous outbound links.
We'll be the first to admit: Linkbuilding can be tough. Darn near impossible, even. But a prominent search listing achieved by way of “sins” won’t last. And it’s simply too risky to toy with Google, the “dark lord of search.”