Let’s not beat about the bush: if you don’t follow search engine guidelines, you’re taking a gamble.
As an agency, we stick to ethical search engine optimisation techniques – it’s never a good idea to gamble with a client’s website by pushing the boundaries of acceptable Internet marketing.
The wider world of SEO and online marketing appears to still be in absolute turmoil as a result of Google's Penguin update, which, to all intents and purposes, knocked some very reputable and White Hat websites straight off the rankings.
Many of those punished have since redesigned and updated their websites (at a cost), as well as checking every page is correctly optimised and every backlink has been checked carefully.
Some report better results - whilst others have had no joy whatsoever in rejuvenating their previous positioning.
As a consequence, there currently seems to be two very different schools of thought amongst industry leaders about how next to proceed: sites should either follow Google's guidelines to every last letter or forget about Google and concentrate on other channels.
For those who think that the first option is better, Google has provided some very specific Webmaster Guidelines, full details of which can be viewed at its Webmaster support website.
The most valuable points to be extracted from the list should be fairly standard for anyone who endeavours to operate in an ethical, organic manner - but it is easy to overlook something which was done quite legitimately but that Google could well view in a different light.
SEO Tip: Don’t Use Hidden Links and Text
Most people will know that hiding links and text to fool the search engines is a very old, Black Hat style trick: what many do not realise is that their website colour scheme can make it appear that they are doing just that. Primarily, this can happen in cases where there is no clear distinction between the background colour of the page and the font colour.
SEO Tip: Don’t Use Redirects and Cloaking
Cloaking is a similar practice, which sends users to a different URL or page to the one they requested. Even the most legitimate of websites sometimes do redirect users for genuine reasons, but this method is being penalised heavily by Google. Always use a 301 redirect!
SEO Tip: Don’t Use Doorway pages
By definition, doorway pages are another way of trying to fool both Google and the user. They are almost identical mass-produced pages, containing poor-quality content that is usually keyword stuffed with the intention of getting them ranked for a particular keyword or phrase, rather than offering any relevant information to the user. Again, this practice is severely penalised by Google.
SEO Tip: Don’t Use Irrelevant Keywords
Keywords of all types are something of an anomaly to those who engage in search engine optimisation - as everyone seems to have their own ideas of what is right and wrong in terms of quantity. One thing that is definitely wrong in Google's eyes is using keywords that have absolutely no relevance to the content of the page on which they can be found. The simple solution is to never do this.
As you can see, it is easy to inadvertently use a practice that is frowned upon by Google - and whether you are a fan or not, if you are trying to be truly White Hat and organic, applying Google's quality guidelines certainly cannot do your website any harm. At least, that’s the theory. Whether another Penguin-esque update is likely to level the field again in future remains to be seen.