Although Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a cottage industry with many companies claiming they can help your site acheive top rank, it still means different things for different people.
For some it means just how to make your site get better ranking in search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, MSN and others. For others, it means how to do so by shortcuts, tricks, ethically questionable methods, and other less savoury means.
Basics of Search Engine Optimization
First, we should start by seeing what Google, the current leading search engine, has to say about the topic. They clearly state what is acceptable and what is not. They also have a facts and myths page.
Why have a High Search Engine Rank?
Having a high search engine ranking is not a goal in and of itself. The goal is that people searching on certain keywords would come to your site and not your comptition. It is a race for eyeballs and clicks.
Most web sites who are interested in high search engine ranking either sell some product or service on their web site, or they have some sort of Ad Revenue. Ad revenue works by attracting people to your site who are likely to click on ads.
The best ethical way for doing so, is to have relevant and interesting content for your audience. As a byproduct, they will be interested in clicking on the ads that are displayed on your site.
Search Engine Spamming
As with any new and emerging technology, abuse by some does start to happen, and that limits usefulness, just like Spam for email.
Please read our article on how abuse and misuse limits usefulness.
Search engine spamming means flooding search engines with irrelevant content. Some companies do so by having so called "link farms". These link farms are just pages with no real content, but with lots of keywords in them, and the sole purpose is to have a high ranking in search engines, and getting more clicks on ads.
The WordPress Debacle
One example of misuse is how WordPress, an Open Source Content Management System used hidden links to make money via a hidden link farms. You can read about how Wordpress used cloaked links and emplyed a company called HotNacho to create stub content. Also, here is a response from Jonas Luster, a Wordpress employee, and a Slashdot discussion.
The Syndic8 Debacle
A similar situation took place when Syndic8, web site that uses lots of links and useless keywords in articles was banned by Google, and had its Adsense account suspended.
High Paying Keywords
Some sites even target high paying Ad Words keywords, which provide more dollars per click than other keywords. This way they get more revenue. Some of these words are advertised by lawyers looking for clients. For example, Asbestos, Asbestosis and Mesothelioma are examples of such words. Here is a blog that is based solely on these words, and the Slashdot discussion.
Blogging and Ads
Flooding the Ads
Another annoying practice is flooding Google Ads by a few sites that do so for as many keywords as possible.
One of the worst offenders in my view, is eBay. Here are some examples:
When I accidentally searched for "Alt Tab", here is one ad that came up:
Discount Alt Tab
New & used Alt Tab. aff
Check out the huge selection now!
I wonder what kind of Alts and Tabs they are selling, and what colors are they.
On a Turkish language web site, I saw this ad:
New and Used Bayan. aff
Check out the deals now!
Note that Bayan means 'lady' in Turkish. Not sure what they are selling here.
Another instance is:
Solar Planets for sale.
aff Check out the deals now!
And yet another sad example is this:
Great deals on new and used items.
Search for polls now! -aff
And to sum up the wierd ads put out by eBay, here is one on AdWords:
Great deals on Adwords
Shop on eBay and Save
Just like Search Engine spamming dilutes the value of search results, this dilutes the quality of the ads displayed.
I also had my own brush with Search Engine spamming. Read more about it here.