On SEO and Search Engine Spamming

Originally written as a post on the design forum, TheRoot42.


"SEO", as done by most so-called SEO "companies" is basically, in my opinion, spamming the search engines with fake content, junk links or deceptive/misdirecting crap that tricks the search engines into giving you/your site temporary credibility. Once they're onto you (and it'll happen, either a competitor will report your cheating or the search engines will find it themselves,) your site may be removed completely from the search results - thus defeating your work entirely, and possibly killing the effectiveness of the site.

My feelings are that the best form of SEO is done by your web developer, working with whoever's doing the copywriting and the site owner. I guess this fits under the so-called "organic" SEO.


  • Write good quality content on your site that actually says what you mean, highlighting the things you're advertising/offering. Write it in a form that humans can read and enjoy, ie. not "keyword stuffing", eg. "viagra viagra viagra buy buy buy buy cheap cheap online online online". Search engines try to be "like humans" in that they will attempt to interpret a page's overall meaning based on many factors, copy and keywords included.
  • Use semantic markup which gives meaning by the nature of the HTML tags being used; eg <h1> means "really important big-ass header" - so I might say <h1>golf vacations</h1> and then proceed to talk about golf vacation stuff. The search engines may read this and say "ah-ha, so this page is about golf vacations."
  • Same logic for the title tag. Use it wisely, as it's what shows up first in the search engine results and also determines largely what the page is about. Don't stuff it with keywords though, it should make sense to a human and not be "spammy".
  • Keep your URLs short and meaningful, don't put parameters and junk in your links. eg. somegolfsite.com/vacations/tours/
  • Use mod-rewrite and other template frameworks to work around providing arguments for session IDs, file includes etc. in every URL. More crap in the URL is bad.
  • Get some inbound links from other sites which have established credibility and relate to your subject.
  • Inbound links work to your credit under Google's "PageRank" and Yahoo's er.. whatever they call it - in that other sites linking to yours can help to boost your credibility because they're saying "yes, this site is about <a href="#">golf vacations</a>". The words linked are important also, because then your site will become more relevant to "golf vacations". See "miserable failure" for examples of this..
  • I might get a few links from companies who have directory-type sites which cover golf vacations in the area, that sort of thing. (Typically you just pay them for a profile/link from their site.)

Do not use:

  • Deceptive redirects
  • "Doorway" pages (stuffed with keywords/links, but no content)
  • "Page cloaking" (show one version of a page to browsers, another to GoogleBot and Yahoo! Slurp, eg. the search engine bots)

If you get caught, you may have your site de-listed ("blacklisted") altogether - which means you are excluded entirely from the search engine results for your given topic, and will have to apologise and beg to get your site listed again. Nice, eh? - So play fair.

In short, make an attractive-looking site, use web standards and semantic markup so your site "has meaning" at the HTML level; eg. so that a search engine, which is effectively blind and dumb, can read your site's content and determine what it's about without being able to see graphics, Flash, CSS or Javascript.

My own SEO experience

I was working on doing a site for a company in BC's beautiful Okanagan that offers golf vacations at Predator Ridge, a fancy golf resort. They also do property management on the side (eg. people who own homes can rent them out through this company, for a cut of the profits.)

Design credit here goes to John Godfrey, who I should thank more often in fact - every time I talk to the client about their site, I hear about how many compliments they get from people on the design of the site. Nice work, John!

Anyway, these guys wanted to do well for "okanagan golf vacations" and stuff like that on the search engines of course, since that's one of the popular ways people find things these days - look online.

I had some meetings with the client (two great folks, referred to me by a relative in fact who had bought some property there), and we talked about search engine stuff.

They weren't terribly familiar with the way search engines worked but understood the importance of doing well on them, so I explained my understanding of how they work, what I've found from my own experience with my own site and so on.

My angle was that I felt I was familiar enough with making sites "search-engine friendly" without doing sneaky/spammy things that would get their site blacklisted (see "what not to do" above.)

There is no real way to guarantee a spot on the search engines (short of paid listings, and even then all I hear about that is it's full of cheating, competitors who will click your link to waste your investment and make it disappear) - but I explained my approach and showed them some examples of areas where my own site has received high rankings for given things.

My defense was that there's no known way to guarantee a #1 spot, that's why it's a guessing game - and the best way is to just make a good site, SEO should not even be something you really have to think about. Write structured code and lay out the site so it makes logical sense to humans; if it's good, it will attract traffic, links and ultimately search engines will start to give it credibility.

The golf guys' site didn't go anywhere for a bit after the revamp, as they had set up a brand-new domain after changing their company name - so they were starting from scratch in some respects with the search engines. After some time though, they started getting some good referrals from search engines; I also helped give them a boost by writing something about them on my own site which is well-established (having been around for 5 years), and linking them. I talked about it from a development perspective because that was what my site was about mostly, tech stuff. That way if the search engines are really smarter than we think, they wouldn't see my post as a sudden "diversion" from tech/nerd stuff to a spammy-type "hey, Scott sez go to this site for okanagan golf vacations, buy now!"

If you wonder how I might target certain keywords like "okanagan golf vacation", vacation packages, okanagan golf, etc.. check out the source code of the Paradise Vacation Homes site. You can see keywords used appropriately in the title, description and links relevant to the services being offered on the site.

This summer, I got feedback from the client - they wanted to thank me, saying that I had literally "turned their business around" this summer; I guess they were getting a lot of people contacting them about staying at their resort, having found them online. I figured they'd get better search results at least, but I didn't expect they'd do as well as they did - so that even left me rather impressed, followed shortly by a desire to say, "Ah-ha, see! I told yooooo!" - which I didn't follow through with.

I had no way of promising anything and they understood this on the SEO thing, but I was glad to see that a legitimate and genuine approach seems to have worked for a company, ultimately getting them what they wanted - new business and a chance to give someone a relaxing vacation, ideally leading to future business through word-of-mouth referrals.

So there is hope out there after all, despite all the spam.

Related links