When SEO Becomes Spamming: Crossing The Fine Line
It’s on everyone’s mind every now and again, but nobody ever says it: SEO and spam both have the same goals, yet the ethics involved in the tactics of reaching said goals are what separate one from the other.
This post is more of a “Dos and Don’ts” post as far as SEO is concerned. There is a point where optimization tactics become spam for all practical purposes, and here I aim to define the difference more clearly.
One thing Wikis have brought to the Internet is something I tried once when I first had a web browser as a teenager, and that is the ability to edit web pages while they remain live on the Internet.
But adding links to your website for the Pagerank and user link-clicking benefits is an act that has a right way and wrong way to do it. Overall, you should never add links to your own website: if it is notable enough, someone else will do it.
Otherwise, you could be outed by other members of that wiki’s community for blatantly link-spamming to your website, potentially even banned from the site along with links directed at your website.
Wikipedia seems to be the largest target for this, and they have a very large set of editors dedicated solely at removing spam links from the site. It’s just best not to personally edit these sites yourself, for all practical purposes.
With DMOZ being the best example, directories are a white-hat method of gaining link love for your site, without resorting to unethical means.
However, even directories can be abused. Submitting your site for four or five different categories and subcategories is a bit much, and luckily the DMOZ folks are pretty good at stopping this sort of nonsense.
But a single link to your site in the proper category will benefit both your site’s ranking as well as the users of the directory.
Most blogging software has support for comments with a “website” form field. This is perfectly acceptable and a common practice for a sort of “pingback” to the commentator’s blog simply for leaving a comment.
It is unacceptable, however, to leave an additional URL to the root of your website/blog at the bottom of an overly-generic or non-contributing comment. There is already a growing problem of spam crawlers going through the Web looking for WordPress/Blogger comment forms for the purpose of leaving a comment with a URL and keywords.
So while filling out the Website field of a comment form is acceptable, leaving another root URL at the bottom of a comment is not. While links to a related article on your website may be okay, in most cases its just best not to push the envelope.
This is a pet peeve we’ve covered many times on this site.
Using Twitter to propagate (tracked) links to your website or blog is both annoying and pointless. If anything else, it will get your blog/website listed within spam databases for life and royally piss off any otherwise potential readers.
That’s not to say that using a Twitter account isn’t an ethical way to gain traffic: actually tweeting news and tips from a Twitter account, without following everyone in the public timeline and/or posting a link to your site in every tweet, is a good practice.
It allows you to connect with your readers/visitors in real-time, and might actually attract a few more readers via valid RT’s and mentions from other followers. This is only possible, of course, if you don’t scare everyone away as a potential spammer.
This is a big one, and should be fairly obvious. Email spam remains the largest spam medium in existence, and if you don’t know the rights and wrongs of Emailing links to people, then here’s a few examples:
Subject: Something I ran across
Hey, person I know and are on good speaking terms with. Remember that completely-relevant talk we had the other day? I found an article on this website (or alternatively “posted an article on my website/blog”) that you may find interesting:
Tell me what you think.
Bcc: (50 other people)
CC: (more people)
Subject: Check This Out!!1
Hey check out my blog: (link)
Never just give links to anyone you are not on good speaking terms with. Doing so will get both your site and your email address listed in spam DBs.
I already acquire a low opinion about websites and URLs I see advertised all over the Internet on seemingly every page I visit.
Examples include the game Evony (“come begin your journey, my lord”), the “Single mom’s teeth-whitening secret” ads, and the “Go back to school” ads that always feature distracting dancers.
Putting a discreet textual advertisement to be deployed on a few relevant pages here and there is okay, but large, distracting Flash ads to be deployed on hundreds of sites is a no-no, and will draw negative attention to your site.
In a nutshell, SEO ethics should be fairly common-sensical to most. Understanding the fine line between genuine SEO and blatant spamming is important for your site, as swaying too far in the wrong direction will do more harm than good.
SEO has no direct relationship with spamming, although both of them aim to promote and increase the rank of a given website. Everything covered here in this article is related to SEO that escapes the boundaries of the website’s code, which we have also discussed on this website (check the “Top Articles” section.)
Even placing keywords with no direct relation to the page can be more of a spammy practice, so SEO ethics do not necessarily stop at methods of gaining incoming links.
That said, be sure your methods of promoting your website follow conservative and discreet practices. Think about what might turn users off about your site with every potential link you post, and whether or not it has the probability of being interpreted as spam before you go through with it.