Stephen Logan

Is Google Finally Getting Tough on Black Hat SEO?

11th Jan 2011 News, Industry News 2 minutes to read

Google start emailing Webmasters of websites found to be using blackhat linking or cloaking techniques to explain why they’ve been dropped from SERPs.

As part of their continuing (and some might say failing) efforts to curb black hat SEO activity, it emerged last week that Google were sending site owners an email to confirm that their site had been blacklisted due to unscrupulous link building or cloaking. In the communiqué, webmasters are given a slap on the wrist and told to remove all offending links or coding in order to be reconsidered for indexing on Google SERPs [see: Google Emailing Webmasters For Bad Links, Cloaking & More | Search Engine Roundtable].

Of course Google have got previous on this, often unceremoniously dumping websites for engaging in the darker arts of SEO.  But it would be very rare indeed that they would contact a webmaster directly (albeit through Webmaster Tools) to explain why they have been removed. Ordinarily it would be a case of one day you’re ranking, the next you’re not; then followed by a rather sheepish email to Google to find out why.

But whilst this new directive offers a more open approach to how and when sites are blacklisted, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Google are actually more vigilant. We all know that spammers are waging war with search engine algorithms – some would even argue that they’re winning.

Thousands of sites are getting a huge benefit from black hat tricks that contravene the search engine’s Webmaster guidelines – and the numbers are increasing. Google is looking increasingly powerless as a result, which has seen it employ a major push towards brands (thus negating any black hat activities from their competitors) and this kind of hard line action in recent times.

The trouble for all search engines though is differentiating the natural from spam. Without some form of human intervention, a spider will often miss all but the most serious or obvious of contraventions of the rules. If a website gets 100,000 links in a single day, it’s safe to say that something has probably gone awry. However, if it subtly pays for a few links the likelihood is that they will get away Scott free.

Cloaking should be reasonably obvious and ought to have died out years ago, therefore a crack down on this practice shouldn’t be too challenging. Unfortunately though differentiating quality content from automated nonsense and the legitimacy of a link is a far tougher ask.

So whilst Google have clearly been flexing their muscle by informing site owners about a break in the rules and that their site will be removed for 30 days, the problem is far from being solved. If nothing else, this does at least show that the search engines are taking black hat SEO seriously and willing to take action when rules are broken. Unfortunately there are still those that are slipping through the cracks and managing to get false rankings through gaming the system. It’s certainly a problem, but a solution is still some way off it appears.

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