What Do Macedonian Teenagers, Black Hat SEO Tactics, and the 2014 US Presidential Election Have in Common?

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This sounds nuts, doesn’t it? While there are many concerns about the upcoming election cycles and how foreign powers might be at play in trying to influence American voters, people’s minds go straight to foreign governments. What would you say if we told you that black hat SEO (search engine optimization) played a part in misleading voters?

What is black hat SEO?

The term is used for practices that bump a site’s SEO by misleading the spiders/bots using misleading techniques. For the user, these are rarely seen and can be something like hiding unrelated keyword phrases on the page in the same color as the background. Other examples include misleading the reader with a bait-and-switch headline that contains popular keyword phrases but does not deliver in the body of the content. This is a highly-simplistic definition of the tactics that are used by scammers to boost their content; there are hundreds of tactics that can be considered black hat SEO tactics.

When you produce and publish content online, it is indexed by spiders/bots that scan for keyword phrases and the relevancy of the article to the reported or detected keywords. Many years ago, a common practice was enlarging the keywords in the text and using a bold type face, which you’ve probably seen. Other ways that were used include misleading redirects, comment spamming, and META keyword stuffing. 

How does that relate to the election?

During the 2014 election cycle, there was an obscure story about a group of teenagers in Veles, Macedonia (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/fake-news-how-partying-macedonian-teen-earns-thousands-publishing-lies-n692451) who had become wealthy by researching popular keyword phrases and writing, yes, I am actually going to say it, “fake news” articles that included and reinforced these keywords. After hours of carefully studying various keyword phrases and many beta tests, they discovered that articles written with a slant to the conservative side were more likely to go viral and they ran with it. 

They spent weeks creating content that would capitalize on these trends and spread them around social media in conjunction with placing Facebook and Google ads. Before long, these stories became part of the dialogue of the electorate and stirred an already-divided country and made it much worse. 

How does this relate to my website? I’m not churning fake news.

SEO, in its very essence, is a never-ending process. New webmasters are quickly overwhelmed by a tidal wave of information that appears conflicting. Phrases like keyword density, XML sitemap, and canonical tag, leap out and quickly discourage those who are trying to best optimize their site for their users. Thing is, you don’t need to be an SEO or web marketing expert to have a great site. Write for your users when you produce content. Avoid the snare of a “guaranteed” SEO boost; these may help in the short term, but nothing that is worthwhile and long-lasting comes with an instant result. These quick fixes can harm your site’s SEO and even result in your site being banned from search engines.

Schedule a free consultation with GroFire to help you promote your site and offer ethical and effective online marketing tools to improve your website’s performance, we’re happy to help.

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