Have a keyword where you have one of the top search engine rankings for, only to have someone came out of nowhere to outrank you? With few exceptions, websites don’t jump 5-10 spots overnight without some help, so I always get suspicious. This happened to me recently, so I figured I’d share how to recognize why this happens and what you can do to prevent it!
For those unfamiliar with black hat SEO techniques, “black hat” is a term commonly used to describe SEO techniques that aren’t allowed by Google or other search engines. Common black hat techniques include hidden text or links (an example would be making words white while on a white background so they can’t be seen by readers, but search engines see them), misleading or repeated words, cloaked pages, deceptive redirects, doorway pages, etc.
On the flip side, there are “white hat” SEO techniques which are approved or allowed techniques that are encouraged by search engines. Examples include sitemaps, meta tags, and of course optimizing your websites structure (header tags in the right spots, breadcrumbs, etc.) so search engines can read your entire site and figure out what exactly your site is about.
I am fortunate in that I’ve got a few different highly competitive keywords where my sites have top rankings in. While doing my standard review of my rankings (at least bi-weekly) for these keywords, I noticed a website had come out of nowhere and was now ranked higher than my site!
After my surprise subsided, I began researching this site (which is an established site, but never ranked very highly before) and noticed that the footer of their theme had some links for the three most prominent keywords within this niche. Thing is, they were hidden using CSS, so they couldn’t be seen by human readers.
This is the kind of thing that Google wants to avoid, so being the Google fanboy that I am, I went ahead and reported the spam to Google. This is my third time doing this, but the first time the spam affected me directly. The other two times I just discovered it on accident so I reported it.