When one speaks of search engine optimization today, it immediately includes optimization via social media. Social media SEO is one of the most talked about topics today. It is the most practiced and researched by SEOs, and also the most in-demand service for any leading SEO company.
It is not difficult to understand how social media can help promote a business or a website, that’s why even clients who are not very knowledgeable about SEO would nevertheless ask for their optimization plans to extend to social media.
So much is the integration of social media in SEO today that the latter is no longer deemed complete if the former is lacking. Consumers and audiences will always be looking for ways to contact their favorite brands, sellers, and so forth through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest, among others.
This is something that SEOs understand, that’s why one of the first things they do for a client is to create social media accounts for their website or business.
But just like SEO though, social media optimization is also rapidly growing and optimizers are also starting to develop strategies that are bordering on being—if not outright—“black hat.”
Social media black hat strategies are variations of the black hat SEO that Google has been fighting against for as long as we can remember. Recall that Google defines black hat SEO as webspam intentionally designed to manipulate search rankings. Google’s ranking algorithm isn’t foolproof even if it does get updated so many times in one year.
The same principle is at play in black hat social media. There are just too many opportunities to do some form of manipulation to be ignored for the sake of fair play.
Some people even do some of those practices without fully understanding that they are already committing technical fouls. Consider the following strategies and see if you are already doing black hat social media yourself.
Creating dozens of ghost/fake profiles
Ghost profiles are already in dusty, outdated SEO manuals. SEOs use them for blog commenting, communicating with other webmasters, and many other things. Creating multiple profiles is actually a lot easier now thanks to social media.
The process of signing up for an account takes only minutes, and the moment you are registered the network will automatically recommend people for you to befriend. It’s only a matter of time before a ghost profile can amass hundreds of friends, which is always the first goal of ghost profiles.
Even before the targeted number of friends/followers has been achieved, a ghost profile can already funnel traffic into a main website. There are companies that believe multiple accounts, each with its own profile background and from different age demographic, can bring in traffic and possibly gain customers from different segments of the market.
This can be argued as a mere marketing strategy and not exactly black hat. But who’s drawing the line here? The point is creating fake profiles is definitely a black hat strategy.
Buying friends or contacts
This is the social media equivalent for buying links. In website-to-website link building, SEOs work on getting their links in related, high ranking websites that can give them valuable link juice.
In social media, everyone is free to post and advertise links on their page, on other people’s walls, on fanpages and so forth (unless direct promotions are prohibited and moderators are on watch to remove links posted by random people) so traditional link buying is pretty useless.
What some companies do instead is pay people to become their fanpage fans or direct contacts in various social media platforms. See, the number of members or friends is one of the important measures of credibility in social media.
Spamming profiles and fanpages
Spam is everywhere, social media sites included. These go hand in hand with fake profiles. Social spammers haunt popular fan pages or the walls of celebrities and people who have so many active followers and readers.
They then post a random message plus a link leading to who-knows-what site. These posts are often off-topic, intrusive, and rudely interrupt ongoing discussion threads.
Real people absolutely hate these spammers and many have even retaliated against their unwelcome intrusions in the form of permabans.
That’s actually the bright side here. The people have the power to get rid of spammers by banning or reporting them to the Facebook and Twitter administrators.
It is quite mollifying to know that that tiny report button can bring down majority of the spammers. Hopefully spamming isn’t something that you do in your own social media optimization plan. Surely there are more tasteful methods than this.
There are those who resort to distasteful social media tactics and set out to deliberately destroy the image of their competition. These are dirty, unfair, underhanded, and unethical.
But one can’t deny the cleverness of it all. Again, with the aid of a fake account, it is so easy to pretend to be an irate customer of a competitor or goad the moderator into a heated argument.
If not a fake account, there are those who would pay real people to say negative things about the competition and make a lot of noise on their wall. There have been reports too of posers using a brand’s name or icon, and using it to send people into porn sites and other bad neighborhood websites. That’s deliberate sabotage!
It is difficult to pin down businesses that are doing this extreme black hat strategy because one cannot just point fingers and accuse others. However, we can be sure that this has been done in the past already.
The sad thing about black hat social media is it is difficult to identify a guilty party, much less penalize them. The most that can happen to them is get their social media accounts suspended.
Compare that with the penalties Google has in store for violators of the Webmaster Guidelines, and you’ll definitely see that the motivation to abide by the rules is higher in the non-social media SEO venues.
Hopefully the social media sites will get better and better at weeding out black hat SEO strategies on via social media, and in handing out penalties for those who are caught doing it.
Emma-Julie Fox writes for Pitstop Media, a Vancouver based SEO company. Pitstop Media has been helping businesses across North America successfully increase their search visibility. If you want to invite the author to guest post on your blog please contact www.pitstopmedia.com