SEO used to literally be the wild west. The meanest and the baddest outlaws found ways to cheat the system, and they profited from it. Boy, did they profit from it. They walked around with gold chains, fur coats, and Reebok Pumps, and flaunted their con-artistry for all the world to see. Lucky for us, these black hat strategies no longer work because the sheriff (the Google spam team) is back in town and they aren’t taking any crap.

But just for fun, let’s revisit the top 9 sketchiest SEO moves of all time (that actually worked):

1. Link Farms

Link farms were fun little websites built specifically to manipulate the Google search algorithm. Essentially, search engines used to look to the volume of links pointing to your site to determine if you were a valid information source. So if you had 1,000′s of links pointing to your site from many different websites for the term “Viagra”, the search engines would think you were a valid information source for “Viagra” and you would most likely sell a ton of prescription drugs. It was easy money.

The links were accomplished by placing links on many different websites that all link to every other site in the group or “farm”. A lot of times these sites were duplicate copies of each other and were generally run by the same entity to simply generate a high volume of links.

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Artist’s depiction via Wikipedia.

2. Hiding Text

Search engines used to also look to the text on your pages to determine the information on the page. Therefore, if you wanted to capitalize on highly-searched, topical keyword terms but your site didn’t necessarily have anything to do with Enron or Paris Hilton, you could hide the text hundreds of times on the page to make it look like your site had something to do with it. Then you hit them up with ads for your prescription drugs. Yet again, easy money.

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You probably can’t even see all the trash talk I wrote about you.

Text was hidden through the use of the “hidden” property, using a font size of “0″, and using a font color that was the exact same color as your website background. It was totally not shady in any way whatsoever.

3. Keyword Stuffing

Since search engines would look to the keywords on your pages to determine your website content, it was only natural that ranking for a specific term should include adding a ridiculous amount of that term and its variations to your web pages. Put the same keyword 30 times on the same page even though it has no real content. Why not?

Dump a bunch of keywords in every paragraph of your text to trick the search engines in to thinking your are the top seller for the Sony Walkman. Who cares?

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Man, there’s a lot of keywords in there.

4. Link Exchanges

Links are supposed to come naturally to your site, but Google won’t really know where you got that link from, right? Link exchanges were essentially reaching out to other websites and offering a straight up link exchange.

“I’ll put a link on my site if you put a link on yours.”

Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Not really the most ethical approach, but who really cares right?

5. Spamming the Competition

If you want to get ahead on the web, you have to bring your competition down. That’s where some Internet outlaws got the bright idea of spamming the competition. Because hey, if you do all of the things Google is asking you politely not to do, then Google will get angry and take the site down. We all win!

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Probably what it looks like.

The easiest way to do this was to add keyword rich anchor text completely unrelated to their website to a TON of websites that were also completely unrelated to their website.

Get the on Google’s bad side and they’ll get kicked out of the game. After all, it’s easy to score a goal if there’s no goalie, right?

6. Multiple Domains/Subdomains

If you have more sites and more subdomains, you have a better chance of getting indexed more times, right? This actually worked for a while as the search engines did not have a super advanced way of dealing with duplicated pages on duplicated sites.

Add more websites, add more chances of taking up space on the SERPs. It was the perfect plan…

7. Community commenting

If you own a blog, you probably got a couple of these from time to time. In the interest of getting as many links as possible, many website owners would comment on blogs/forums/message boards with the sole interest of getting as many links as possible from the comments to their site.

More comments = more links, therefore the quality of the comment didn’t really matter. Heck, you could even use the same comment on every blog for maximum exposure as long it was general enough.

“Great post! I will read this forever and always!”

“You are the best writer I’ve ever read anything from ever!”

“Thanks for writing this post. You are both educated and informed. I won’t forget you.”

Not really engaging comments to keep the discussion going, but they are rather flattering, no?

8. Abusing Meta Keywords

Some of the Meta data on the page is still used today (like the description is sometimes used in the SERPs,) but search engines used to use the Meta keyword tag to allow users to direct the SEs as to the information on the page.

Of course, it assumed that the website developer would, you know, be trustworthy and only use relevant keywords. Rather, what ended up happening – shocker – is widespread abuse. Hundreds of thousands of keywords would be crammed in to this space to attempt to trick Google in to thinking that they were the information source for hundreds of thousands of keywords.

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Because this looks totally normal.

Way to ruin it for everyone hypothetical website developer. You would.

9. Volume link pointing

So, if the search engines only essentially cared about the volume of links pointing to your site, why not point 100′s or even 1,000′s of links on a single webpage to your domain? I mean, how is Google going to really know if they are all coming from the same place?

While Google really had it’s hands full at the advent of SEO in the early 2000′s, they certainly have come a long way in battling back against web spammers. Gone are the days when keyword stuffing and link farming got you results.

Now, results come from following best practices and doing everything you can to stay in Google’s good graces. If you’re doing anything to try to trick the system, do us all a favor and just stop.

Did I miss any? Add your sketchy SEO move to the comments below!