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Even with Google’s numerous updates to their algorithms and community guidelines, sites across the web still continue to dip into Black Hat SEO tactics, unethical practices that hurt organically ranking sites all over the internet. The bait-and-switch technique steals potential views from legitimate web pages and leads them toward search listings with low-quality content, missing content, or content that’s completely unrelated to that listed in the meta title and description originally shown in search results.

Whether a site does this to simply increase their own rankings with Google or for a more sinister reason, like to create a fake web page that allows a hacker to steal user information, this black hat tactic is one that Google has prioritized to combat in years past, upgrading crawlers to combat such techniques. However, if there are good, ethical practices in any aspect of digital marketing, the poor, unethical practices will always exist simultaneously. While it’s up to Google to better catch these perpetrators, it’s up to each individual search user to know what red flags to look for so we can avoid falling victim to low-quality content or worse.

What is Black Hat SEO?

SEO can be separated into two categories: White Hat and Black Hat SEO. White hat techniques are the practices recommended by Google and others that ethically work in tandem with their search engine’s rules. On the other hand, black hat practices are on the side of SEO that disregard the rules and ethics surrounding digital marketing. This can include the use of sneaky redirects, paid links, and abusing the structured data feature. However, bait-and-switching is a tactic that encompasses a variety of different black hat SEO occurrences, so let’s learn more about what this is and how it affects the rest of us.

The Bait-and-Switch Technique

When someone uses the bait-and-switch technique, they often start with high-quality content that they switch out for lower quality copy or unrelated content once their web page has gained significant authority. Keyword stuffing can also be considered a related tactic because it also helps a page or site gain traffic through an unethical practice, only to deliver poor, unrelated, or defunct content. 

Groupon’s Bait-and-Switch Lawsuit

Back in 2011, then San Francisco Comprehensive Tours ran a one-time promotion on the Groupon platform to drum up more business. While they chose to allow the voucher to expire, Groupon used the bait-and-switch technique and continued to advertise the promotion on Google’s search engine even after the promotion’s time period had ended. As searchers clicked into the Groupon page, they found the discount no longer existed and the content had been swapped out for something else, and–eventually–the San Francisco tour company found out, too. 

In the proceeding lawsuit between the tour company and Groupon, it was said that Groupon would advertise “Napa at 50-90% off,” as well as similar claims for their San Francisco and Alcatraz tours, but upon clicking through, no such discounts were active. While this particular instance occurred in a PPC advertisement, they can also occur with organic search results, depending on the account manager’s preferences and intentions. 

How Does the Bait-and-Switch Technique Affect Others?

When one account resorts to the underhanded practice of the bait-and-switch technique, other web pages trying to organically target the same keywords and phrases end up with lower rankings as a result. The same can be said for those trying to compete with bait-and-switchers who manipulate PPC ads with the same tactics. While Google and other search engines do their best to decrease these occurrences, they also have a variety of ways you can report any instances you find that are impacting your own SERP rankings, like Google’s Content Reporting system. 

A SERP Stalemate

Over the years, Google has worked to do everything it can to mitigate both the effectiveness of these bait-and-switch techniques, as well as the negative impact they have on the sites sticking to ethical techniques. The Groupon instance we used as an example here in this blog was from 2011 and was quickly removed from Google’s index and ads, but that hasn’t completely erased the threat. The list of pages and sites that Google has taken down because of bait-and-switch techniques continues to grow, but that has only marginally decreased how often site admins resort to swapping out content, the use of low-quality content, now defunct web pages, and more.

If you’re ready to take control of your search rankings and edge out these black hat SEO practices with your own comprehensive, white hat SEO-only digital marketing strategy, then RefractROI is here to help you be found. When your goal is accountable marketing that generates predictable revenue and search engine rankings, our digital strategy experts will optimize the most effective strategy to get you there. Contact us to learn more and get started today. 

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