By one definition Search Engine Spam is “any attempt to deceive a search engine's relevancy algorithm” (Perkins 2001). Does search engine optimization equal search engine spam then? After all, many say that the sole purpose of SEO is to manipulate the search result to the desired direction of the optimizer. There have been discussions about whether it is possible to categorize SEO techniques into “clean” and “spammy” (WebmasterWorld.com c). The most common terms for the categorization are “white hat” and “black hat”. White hats, in essence, comply with the rules that the search engines have set. The actions that they take to optimize sites are ethical and not meant to mislead search engines and searchers. Black hats, on the other hand, use unethical methods to rank in search engines and often fill the search results with pages that are irrelevant to the searcher. Black hats also do not obey the search engine guidelines. The colour of the hat depends on how much the optimizer (or her client) is willing to risk, as the search engines often catch up to them and penalize or ban the site(s) from their index.
The distinction between a white hat and a black hat is not always easy to determine, and there may be optimizers, claiming to be white hats, using unethical techniques or promoting sites that are worthless from the user point of view. In addition, many professionals feel that a distinction between optimizers is unnecessary. However, for almost all businesses, risky optimization techniques that may end up banning a website are not recommended.
As this thesis is concentrated on promoting a company website through search engine marketing, I will make a list of techniques that should not be used, unless absolutely necessary due to the nature of the site or industry. Some of these techniques may be used without consequences like being banned or penalized by the search engines, yet that does not mean that they will continue to do so in the future. The purpose of this list is not to be exhaustive and include all risky methods, but to give examples of some of the most common spamming techniques. A good rule of thumb in low-risk SEO is to think that if it feels like spam, it probably is spam.