To ensure it serves relevant content to its users, Google has continually updated its search engine algorithms over the years. For those dealing with SEO, this means constantly changing one’s approach to search engine optimization.
To help, Google has created its Webmaster Guidelines, which explain exactly what rules need to be followed for pages with high-quality content to rank successfully.
Of course, not everyone wants to play by the rules, and that’s where black hat SEO comes in. Unlike white hat SEO, where the rules are followed, and the emphasis is on high-quality content, in the case of black hat SEO, there is an attempt to discover and exploit loopholes in the guidelines to gain higher rankings.
While many of the black hat SEO techniques seem like an easy way to gain rankings, the truth is that search engines are getting better at detecting them, making them hardly worth the effort. To learn more about what black hat SEO is, the difference between white hat SEO, why it is risky, and nine black hat SEO techniques you should avoid, read on!
What is Black Hat SEO?
Using black hat SEO involves breaking search engine guidelines to rank high in search engine results. There are many different black hat SEO tactics, but what they all have in common is that they try to game the algorithm of search engines like Google and Bing at the expense of the searcher. At the same time, these techniques can result in penalties from search engines.
Black Hat SEO vs. White Hat SEO
While black hat SEO breaks search engines’ guidelines to achieve a better SERP rank, leading to penalties such as being removed from search results, white hat SEO focuses on high-quality content and a great user experience.
Why Black Hat SEO is Risky
Black hat SEO tactics are risky because they can harm your website and brand. In its Webmaster Guidelines, Google states that violations “may lead to a site being removed entirely from the Google index or otherwise affected by an algorithmic or manual spam action.”
There are several ways black hat SEO can impact your website. These include:
1. Lower search rankings, visibility, and traffic
The primary reason you don’t want to engage in black hat SEO tactics is that it will result in lower search rankings for your page, decreased visibility, and ultimately, less traffic to your website.
Losing visibility and traffic will impact the number of conversions you make, directly affecting your bottom line. The lack of visibility may also necessitate an increase in spending on paid advertising to make up for the decreased organic traffic.
This means that beyond affecting your rankings in search engine results, black hat SEO techniques will also cost you money in the long term.
2. Short-term results at best
A less risky but still undesirable aspect of using black hat SEO tactics is that the results you get won’t last for the long term.
So while the black hat SEO techniques may have increased your website’s search engine rankings temporarily, once search engines become aware of the tactics, they will fix the loophole, causing you to lose any gains you may have made from the tactic.
Since search engines are constantly on the lookout for new black hat tactics, relying on them is risky because you need to think of new black hat strategies to maintain your rankings while hoping that you won’t be penalized for your actions.
3. A bad experience for users
The goal of SEO is to increase both the quantity and quality of your website’s inbound traffic. When done right, it connects searchers with relevant content, which is good for both consumers and businesses since consumers get what they’re looking for, and businesses reach their target audience.
On the other hand, Black hat SEO ignores the user experience and instead focuses on optimizing for what they believe search engines want to see. This can lead to a frustrating experience for users.
Not only do most black hat techniques create a bad user experience, but they also decrease trust in your website and make it look spammy, decreasing the number of potential conversions.
9 Black Hat SEO Techniques to Avoid
1. Keyword Stuffing
In the search engine guidelines, Google defines keyword stuffing as “the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results. Often these keywords appear in a list or group, or out of context (not as natural prose).“
While it’s important to include the keyword you want to rank for in your content, repeating it unnecessarily to gain better rankings looks unnatural and is easily spotted by Google.
Google’s examples of keyword stuffing include:
- Lists of phone numbers without substantial added value
- Blocks of text that list cities and states that a webpage is trying to rank for
Repeating the same words or phrases so often that it sounds unnatural, for example:
We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at [email protected].
To ensure your content won’t be penalized for keyword stuffing, you can check the keyword density of your keyword, which is “the percentage of times a keyword or phrase appears on a web page compared to the total number of words on the page.” The ideal keyword density is believed to be around 1-2%.
Cloaking is a black hat SEO tactic that involves showing users and search engines different content. Websites using cloaking do so in an attempt to rank for keywords not related to their content. Spam websites often use this black hat tactic to hide that they are promoting spam.
While it’s fine to customize your content based on audiences, such as a mobile-optimized website for mobile users, changing the language based on location, or serving different types of ads depending on the user, customizing content solely for search engines is not.
Although there are no explicit rules regarding cloaking, if you’re trying to figure out whether or not an action is allowed, ask yourself if it is solving a problem for users, if yes, the optimization is acceptable.
3. Sneaky Redirects
A redirect takes a user from the URL they initially clicked and takes them to a new URL. This is a common tool in SEO used to update old pages to new URLs or prepare a site for migration.
As Google explains in its search engine guidelines, a sneaky redirect is “to redirect a user to a different page with the intent to display content other than what was made available to the search engine crawler. When a redirect is implemented in this way, a search engine might index the original page rather than follow the redirect, while users are taken to the redirect target.”
This means that sneaky redirects are similar to cloaking in that users and search engines are presented with different content.
4. Low-Quality Content
Low-quality content is one of the most common black hat SEO techniques due to its simplicity. Rather than creating high-quality content that solves for users, low-quality content can be easily created by copying and pasting from other websites or using tools to automatically generate content filled with keywords you want to rank for.
However, since Google’s 2011 Panda update, the search engine has gotten better at detecting this type of content. That’s why writing high-quality content is important for white hat SEO and why you want to avoid black hat SEO tactics, even if they seem easy. High-quality content builds trust among your audience, helping you convert them into customers.
5. Link schemes
Google defines link schemes in the search engine guidelines as “any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.” While earned links are fine, there are a number of black hat SEO techniques for gaining links that are considered a link scheme.
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes:
- Exchanging money for links or posts that contain links
- Exchanging goods or services for links
- Sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing it and including a link
- Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking.
- Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.
- Using automated programs or services to create links to your site.
- Requiring a link as part of a Terms of Service, contract, or similar arrangement without allowing a third-party content owner the choice of qualifying the outbound link, should they wish.
Google also considers unnatural links, or “links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page,” as a violation of its guidelines. These include:
- Text advertisements that pass PageRank
- Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank
Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites. For example:
Low-quality directory or bookmark site links
Keyword-rich, hidden or low-quality links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites, for example:
Visitors to this page: 1,472
Widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites
Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature, for example:
Thanks, that’s great info!
6. Misusing Structured Data & Rich Snippets
Also known as rich snippets, structured data allows you to change how your website is displayed in search results. It helps you stand out in search results and can be used for pages containing the likes of podcasts, recipes, products, and services, with reviews one of the more popular structured data formats.
In the case of black hat SEO, structured data is misused by providing it with inaccurate information designed to trick users and search engines. An example would be giving your site a fake five-star review to boost search rankings and stand out in search results. As with all other black hat techniques listed thus far, this is risky, as it will be detected eventually, and you will be penalized for it.
7. Link Farms
Link farms are a collection of websites designed to help one or more other sites rank higher through link building. They do this by creating backlinks from their sites to the target site since this is one of the factors Google considers in its search rankings.
However, since the content on link farms is usually low and contains many links, it’s easy for Google to spot. This means it is another of the black hat tactics that seem like an easy way to boost rankings but ultimately will lead to the opposite. Rather focus on creating quality links and using white hat SEO link-building techniques.
8. Private Blog Networks
Similar to link farms, private blog networks or PBN are a collection of high authority websites used to boost another site’s rankings. They do this by linking to this website but not each other.
To create a PBN black hat, SEOs will buy expired domains with high authority and fill them with content similar to what it hosted previously but adding links to their websites. If successful, PBNs will push the desired website up the search result rankings.
However, as with most black hat techniques listed here, Google has gotten better at detecting PBNs, and if caught, the penalties will have the opposite effect of what was desired.
9. Hidden Text
Hidden text is the final tactic in our list of black hat techniques. As the name implies, it’s the practice of hiding keywords from users while still allowing the black hat SEO to stuff the content full of them.
Text can be hidden by making it the same color as the background, positioning it off-screen, hiding it behind an image, using code to hide it from users, or setting the font size to zero. As with all black hat tactics, hidden text is easily discoverable by search engines these days, making it another black hat SEO strategy to avoid.
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From the above, it’s clear that while mostly easy to implement, one should avoid black hat SEO techniques. Search engines such as Google have gotten increasingly better at detecting the various black hat tactics used by black hat SEOs.
From keyword stuffing to cloaking, sneaky redirect to low-quality content, link schemes to misusing structure data, link farms to private blog networks, and hidden text, there are numerous black hat tactics you should avoid if you don’t want your site’s rankings to be penalized or removed entirely from search results.
Rather than focusing on manipulating the search engine algorithms and finding loopholes in the webmaster guidelines, create high-quality content that solves the users’ searches and employ white hat search engine optimization to help your site rank higher.
What do you think of black hat SEO? Are there any other SEO practices you know of that should be avoided? Let me know in the comments below.