Appearing in search results is essential for growing your business. However, there’s a right and a wrong way to implement search engine optimization - and black hat SEO is the wrong way.
What is Black Hat SEO
With black hat SEO, marketers seek to "gain" search rankings advantage by deliberate manipulation of the search engine algorithm. Black hatters use shady tactics to increase a site or page's rank instead of earning it. Over time, these practices can damage your online presence instead of improving it and violate the search engines' terms of service.
Comparing Black Hat vs White Hat SEO
Black hat search engine optimization works against search engine guidelines to receive a higher ranking in the results page. These tactics don’t solve an issue for the searcher and often result in penalties from the search engine. Keyword stuffing, cloaking, and using private linking networks are all common black hat tactics.
On the other hand, white hat search engine optimization is a much more effective way of reaching the top of search results. White hat search engine optimization is an ethical approach that abides by the rules set by search engines. Practicing white hat search optimization means that you provide quality content and a positive user experience.
Black Hat SEO Techniques
Search engine algorithms are becoming more advanced all the time, making it essential to avoid black hat practices. This guide will help you avoid unethical black hat practices and grow your business the right way.
Understanding the different black hat search engine optimization techniques will help you avoid them in your SEO strategy. Here are some tactics black hat marketers will use:
The practice of filling your content with irrelevant keywords in an attempt to manipulate rankings is called “keyword stuffing.” Adding multiple variations of the same keywords creates no value for users and makes articles less readable. You may also rank for irrelevant queries. Keyword stuffing is easy to spot, and Google may flag the content as unnatural.
Showing one piece of content to users and another piece of content to search engines is called “cloaking.” Those implementing black hat SEO techniques will use this tactic to make content rank for a variety of irrelevant terms. Spam websites often use cloaking in order to avoid a penalty for the spam content they offer to users.
Many marketers tailor their content to fit different users – one example is reformatting a page to make it more mobile-friendly. This is acceptable as long as the content doesn’t change for search engine crawlers. When developing content ask yourself if the piece solves a problem for the user. If it does, then it’s acceptable. Treat search engine bots the same way you would any other user.
Redirects involve sending a user to a different URL than the one he/she initially clicks. With black hat search engine optimization, redirects are used inappropriately. Much like cloaking, this might include redirecting Google's crawler to one page and other visitors to another page.
Creating content that doesn’t offer value to the searcher is a common black hat practice. This includes using content scraped from another website by a bot or person. With the recent Panda update, Google has gotten more adept at recognizing plagiarism and duplicate content.
Adding invisible keywords also is a black hat practice. Some websites do this by making the text the same color as the page’s background. This means that the page could rank for those keywords despite being invisible to the user. If you’re focusing on solving problems for the user, there will be no need to “hide” keywords on your website.
Bait and Switch
Bait and switch is another black hat tactic that misleads search engines. This involves creating content about a topic you wish to rank for. Once the page is ranking, you then swap the content for something else. This creates a negative user experience, since the visitor was expecting something else. Using this black hat technique to “trick” users and search engines is not a good way to practice SEO.
Google strictly prohibits the buying and selling of links as part of its Webmaster Guidelines. In fact, Google states that it considers any links with the intent of manipulating PageRank to be part of a link scheme. This includes sending another business free products or other incentives in exchange for links.
Avoid paying any other site to link to your website. Google also asks that all users report instances of people buying or selling links. The search engine will penalize both parties once the practice is confirmed. If you’ve purchased links without knowing that it is a black hat tactic, you should remove them immediately. You can also use a disavow links tool if the webmasters won’t remove the links in question.
Abusing Structured Data
Known as rich snippets or schema, structured data allow you to change how your content is displayed in search results. Add structured data to pages displaying a recipe, book, or other products and services. This allows you to gain more space on result pages and stand out from the competition.
Those who practice black hat search engine optimization abuse data structure to fool users and search engines. This might involve giving themselves a five-star customer review from a fake site or adding other details that are inaccurate. This is a risky practice, as Google encourages users to report sites abusing data structure.
Despite Google’s crackdown on data structure abuse, brands should still use the data to display truthful, helpful information. Google provides rules about using structured data as well as a helpful testing tool.
Spammy Blog Comments
This black hat tactic involves including website links in blog comments. While this practice happens less often because of Google’s algorithm updates, some brands still utilize this technique. Most blogs now make links in blog comments unfollowable by default, meaning that Google will not acknowledge them.
If you operate an online community or publication that allows comments, make sure your comments section is spam-free. Pages that show these types of spammy comments will be automatically removed from search results. Anti-spam tools, including Google’s free reCAPTCHA tool, can help you eliminate the risk of spam content.
A link farm is a website or collection of sites developed only for link building. Each site links out to another site or sites that the developer wants to rank higher in search engines. Search engines determine rankings by looking at the number of links pointing to a site, as well as other factors. Link farming takes advantage of this by inflating the number of backlinks to a particular site.
Link farms often produce low-quality content and contain lots of links. These links typically include the keyword they wish to rank for inside the anchor text. Fortunately, search engines can usually detect link farms, making it more difficult for those practicing black hat tactics.
Instead of using unethical backlinks, utilize white hat SEO techniques that earn mentions on other sites. Creating high-quality blog posts, data, interviews, or infographics will encourage others to share your content. This allows you to acquire backlinks organically over time.
Private Blog Networks
A private blog network comprises several authoritative sites that are used only for link building. These networks are similar to link farms in that they both work to exaggerate the number of backlinks on a website. Every PBN site links to another site it wants to boost in the search results. However, they do not link to each other.
Those practicing shady SEO tactics usually buy expired domains that already have established authority. They will then create content similar to what was already published on the domain prior to its expiration. The black hat marketer then adds links to his or her own site, causing the main page to rise in search results.
While using PBNs can raise ranking results, severe penalties are possible for those found using this tactic. Rather than putting effort into creating fake sites, focus on crafting high-quality content on your own domain. Keeping all your content under one domain helps you establish industry authority.
Why Should You Avoid Black Hat SEO Methods
While practicing black hat techniques is not illegal, it does violate webmaster guidelines. It’s still against the rules when it comes to working with search engines. This means that if you utilize black hat tactics, Google may hit you with a penalty as a punishment. Search engine penalties mean your website will drop down in search results – or removed completely. This means that the site will gain less traffic, which may result in fewer customers.
As search engines advance, their ability to spot black hat tactics increases. Today, getting caught practicing black hat search engine optimization is almost unavoidable. Using black hat techniques does not benefit the searcher or the search engine. While these unethical practices may produce short-term results, they will damage your search engine rankings over time.
Instead, write original, quality content as part of a white hat search engine optimization strategy. This will set your website apart from the competition and will build trust among visitors. Over time, white hat practices turn visitors into customers.
What is Grey Hat SEO?
Some tactics fall between white and black hat SEO - these are referred to as “grey hat” techniques. While they aren’t yet banned by search engines, they may be in the future. Many past grey hat tactics became black hat once search engines found out about them.
How to Avoid Using Black Hat SEO Tricks
Black hat SEO - and even grey hat SEO - are risky practices that can damage your brand’s reputation. Here’s how to avoid using these practices:
Treat searchers and search engines as equals
Don’t “cloak” or trick search engine crawlers by redirecting them to other pages. Instead, focus your efforts on solving relevant questions for the searcher. Create great user experiences by producing well-researched, original content.
Craft only high-quality content free of keyword stuffing
Never copy others’ work by duplicating or rewording content. If you need further advice on how to create great content, follow Google’s content guidelines. There also are extensive resources on crafting excellent content online.
Follow the terms and guidelines when promoting your website with structured data
Make sure every schema markup contains accurate information that won’t mislead users.
Always avoid buying or selling links
Remember, a black hat exchange doesn’t have to involve money. Providing free products and other incentives in exchange for links is also bad practice. If you aren’t sure whether an exchange is unethical, research the Federal Trade Commission’s endorsement guidelines. Google also provides several resources outlining the rules and conditions for paid links.
Never set up a private blog network just for getting links
Instead, make your content and website interesting enough to where others link to you naturally. Faking links never produces good results in the end.
Remain up-to-date on Google’s latest webmaster guidelines
This empowers you and helps you avoid black hat SEO techniques search engines penalize.
Ultimately, if you have to question whether or not a technique is black hat, it probably is. Using white hat techniques allow you to expand your customer base while providing value to visitors. Plus, you’ll avoid nasty penalties and other setbacks that can damage your reputation. Never use black hat SEO tricks - instead, use white hat tactics to earn your spot at the top.