Making waves with search engine optimization is a mix of art and skill. It takes an expert to make your content truly stand out in the sea of businesses trying to do the same. In times when you start looking for new ways to improve your search engine rankings, pay attention to the infamous Black Hat SEO techniques. Their fabled tactics can skyrocket your rankings only so much before drawing Google to your door with a website shutdown penalty.
Want to see how you can avoid a potentially fatal SEO blunder? Then keep on reading.
The state of SEO
We know that great content and customer involvement boosts ROI, lead conversion and brand loyalty. All we have to do is create quality blog posts, optimize our websites, make them mobile-friendly, have good customer support… But sometimes, even after all that effort, there’s just not enough return.
In those moments, many business owners turn to SEO experts who promise them explosive results in a blink of an eye. But without a proper screening process, they could be unknowingly welcoming a master manipulator. One who will surely bring them to Google’s high ranks – only to see their website get penalized a few days later.
Suddenly, traffic plummets, and your brand name is tarnished. You become an example of a company that uses “Black Hat SEO” to cheat their way into high ranks of Google’s search results pages.
To avoid becoming a victim, or rectify any mistakes you may have already made, we’ve decided to talk in-depth about this malpractice.
What is Black Hat SEO?
Black Hat SEO is a collection of unapproved (blacklisted if you will) strategies for boosting a website’s ranking on Google.
These strategies are aggressive, spammy, and ultimately don’t cater to the users. They work the search engine system, rather than promoting good, informative content. As a result, you sometimes see lower-quality, clearly misleading websites ranking higher than legitimate ones.
The Good News and the Bad News
The good news is that Google has gotten better at sniffing out these strategies as they pop up. With every new algorithm update, they introduce a feature that makes Black Hat experts’ jobs harder, if not impossible.
The bad news is – these techniques started wearing clever disguises. Some of them don’t even seem to break any rules. As such, they are easily missed by website owners relying on a seemingly trustworthy SEO expert.
How Black Hat Search Engine Optimization Can Kill Your Brand Name
If Google finds out that a website has been using Black Hat strategies, it penalizes it. This can happen in two ways:
- Google’s algorithm recognized a technique that is against its rules
- Google’s human controllers review the website and claim malpractice
Whichever one happens, it ends the same. Your website gets a penalty, and with it, certain consequences.
Not only do you get a nasty blotch on the brand’s record, but you can get a drop in search rankings, and in worst-case scenarios, a website takedown. Almost instantly, you start to see less traffic, fewer conversions, and a bad reputation among peers and competitors.
List of Known Black Hat SEO Tricks
To help you understand which strategies (or tricks) can tank your brand, we’ve assembled the list below.
Note that the list is far from complete. There are many more strategies. We’ve simply decided on the ones most commonly found, even today.
Redirects are normally used only when you’re moving domains, or your website is down for some reason. They’re a welcome practice with user engagement.
However, Black Hat SEO uses false links to redirect users to a different website. Think of every time you clicked a link to a page, only to have another tab pop open, taking you to a gambling website.
That is called shady redirecting.
2. Keyword Stuffing
This is one of the most common and easily spotted strategies. Keyword stuffing looks like this:
“Our café serves the best lava cake in town! Just a glance at any of our lava cake reviews will show you just how popular the cake is. Come on down and have a taste of our unique lava cake!”
While this example is just a parody, it illustrates how a keyword (in this case “lava cake”) can be abused in every single sentence, in every possible way. All of this stuffing to ensure it ranks high in Google’s SERPs. And at the detriment of the text being readable, informative, and interesting.
3. Alt text Stuffing
Alt-text descriptions are located inside the images in your articles. A common Black Hat practice is to overstuff these descriptions with keywords. One would think it’s not as harmful because the stuffing isn’t in the text. Wrong. It can still be read by the search engine’s crawlers. While it’s a sneaky backdoor way to rank high in search results, it is also a way to rank high on Google’s penalty list.
Alt text should be short and meaningful.
4. Competitor Reporting
Some Black Hats go even as far as falsely reporting brand competitors of using Black Hat tactics themselves. If they pull it off, the targeted website can get penalized and pulled down for an indefinite amount of time.
5. Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
A PBN is what it says: a network of blogs run by a single person, preferably on different domains. Their sole purpose is to create a huge amount of links for the “parent” site and help boost its rankings. The sites don’t need to be updated frequently, nor feature enticing content. All they need are 3rd party links.
6. Expired Domain
Some Black Hat experts will buy expired domains that still have some SEO link credibility. They usually buy off authoritative sites with .gov or .edu domain names. Then, they set redirect links to the website they want to rank high. This is related to PBNs (Private blog networks), as PBNs have 2 types. The first type is the expired domains, and the second type is auctioned domains.
So when people visit, for example, an expired government site for a legal department, they could be redirected to a hardware store (an extreme case).
7. Duplicate Content
The practice of using another’s content as your own is as old as the Internet. Even though Google has become stricter, you can still find copyrighted content left and right. Weaker content writers will use them as shortcuts, or time-saving tricks that ultimately get your website penalized. Oftentimes the owners get sued for copyright infringement. Also, other webmasters may take a DMCA takedown and remove your content if they see it as stolen. Additionally, this bad practice can get your website removed from your hosting provider if you don’t comply and remove it.
8. Automated Content
Content is written by a machine – software that can string together words that will give off the impression of a legitimate post. But, when read by an actual human, it becomes clear it’s stuffed with keywords. Also, it makes very little sense.
9. Spinning Articles
This is a situation in which there is new information to be added to a topic you already wrote about. But, instead of simply updating the old blog post, you reuse the old content, switch a few things up and treat it as new.
10. Blog Comment Spam
Ever seen one of those YouTube videos that claim to be the latest Hollywood movie uploaded in full? Well, one click on the video reveals a comment section where each one is a fake user posting nothing but a single link.
The same thing happens in SEO where the comment sections of blog posts are nothing more than backlinks to other websites, often unrelated to the article topic.
Black Hat SEO vs White Hat SEO
The counter to Black Hat SEO is, of course, White Hat SEO. These strategies are in line with the rules search engines implement. White Hat SEO can be considered anything that attributes real value to the readers/potential customers, gained by regular means.
Also, that includes strategizing your SEO efforts for the long term, organically growing an audience, investing in social media, genuine collaboration, and so much more. So, any practice that takes time, effort, and has little potential for sudden, short-term growth.
Additionally, while steering clear of Black Hat SEO will make your job more difficult, it will still keep you in Google’s good graces for the long-term.
What Type of SEO Should you Focus on?
If you are not sure what type of SEO to focus on, we highly recommend anything white-hat if you plan to stay in your industry for the long term. Here are some examples:
- Enforce quality over quantity – you can’t get copyright claims or be falsely accused of using Black Hat if your content is YOUR OWN. Check with your writing and design team regularly to find any possible duplicate content.
- Troubleshoot your current website – look for possible mistakes that slipped through the cracks. Oftentimes, we accidentally use a Black Hat strategy without knowing it was against the rules.
- Perform thorough keyword analysis – see which keywords are ranking high, and choose those relevant to your brand. Stick to one niche, or else visitors tricked into landing on your page will blow the whistle and have you penalized in no time.
- Stricter hiring process – when choosing your SEO experts, give them a test run. Or conduct the interview with a few mock-up situations to see how they handle them. If you notice any of the above (or other) tricks being mentioned as legitimate strategies, steer clear from that candidate.
Black Hat SEO is a slippery slope for a lot of search engine experts and website owners. Also, in a fleeting moment of weakness, they decide to skim the rules to boost the SERP rankings. But, however dire the situation, the answer should always be a resounding “no”.
Getting penalized by Google has severe consequences and can delay your natural progress for a long time. Also, never choose a quick and shady solution over a slower, yet stable one. SEO is a long-term game and you should play safe if you plan to stay in your industry for a long time.