What is black hat SEO, exactly? Well, black hat SEO is a type of SEO that you find being done by scammers who are looking to make a quick buck. It’s a churn and burn technique. If you don’t care about your website’s standing on Google, that’s fine. But, if you have any goals of creating a long-term relationship with Google, you should think twice.
Black hat SEO is the practice of using unethical methods to manipulate search engine rankings in order to gain a competitive advantage over other websites. It’s also known as “black-hat” or “gray-hat” SEO, depending on where the method falls on the spectrum of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines: whether it’s a valid technique or not.
If you use black hat techniques exclusively, don’t be surprised if you end up getting penalized or banned.
Luckily, so far this type of penalty only applies to websites and not necessarily the website owners themselves.
Search engine optimization is both an art and a science, with guidelines and targets to hit, along with making sure you don’t do anything against those standards.
The search engines don’t have emotion, although their penalties may make it seem like it.
Instead, it’s a mathematical calculation in the form of an algorithm that levies judgments and penalties against sites that are perceived to be in violation of said webmaster guidelines.
And this is where black hat SEO techniques can land you in trouble with the search engines.
Black Hat SEO vs. White Hat SEO
Black Hat SEO techniques, although they have short-term benefits, have major drawbacks in the eyes of the search engines (especially Google).
This includes the possibility of permanently damaging your website’s reputation in Google’s eyes.
You cannot take short cuts with your SEO.
Sometimes, such short cuts serve to damage your ranking ability, and you would have to start fresh with a new domain.
If you are IP banned, then you will definitely need to start fresh..
It’s a highly complex situation that you don’t want to be in. Because this will just lead to major issues for you and your website down the line.
Not only can this impact your organic traffic, black hat SEO tactics can also negatively impact your rankings.
Search Engine Guidelines
Most search engines have guidelines you have to follow. Google’s guidelines are the most widely known, so we will cover them before we get too into the weeds on these particular techniques.
Google’s guidelines are divided into two parts: general guidelines and quality guidelines.
General guidelines apply to every website, regardless of your particular niche, while quality guidelines will sometimes have some niche weirdness and subtle variations.
Google’s general guidelines provide specific instructions that help make Google’s ability to crawl your site easier.
They include things like ensuring that all pages on your site can be reached by a link from another findable page (no orphan pages).
They also include standards such as all links and image links must contain an alt attribute, etc.
Black Hat Techniques in SEO
From cloaking to redirects, black hat techniques are not something you want to mess with. Here is a list of some black hat techniques that you should avoid.
Cloaking occurs when you show Google one kind of content with the intention of ranking it, but another kind of content to your visitors.
This type of black hat technique is explicitly against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Redirecting users away from your own site to another site is also considered a black hat technique.
There are many reasons why you shouldn’t use sneaky redirects.
One reason is that if you are using sneaky redirects, you could be giving yourself a penalty.
Another reason is that you could be sending people to a completely different URL than what they were looking for, thus deceiving users.
You would be essentially breaking Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, because you are showing Google one thing, but your visitors see something else entirely.
Poor Quality Content
Quality content is important for any website, but especially for websites that rely heavily on SEO.
The more high-quality content you have, the better chance you have at getting ranked higher in Google.
But, there is a fine line between having good quality content and spammy or low quality content.
Some sites try to rank well by creating lots of low quality content.
This is called “spamdexing” and it’s frowned upon by Google.
So, how do you know if you’re writing quality content?
Well, the first step is to ask yourself whether or not your content is useful to someone.
Is it helping your readers?
Does it help them solve their problem?
Does it answer their questions?
If the answer to those questions is yes, then you’ve probably written quality content.
If the answer is no, then you need to reevaluate your content strategy.
You may need to create more content, or you may need to focus on other aspects of your marketing campaign.
Reading Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines is a good first step towards creating content that is a good example of what Google considers quality.
However, it’s an important point to make that these are not necessarily part of the algorithm. You can’t optimize for something that Google doesn’t actually evaluate.
Instead, you can use the guide as an indicator that the quality of the content you’re producing is on target, rather than a detailed instruction manual.
Automatically Generated/Duplicate Content
Google’s guidelines explicitly state that webmasters should not be using generated content.
Why is this such a big deal?
Because generated content is usually low-effort content, and usually lower quality. And thus, it’s less likely to be enjoyed by readers as a result.
Avoiding duplicate content is also part of their guidelines, and refers to any content that is appreciably similar from page to page, or outright stolen from another website.
Be careful about auto generated and duplicate content, and you should be good to go when it comes to avoiding black hat SEO techniques.
Think you can copy someone else’s content and hope that nobody will notice? Think again. Copied content is also duplicate content, and could get you in trouble.
Your content strategy should be focused on original and high-quality content.
Copied content is considered another type of low-quality content that, while it won’t get you banned, could get you into trouble algorithmically.
But, it’s also important to note: there are many instances of people who have been victims of plagiarized content ranking on Google.
Even though they may have done this successfully, it doesn’t mean that you will. Would you want someone stealing your content, along with your rankings? Of course not.
Also, even though copied content may rank, it’s also bad content. It also lends you zero credibility when it comes to publishing content on your site.
To get around this, you want to make sure that every piece of content you create is considered high-quality content.
Yes, article spinning is still a thing. This is also a form of content spam. When you engage in article spinning, you’re stealing someone’s hard-earned content and you’re also just copying it.
When you write an original article based on another, but you write it in your own voice, and you put your own spin on it, that’s fine.
It’s when you use an article spinner software, just to create another version of another article, that will get you into trouble.
Just make sure that any pieces of content that you create does not go into the realm of article spinning, and you should be fine.
This is exactly what the name implies: text that is hidden against a background, buried in the meta description, meta keywords, or some other form of hidden content that you shouldn’t be doing.
When you use hidden content, you’re essentially hiding something from search engines. You’re trying to trick them into thinking that something is more valuable than it actually is.
You don’t want to do this because it’s unethical, and it’s also going to hurt your rankings.
If you’re looking for ways to improve your organic traffic, then you need to focus on creating high-quality content. Of course, making sure that the quality content you create is also relevant content should be a focus too. It also wouldn’t hurt if you spent time creating some of the most epic content that you can possibly create.
We have a great guide that you will want to pay attention to here.
Paid links are links that you’ve paid money to get placed on your website. They’re usually used by companies that want to boost their rankings as quickly as possible.
They’re often seen as a quick way to jumpstart your rankings, but they’re also very risky.
Google has made it clear that they’re going to punish websites that use paid links. If you’re using paid links, you’re putting yourself at risk of getting penalized.
There are plenty of tools out there that allow you to get backlinks for free, so why would you spend money on them?
The best thing to do is to find a tool that allows you to earn backlinks organically.
That way, you’ll be able to build up a strong reputation over time, which will help you avoid being punished by Google.
Remember, when in doubt, don’t go buying links. Because this will definitely get you on Google’s negative action radar.
This has been against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines for eons. Buying links is never a great practice, and can land you in trouble sooner than you think.
You don’t need to buy links from low-quality sites or spammy forums. If someone wants to link to you, they will find a way to do so.
If you’re looking to get links from high-quality sites, there are many ways to accomplish that.
One of those methods is to create valuable content, and ask people who read your content to share it on their own social media accounts.
Another method is to offer them something of value in exchange for sharing your content. For example, if you’ve written a blog post about how to build a website, you might offer them a free web design consultation.
In both cases, you want to make sure that the links you receive aren’t manipulative. They shouldn’t be coming from places where you know they’re going to hurt your rankings.
For example, if you’re getting links from a forum that is known to be full of spammers, you probably don’t want to use those links.
Instead, look for forums that are well moderated, and where members are active and engaged.
In addition, you’ll want to avoid linking out to other websites that are known to be spammy.
Google does a good job at detecting these types of links, but it’s still better to err on the side of caution.
It’s always possible to disavow links later, once you’ve made sure that the links you want to disavow are actually illegitimate.
But if you’re doing things like buying links, you could end up having to disavow hundreds of thousands of links over time. And this is a situation you are creating when you are shooting yourself in the foot.
When it comes to paid links or manipulative links, just say no!
When it comes to spam, unnatural links are king. These are links that come from sites that aren’t related to yours.
For example, let’s say that you run a blog about building computers. You might create backlinks from sites that sell computer parts over and over…and over…and over again.
That’s a natural link, right? Well, no. They are not.
These types of links are called unnatural links, and they’re one of the biggest things that Google looks for in their algorithm.
Also, links in blog comments are generally considered unnatural links. This is because they can be automatically generated en masse.
So, be sure to avoid creating links in blog comments.
What about internal links? Is there anything about internal links that are unnatural?
John Mueller has stated in the past that you can “do whatever you want” with internal links. However, our experience shows this is not the case.
The over-optimization of internal links is something that can actively hurt you in your rankings. While it’s not exactly black hat, it’s something you still want to pay attention to.
Don’t forget about hidden links. These types of links are hidden on the page, but when a user moves their mouse cursor over an area, they can click on it. Even when there’s nothing there.
This is also not a good thing to do.
Inbound links can also be unnatural links. If you have an unnatural inbound link profile, Google has been known to algorithmically devalue sites that have unnatural links.
Abusing Structured Data/Rich Snippets
Abusing structured data is another big one. We already talked about how important rich snippets are, but we didn’t talk about how to abuse them.
Structured data is basically information that’s added to your pages that helps search engines understand what your page is all about.
You can add structured data to your pages through Schema.org markup. For example, you could add a price tag to your products or descriptions to make them easier for users to read.
You can also add Schema.org markup to images, videos, and other media files. This makes it easy for Google to index those items.
However, if you add too much structured data to your content, you may end up hurting your overall performance.
Google wants to see relevant content, not just stuff that adds junk to your website. So, be careful with how much and the type of structured data you use, because there are certain types of structured data that Google only allows on certain pages.
If you’re looking to improve your organic traffic, then you should be using these techniques. But, remember: Don’t abuse them.
Blog Comment Spam
Blog comment spam is another major one. It’s pretty common for people to post links to their own websites in blog comments.
When someone does this, it’s like giving free backlinks to your competitors. And, while it’s not technically illegal, it’s definitely frowned upon by Google.
It’s best to avoid doing this as much as possible. If you really need to leave a link in a comment, try to find a way to get around leaving a link in a comment.
If you have to leave a link in a comment in order to post to a blog, maybe it’s best not to post to that blog.
Link farms are another type of problem. They’re sites that have hundreds and thousands of pages that have absolutely nothing but link after link after link.
These sites usually contain hundreds of thousands of low quality backlinks pointing to each site. The owner of these sites will often buy links from third party services.
Because of this, many of these sites will show up in the results for any given keyword. That means that even though they don’t actually provide any value, they’ll still hurt your rankings.
So, if you notice that some of your competitors’ rankings are dropping, check out their backlink profiles. You might find that they’ve got a bunch of bad links.
That’s why it’s so important to build high quality backlinks. If you’re going to build links, make sure that they’re coming from reputable sources and that you focus on the highest quality links that you can find.
Private Blog Networks
PBNs (or Private Blog Networks) are networks of blogs that are owned by a single person. These networks are typically used to drive lots of traffic to a specific website.
The owner of the network will create a ton of new blogs and point them at his main site. Then, they will start posting articles to the blogs.
This works great until Google catches onto the fact that the owner has created tons of fake accounts and that these sites are all owned by that same owner.
This isn’t something that you want to do. PBNs are very risky and could potentially damage your reputation.
Instead, look into building good quality backlinks.
Another black hat SEO technique you want to avoid is keyword stuffing. This is when you add hundreds of keywords to content in a nonsensical fashion, in order to “stuff” that content with keywords.
The game of this approach is to artificially inflate “keyword density,” which is not a thing. In fact, this hasn’t really ever been much of a thing since the early days of the 2000s.
Instead, it’s more about keyword relevance and including relevant keywords throughout your text as you write about that particular topic.
Don’t obsess about keyword density, keyword count, and junk like that. That’s not what’s going to help you increase your rankings.
Keyword Stuffing in Alt Text
Make no mistake: Keyword stuffing in alt text is just as bad as general keyword stuffing. In fact, some examples could be worse.
Some of the more egregious examples we have encountered in our SEO auditing adventures include:
- The entire length of the article stuffed in alt text,
- Keyword after keyword stuffed within the alt text, not really describing what the image is about,
- Short alt text, that doesn’t even provide enough useful information for the user (or Google),
- No alt text…ever…on any image within the page.
- While the last two are not examples with keyword stuffing within alt text, they are still bad SEO practices.
All of the above are considered terrible SEO best practices.
These types of pages are usually created for specific keywords, and have content that is designed to facilitate the navigation through the funnel – to one single page. This is considered a Google Webmaster Guidelines violation.
There should be one objective for every piece of content on your site. And you should not be trying to rank for irrelevant keywords.
They are also known as a form of cloaking, which is also expressly forbidden by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Some examples of black hat SEO when it comes to doorway/gateway pages include:
- Any page that you slap up as a page with an image, with a big “click here” button to go to the next page within the funnel,
- Any single page that you land on that which then automatically redirects to another page within that funnel,
- A “welcoming” page whose only purpose is to give you hints about navigating deeper into the funnel with no additional content value.
Reasons To Avoid Black Hat SEO
1. It Can Negatively Impact Your Search Rankings and Visibility
If you engage in black hat SEO, make sure that you know that it is mostly churn and burn techniques and that you won’t achieve lasting results when you do.
2. It Won’t Drive Long-Term Results
Building on the last point – you won’t achieve sustainable, long-term results when you use black hat SEO. Google is generally good at algorithmically devaluing websites that violate their Google Webmaster Guidelines.
3. It Typically Results In A Poor User Experience
Black hat techniques are also something that may result in a poor user experience. For example, if you have a lot of hidden text on the page, you may find that there are large gaps between certain types of content. This can be a result of hidden text and is frustrating for the user.
4. It Can Damage Your Relationship With Google
While you may be able to get away with black hat techniques in the short term, if you cause your IP to be banned because of repeated attempts to spam the search engine, then you could find yourself having to get a new IP or a new host entirely.
This is not worth the time and aggravation, right? Not to mention the algorithmic penalties that can come with it.
5. It Can Damage Your Credibility
Most SEO professionals are not tolerant of black hat SEO. For example, if you are caught stealing someone else’s content and passing it off as your own, you could be in for a world of hurt within the SEO community. The community can easily track things down and, while a very friendly bunch, they are people who stick together.
The best idea is to avoid doing any black hat SEO at all.
Don’t Take Shortcuts With Your SEO Techniques!!
Clearly, the field of SEO is full of pitfalls and issues that you need to avoid, including black hat SEO. However, if you’re somebody who does not take setbacks well, then you may want to steer clear of black hat SEO altogether.
Because if there’s one thing that using black hat SEO will definitely do, it is hammering your site with repeated setbacks.
Are you brave enough to try black hat SEO or will you be wise and avoid it?