Appearing in search results is vital for business growth, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to optimize content for search engines.
Instead of putting in the time, effort, and learning required to rise in the rankings, many resort to the unethical, dark magic of black hat SEO techniques.
Search engine optimization is a competitive long-game. As one of my most popular services, SEO is also one of the most frustrating concepts to grasp. While there are many techniques used to rise to the top of Google’s coveted first page, there are several Black Hat techniques to avoid at all costs.
What is black hat SEO vs. white hat SEO?
Black Hat SEO refers to practices that are the opposite of white hat techniques. They are meant to deceive Google or another search engine’s terms of service and are essentially cheating at the SEO game.
If you have to ask if a technique is black hat, it’s probably black hat.
Black Hat techniques might sky-rocket your content to the top of page 1 in the short term… but at great risk. These techniques are sneaky, unethical SEO practices, but are popular because of the “quick wins”.
If you participate in Black Hat practices, be prepared to jeopardize your businesses’ reputation, experience a drop in rankings, and even lose your website altogether.
White Hat SEO refers to implementing best practices to target a human audience and please the search engines simultaneously. This is a long-game and will take practice and consistency. By utilizing ethical practices, your content rises in rankings and is recognized as an authority with Google.
How is Black Hat SEO harmful to a website?
Not only is Black Hat SEO unethical, it can permanently harm your presence online.
- It can decrease rankings or cause Google to de-index your site altogether. Because these tactics manipulate the search engines, they will penalize and, in some cases, remove a website using these strategies.
- It’s short term gain only – if at all. These strategies yield instant gratification for the short term. Because these techniques are navigating through the loopholes of search engine algorithms, one the results gained will disappear once the loophole is closed.
- It is a bad user experience. Content should help the reader – not confuse or distract them. Using these methods can ruin online reputations, touting a brand as spammy and untrustworthy.
Black Hat Techniques in SEO
Cloaking is the practice of showing one piece of content to users and another to search engines. Usually, websites will do this to make their content rank for irrelevant terms.
According to Google, “Cloaking refers to the practice of presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engines. Cloaking is considered a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines because it provides our users with different results than they expected.”
For example: If you were to click on a search result titled “How to Make a Thanksgiving Turkey” but instead you were presented with a spammy movie download or other malicious content, that would be considered cloaking.
This technique is similar to using sneaky redirects, when a user clicks on a link in search results and is directed to a page with a different URL than originally requested.
By using this method, the malicious content is hit with more visits which pushes the result to the top of the page. It’s a deceptive and irritating tactic that is utilized by spam websites to hide the content they show to their users from search engines.
Keyword stuffing is probably one of the most common practices many online business owners, specifically bloggers, are penalized for.
Google says this technique is the practice of loading keywords and/or lists of phone numbers into the content of a page. Many times, these keywords are out of context and don’t offer solutions to the reader, but instead create confusion and read awkwardly.
- Blocks of phone numbers that do not add value to the content.
- Blocks of text with cities, states, or locations a website might try to rank for.
- Repeated phrases that sound unnatural to the reader.
Here is an example of keyword stuffing: “We sell Thanksgiving Turkeys. If you are looking for a delicious Thanksgiving Turkey, call our turkey specialists to buy a Thanksgiving Turkey for Thanksgiving Day.”
Tip: Read the content aloud. Make sure it flows naturally and sounds the same as if you were speaking. Your goal is to write for the human not the search engine.
Hidden Text or Links
Hiding text or links in your content to deceive rankings is a direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
According to Google, text can be hidden in a number of ways:
- Using the same color text as the background of the webpage
- Hiding text behind an image (not the same thing as alternative text!)
- Using CSS to position text off-screen
- Setting the font size to 0
- Hiding a link by only linking one small character—for example, a hyphen in the middle of a paragraph
In a recent Google algorithm update, Google says that the content should be the same as it is on mobile. In any case, all content that’s on the page should be visible to the reader and relevant to the title of the page.
Scraped, duplicated, and plagiarized content are similar in nature.
Many people use the “scraping” technique to swipe written content from authoritative pages, and republish it on their own site, under the impression that the volume of published pages will increase their own authority and rankings. This is also known as plagiarizing and is punishable by law.
The volume of published pages does not automatically equal authority in the eyes of Google. When publishing, always remember quality over quantity. Your content should be relevant, helpful, and original.
A similar Black Hat technique is automated content or “borrowing” content. A publisher might use a content spinner to “rewrite” a piece of content from another site, changing a few words here and there, then republish it claiming it as their own. Often, these services do not use natural language or semantics and are not proofread before publishing, creating a confusing and poor user experience.
While replicating an idea for a blog post is ok, the content you publish should be new to your website and Google, and unsimilar to the original source.
Doorway pages are pages created with the intent of high rankings, hoping to give additional authority to the entire website. They have very little value to the reader but are full of keywords. Usually, these pages funnel into different portions of the website before the reader finds the result they were looking for.
Unlike cloaking, this method allows GoogleBot to index the pages. Because of the volume of keywords, these pages usually rank highly; however, once Google spots these pages, prepare to be de-indexed and left with a domain authority of 0.
This method is deceptive to users because the links usually lead to multiple similar pages in the search results that take the user to essentially the same destination.
We’ve all fallen victim to clickbait titles. One way to make sure you are not creating clickbait-ish content, is to provide proof or evidence of the claim you make in your title.
Many times, readers will realize that the link they clicked leads to content that’s unrelated to the headline. It sparks curiosity, but ultimately, does not deliver on their promise.
When readers realize they’ve been fooled, they immediately exit the page. Therefore, the session duration rates drop and the bounce rates increase – both of which can damage domain authority.
Link Schemes: Buying & Farming
Any link strategy intended to manipulate page rankings could be considered against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This is not the same as backlinks.
Backlinks are created when one website links a piece of content to another website with a similar piece of content. It’s a reputable and important piece of SEO that is valuable to both the reader and publisher. I encourage backlinking when another publisher’s content can complement your own.
However, link farming is the practice of creating a website or group of websites (or pages) for the sole purpose of boosting rankings.
In other words, aside from receiving links, there was not an authentic reason to create the website or page.
Google also frowns upon asking for a link back to your site in exchange for payment or products or purchasing services to generate links related to your content. Excessive link exchanges repeated to the same sites might also trigger Google to penalize your website.
Here are some examples on healthy link building and malicious link building:
Good: You are a recipe writer. Currently, you are developing a Thanksgiving Turkey recipe for the upcoming holiday season. You have all of the relevant information, but there is another publisher with more knowledge on cooking methods. You would like to encourage your readers to review their information and follow your recipe, too. By including a backlink to their website, you are promoting them as an authority on cooking methods while retaining your relevance with the specific recipe.
Bad: You are a recipe writer. Another publisher contacts you and asks you to link back to their website about crafts. Since this publisher has a high domain authority, you agree – even though you do not have content about crafts on your website. Since the link could help you build authority, you do it anyway and create a webpage with the craft name and link back to her. She offers to pay you or send you a free product in exchange for the link.
See how this is an inauthentic practice? The authenticity to your readers and your domain is diminished by using this practice. Think about how each piece of content will benefit your reader and help your audience solve their problem.
If you have been using Black Hat techniques, stop these practices immediately, and start undoing the damage. To begin creating an SEO strategy to get your brand back on track, reach out to me and let’s talk.