“Black Hat” tactics are the dark side of SEO, and, as you can guess, they’re frowned upon across the board, since they violate Google’s terms of service in order to improve rankings. Any competent marketing team will tell you that good SEO takes time and constant adjustment. While black hat SEO may appear to be a useful cheat code that helps cut corners, you’ll want to stay vigilant. By being familiar with the many different underhanded tactics out there, you can ensure you’re playing fair and avoiding the penalties and damage to your site reputation.
Black hat link building techniques
Being one of the most important aspects of search engine algorithms, links are understandably one of the most frequently manipulated aspects of SEO. Beware of links that are bought, sold, traded or exchanged, and especially avoid private blog networks (PBNs) or “link farms” created solely to supply links.
Unnatural links or automated programs are a red flag, as are over-optimised internal links, “linkbait” or spammy links, particularly those crammed into footers. A routine site audit will give you an idea of how links are functioning on your site. The solution for any kind of iffy linking is simple: always focus on excellent content, genuine relationships with industry experts and natural links to active, reputable sites – err on the side of caution for anything else.
Black hat content tactics
Content quality is another important factor when it comes to determining rankings. The “white hat” SEO approach is to create up-to-date, high quality, trustworthy and authoritative content, and as long as this is your focus, you’re unlikely to fall foul of Google’s terms of service.
Be aware, however, that certain practices are dodgy even if they seem relatively harmless. Keyword stuffing is unacceptable, especially if it’s obviously unnatural. “Cloaking” happens when a site shows different content to the searcher than it does to the search engine – the latter being packed with keywords. The same can be done with white words on a white background or by hiding text behind an image. Always remember that the main function of keywords is to make your user’s life easier, not to manipulate a search engine.
Article spinning is essentially rewriting content to distribute all over the web, to avoid creating duplicate content. While this can be a legitimate white hat practice, it’s important that every version actually adds some value or relevance, and is not simply churned out to create links. Responsible content syndication makes efforts to create meaningful, varied pieces and not near-copies. Avoid auto-generated content if it sounds obviously unnatural – remember, your goal is to add value to the reader.
It goes without saying, but “malicious content” (viruses, malware, unwanted downloads, spyware, and annoying pop-ups) are a definite no-no. Scraping content or plagiarising other people’s work is likewise unforgivable – always give appropriate credit where it’s due.
Finally, clickbait is an easily avoidable black hat technique, as are “bait and switch” tactics where a link leads somewhere other than where it promises. Make sure your links lead to relevant content and that you aren’t piggy backing on unrelated traffic.
Black hat social network methods
Bots used to spam Facebook, YouTube or Instagram with fake comments or likes are obviously underhanded. It’s important to have a clear social media marketing strategy, so you know precisely what you’re doing, and to report and avoid any suspicious activity. If you’re unsure, consult an SEO team for guidance. Guest posts, for example, can be problematic if they’re low quality and add no value. Tailored, carefully researched content and collaborations are always preferred.
More serious tactics
Things like rich snippet markup spam (marking up content that is irrelevant or misleading), automated queries to Google to query rankings (via specialised software) or negative SEO aimed at decreasing the rank of other pages are all more sophisticated techniques that you’re unlikely to fall into by accident.
Nevertheless, it’s wise to be on the lookout for such attacks on your own site, including having your content stolen, fake reviews, unwanted spammy links or URL injection spam (where a hacker creates new spam-filled links and pages on your site).
While these and other black hat techniques may offer a temporary rankings boost, in the long term you risk serious penalties that are simply not worth it. Unfortunately, other people using black hat tactics are a fact of life, but it’s not too difficult to make sure you’re avoiding them completely and staying in the clear. Regular site audits and a sound marketing strategy will help you get the results you want, without breaking the rules.