Like in any society, in the SEO world you can follow the rules to work your way up the ranks or you can try to cheat the system.
For instance, Google’s webmaster guidelines outline the best SEO practices to follow if you want to improve your page rank.
However, some marketers are purposely breaking these guidelines to obtain fast results with less effort.
By implementing these tactics, you will be executing what is called black hat SEO and your website will eventually drop in the search results rankings, or in the worst-case scenario it could be taken down from Google.
What is Black Hat SEO?
As a definition of Black hat SEO, we can say that it is the practice of using illegitimate tactics to quickly improve your page rank on search engines.
Black hat practices are clearly condemned by Google’s webmaster guidelines and should be avoided to prevent penalties.
You can usually recognize when a website uses Black hat SEO practices. In general, the content of the page doesn’t provide much value to the visitor and the overall user experience is clearly lacking in quality.
Instead, the content is generated in such a way that aims to deceive search engines and present the website as a valuable and relevant source of information.
This has negative consequences for people landing on such pages as they get lured into a low-quality website and this is why Google penalizes such practices.
The risks of Black Hat SEO: You can lose it all
As a result of misleading both online visitors and search engines, you can get different penalties that are outlined in each search engine guideline.
At this point, it is important to remember the goal of search engines like Google and that is to provide the best results (websites) in terms of valuable content and user experience for each search query.
Going back to Black hat SEO, Google can reduce your website traffic or lower your page rank temporarily if they discover that you have engaged in such practices.
You can always revert this decision by fixing the problem and submitting a request to Google to audit your website or a specific page again.
Additionally, the boost in traffic you gained from Black hat SEO usually won’t last long. Once the loophole you are exploiting gets fixed by an update, you will lose all your progress.
Using spammy tactics will also hurt your brand reputation because you are delivering a poor user experience. People will quickly leave your website when they realize that they have been misled by tricky black-hat strategies.
Main 7 Black Hat SEO practices
1) Keyword Stuffing
Keyword stuffing is the practice to include many relevant keywords or phrases in your content (but with no added value).
The search engine will get the impression that your content is relevant for the user's search intent for stuffed keywords.
Marketers used to abuse this loophole by putting as many keywords as possible in the titles, meta descriptions, and content.
Oftentimes your content will even rank for irrelevant terms and steal spots from more legitimate sources.
However, it is easy to spot such a page because it doesn't have a coherent written structure. This gives an extremely cheap and spammy impression to your visitors who got deceived by a bad quality page.
Fortunately, with recent updates this technique is no longer effective, moreover, it can hurt your page rank if search engines detect keyword stuffing.
2) Sneaky Redirects
In general when marketers use “sneaky redirects” they lead users to a different web page than the one they were using to attract them in first place.
It tricks both the user and the search engine to redirect a visitor to a different URL than the one initially displayed on the search engine results page.
A common practice using sneaky redirects consists of leading people from a high authority website to a low-quality one. This black hat SEO technique aims to superficially increase your web traffic and increase your page rank.
3) Comment Spam
This Black hat technique consists of posting links in the comment section of your page to artificially increase the authority of your website.
Google is very strict about this because they want websites to rightfully earn backlinks by providing quality content to their users. It doesn’t matter if it comes from people or bots, Google considers it as spam and can remove specific pages if such dubious behavior is detected.
You can avoid this by using anti-spam tools like Google’s free reCAPTCHA tool. Otherwise, you can program your website to prevent links from being included within the comments.
4) Link Farms
This Black Hat SEO technique uses one or numerous websites containing links to your website to increase the perceived level of authority from your website. These websites with your backlinks are simulating real websites linking back to you.
Generally, those link farms provide no value to the user and are just built to house as many backlinks as possible.
Marketers who don’t want to put in the effort to create quality content to attract their audience, fall for this trick and pay money to artificially increase the authority level of their websites.
5) Invisible Text
As the name states, this method adds invisible text to your content. This is done by matching the color of the keywords with the background color. However, search engines can still detect them and put your website in a higher position for those keywords.
The goal of adding invisible keywords to your website is to increase the perceived relevance for those specific keywords. As a result, your page rank improves for those terms.
This will lead to deceiving people who are expecting different content based on their search query.
6) Negative SEO
A rather newly emerging Black hat trick is called Negative SEO.
Here, the aim is not to rapidly increase the page rank of your own website but to take down competitor sites that are above you on the search engine results page.
A common negative SEO technique is when another website copies your content and files a report claiming you stole their website's content.
Another way to attack competition is to publish a large number of negative reviews about them on multiple review platforms. This will damage their reputation and let them most likely drop in search ranking.
Luckily you can defend yourself against such attacks by flagging suspicious reviews and reporting stolen content to Google.
7) Harmful Website Behavior
This is a more vague term that includes websites actively trying to harm the user.
These Black hat SEO tactics consist of retrieving customer information without the user knowing or agreeing to it.
Another example would be to inject the host computer with malicious software like viruses or other malware as well as adding files when the user is downloading content.
These attempts to manipulate the content or execute certain actions in an irregular way represent a clear breach against Google’s webmaster guidelines.
The intentions of these Black hat tactics are to harm the user’s safety on the internet.
This can result in serious damage to their systems so we would strongly recommend refraining from using such techniques at all costs.
How can you avoid Black Hat SEO?
It is always better to double-check if you are not developing any SEO tactics that could go against Google’s terms of service.
In general, don’t deceive or manipulate your online visitors or the bots scanning your website.
Be absolutely sure that you are not breaking Google’s webmaster guidelines. Especially, when you are paying money to increase your pagerank you should avoid these practices altogether.
In order to not accidentally engage in bad practices, you can audit your website with Alexa’s Site Audit or the On-Page SEO Checker. These tools will help you to point out possible black hat issues allowing you to make the necessary changes to meet Google's standards.
White hat: The SEO safe strategy you should follow
What is White Hat SEO?
Let’s take a look at the other side of the spectrum. White hat SEO includes all the tactics that are within the boundaries of the webmaster guidelines of Google and other search engines.
In general, when talking about SEO, it is usually implied as White hat SEO. The goal is to always create relevant and high-quality content to provide a great user experience for your website visitors.
Main differences between Black hat and White hat SEO.
1) Create user-oriented content
Your first priority should always be to deliver quality content for your audience. Therefore, you need to find out who your target audience is. If you know the needs and wants of your prospective customers, then you can create targeted content around specific topics that are highly relevant to them.
2) Then, optimize for search engines
You should make it clear what is your content about for search engines. This will make it easier for them to analyze and categorize your page for specific terms.
This is done by including your keywords selection in the title, meta description, and text body. Additionally, give every page of your website a clean and distinctive URL and connect them with internal links.
If you want to know more about how White hat SEO can help your business: What is SEO? Key tips to make your strategy shine
3) Neither white nor black: Gray Hat SEO
These tactics fall in between the black and white hat SEO. They are not banned by search engines but are on the edge of it.
Gray Hat SEO includes techniques that are not defined by Google’s webmaster guidelines and cannot be categorized as neither white hat nor black hat. Therefore, in some cases, there is some room left for innovation and try out different techniques.
Usually, these tactics are not completely ethical. Therefore, it is common for Gray hat SEO to become a Black hat and then get banned in the future. There are also cases in which, they get categorized as White Hat SEO when they meet the quality standards.
In the end, it is important to stay well informed about current developments regarding SEO updates.
In summary, we would always recommend you to follow search engine guidelines and develop content that is within the boundaries of white hat SEO. This will pay off for your website in the medium to long term while allowing you to sleep well at night.