Nowadays, the number of businesses promoting their services and products online is bigger than ever, and the competition is fierce in every single niche. Thus, there is practically no website owner that isn’t actively attempting to boost their online visibility and stand out from the rest by using the help of many available SEO practices.
However, there have always been certain marketers that choose some wrong and – there’s really no other way to say it – manipulative strategies to promote their website and get a higher ranking on search engines. Best known as black hat SEO, these techniques can actually bring more harm than good to your business. This time around, we are going to talk more about what black hat SEO is and how it can harm your site. Also, we’re going to list some of the most commonly known black hat SEO techniques you should avoid so as not to get a penalty from Google and directly jeopardize your website’s reputation.
What Is Black Hat SEO and How Does it Impact Your Website’s Ranking
Simply put, black hat SEO represents techniques used by websites with the goal of boosting their ranking. So far, it sounds like any SEO technique, right? However, what’s specific about these particular techniques is that they are created in a way that is meant to cheat the search engine algorithm.
Search engines usually let the users know what consequences await those that don’t follow the particular guidelines they’ve set. Google’s webmaster guidelines are a good example of this. Even if one succeeds to cheat the search algorithm and gets a good result in SERPs, sooner or later the engines will see through the foul tactics you’ve used to get there and penalize your site in some way. As a result, your ranking position will drop and the traffic you’ve been getting will naturally decrease as well. And consequently, this will also have a negative impact on your sales and conversions.
In some extreme cases, your site may no longer be indexed by Google crawlers and thus not show up in search results at all. It’s needless to say that this can be completely detrimental to your business.
Finally, we should also mention the impact black hat SEO can have on the overall user experience. It’s no secret that in the digital world, user experience is everything. Black hat techniques typically have the goal to optimize their content for search engines only, without giving much thought to the users that click on it. So, even if a user clicks on a website link because it appears high in search results, once they see that the actual content isn’t exactly what they expected it to be, they will abandon your page in no time.
Most Common Black Hat SEO Tactics You Should Avoid
While there are many tried-and-true, search engine-approved strategies you can use to boost your SEO, there are also some shady tactics out there that you can mistake for appropriate ones. Without further ado, we present you some of the most commonly used black hat SEO tactics you should refrain from using, no matter what:
- Sneaky Redirects
- Keyword Stuffing
- Spam Comments
- Hidden Text
- Gateway Pages
- Link Scheming
- Misused Structured Data and Rich Snippets
- Scraped Content
Redirects basically mean that you’re sending a user to a URL that is completely different from the one they originally clicked on. And while there is a good reason why you may need to redirect a user in this way (for example, you can use a 301 redirect if you moved your page to another address), there are certain redirects strictly made to manipulate the search engine algorithm. In this case, search engine bots end up crawling the original page while users are taken to the redirected page instead. This practice can deceive both the search engines and the users as it displays one type of content to crawlers, and another to users.
While the use of keywords is vital for the success of any site, there is a vast difference between smartly implemented keywords and blatant keyword stuffing. As its name indicates, keyword stuffing is excessive use of keywords, key phrases, and their synonyms in the website content. This is often done in places where it doesn’t make much sense to use them, like in random chunks of text or paragraphs that don’t really fit with the subject in question. Alternatively, the keywords can fit the topic and the context, but they are visibly overused and simply don’t appear natural on a page or post.
Just as its name indicates, comment spam is a practice of posting spam comments on various blogs or forums, usually to promote a site and ask for a link back to your site or blog. These comments are often posted on completely random blogs that have little or no correlation whatsoever with your niche. In any case, this is considered a black hat technique and it’s needless to say that you shouldn’t do it.
Also, if you’re a blogger yourself, you should moderate your comments and prevent them from being posted on your site until you ensure they aren’t spam. If you allow comments to be posted on your site automatically, sooner or later you will receive spam comments. These types of comments can ruin your website’s reputation, make you appear unreliable or sloppy to your visitors, and even increase your risk of getting a penalty.
Hidden or invisible text is text that is only visible to search engines and usually consists of keywords that you want your page to rank for. In other words, users don’t see the text but search engines can still crawl and index these keywords and rank your site accordingly. This text can have the same color as the site’s background or be hidden behind an image, for example. In some cases, a zero font size is also used for the hidden text, preventing the users from seeing it.
Essentially, doorway or gateway pages represent one or more pages that act as a hub between other, more relevant site pages and as such, hold no particular significance to users. The true purpose of these pages is to make them rank well for specific keywords, and that’s why they fall under the black hat SEO category. In fact, back in 2015 Google has announced that gateway pages are considered bad. You should refrain from creating such pages on your site and focus on building pages that have content that is valuable to the users instead.
Cloaking is a technique in which you display one type of content to users and show completely another to search engines. By doing this, you purposely mislead users, presenting the content that is different from the one that the search engine crawlers will see, all with the purpose of better ranking. It happened to all of us at least once – you click on something believing to be the new episode of your favorite TV show and you somehow get sent to a page selling snoring aids or, even more likely, adult content. This is a direct violation of the Google Webmaster guidelines as it is essentially created for search engines only and points people towards results that aren’t related to what they’re searching for. Instead of doing this, you should focus on enhancing the user experience of your visitors and provide them with quality content that isn’t deceiving.
Link building is one of the essential and most widely used marketing and SEO techniques. And while this practice isn’t considered bad per se and is actually recommended by SEO experts, that doesn’t mean it can be misused. The general rule of thumb is that links should be earned, not bought or received in any way that is meant to cheat the Google algorithm. Still, sadly, earning links using the practice of link scheming isn’t that uncommon. Some of the common link scheming practices include getting paid, or sponsored links that don’t use the rel=nofollow attribute, automated link building, links that can be found in the already-mentioned blog comment spam, and too many link exchanges with other sites, to name a few.
Using structured data and rich snippets to add different bits of info related to your page is a totally legitimate, and even encouraged practice. That’s because the main purpose of structured data is to further define your content and help search engines understand better what your page is about, so they can rank it accordingly. However, this practice shouldn’t be misused since, in that case, it can easily turn into a black hat SEO tactic. To be more specific, if you insert info into your rich snippets that is wrong, inaccurate, or doesn’t correspond with what your page actually entails, then it means you’re misusing your rich snippets. One good example of fake structured data is a fake review that site owners create to rate their own products or services, all with the goal of scoring more conversions and getting an overall higher ranking on search engines.
In its essence, scraped content is the type of content copied from another website and republished as your own. Even if it’s slightly modified, this type of content still doesn’t offer anything new to users. While it’s hard to find content that no one else has explored before, it’s still important that you add some original information to your content in order to give it more value. For example, if you are doing a product review, talk about your own, unique experiences when using said product. Try talking about some of the product’s features that no one else has mentioned yet, or compare it to a few other products in the same category. Just make sure to provide something unique and valuable to the users, and Google will reward you for it.
If you’ve been on the internet long enough, you’ve probably run into one of these. Namely, a clickbait usually represents a captivating headline that uses sensational, dramatic, and oftentimes, misleading words to grab the attention of users. It can contain words or phrases such as “You won’t believe your eyes when you see this”, or “So-and-so reveals the shocking details about (insert the topic here)”.
While this tactic can initially increase your click-through rate, once users realize they were tricked and there’s no real value in your content, they will flee your page as fast as they clicked on it. Instead of using this manipulative, black hat SEO tactic, try creating catchy headlines that best summarize what your content is about instead. There are many headline analyzer tools on the web whose help you can use for this purpose.
Even if some of the above-mentioned black hat SEO strategies end up improving your website’s ranking, this won’t be sustainable in the long run. Sooner or later, Google will take note of the manipulative tactics and penalize your site either by lowering your ranking or completely removing your site from SERPs. In short, no matter how great of a ranking you may get if you deceive search engines in this way, the end result simply won’t be worth it. We strongly advise you not to attempt any of the black hat techniques we mentioned above. Instead, stick to some tried-and-true SEO strategies that don’t violate Google’s quality guidelines in any way. Sooner or later, your efforts will pay off.