A few weeks ago, we introduced the basics of search engine optimization to increase your visibility on the web. At the bottom of the infographic, there was a section titled “The Crimes of SEO,” which outlined tactics that are referred to as ‘black hat SEO.’ Today we want to talk more about black hat SEO and why you should avoid such tactics at all costs.
What is Black Hat SEO?
Search engine optimization tactics are usually divided into two camps: ‘white hat’ and ‘black hat’ (there’s probably a few muddy areas that could be considered ‘grey hat,’ but that’s a different blog post for a different day).
Basically, white hat strategies focus as much on the users as the search engines and their algorithms. The goal isn’t just for a site to have a high ranking, it’s to have a high ranking and be relevant to what the user is searching for.
Black hat SEO, on the other hand, is like the dark side of search engine optimization. In this case, it’s all about gaming the search engines’ algorithms and ranking as high as possible for as many keywords as possible. A lot of people in the search industry consider black hat SEO tactics to be spam.
What is considered Black Hat SEO?
There are dozens of search engine optimization practices that are considered black hat, and even more that fall into grey areas. We’ll ease you into everything today and just explain the tactics mentioned in the infographic:
- Paid links: Because search engines see a link to a website as an endorsement or recommendation, links factor greatly into a website’s ranking. Websites try to buy and sell links or exchange links with other websites to increase rankings.
- Keyword stuffing: Keyword stuffing means to fill a page with keywords, relevant or irrelevant, to try to increase its ranking. This can be used with relevant keywords (i.e. a page about bicycles using the words ‘bike’ and ‘bicycle’ three times in every single sentence), or irrelevant keywords (i.e. name dropping celebrities, brand names, and other high demand keywords).
- Cloaking: This is to manipulate rankings by showing search engines a different page than you show the users that click on your links on the search engine results page.
- Hiding: Some websites will hide keywords so that search engine spiders read them but users can’t. It’s a way to put more keywords on the webpage without users noticing, like they can with keyword stuffing. A common way of hiding keywords is to make them blend in to the page’s background (i.e. adding a paragraph of keywords in white font on a page with a white background).
- Link spam: This tactic refers to spamming other websites, blogs, forums, etc. with links back to your website. Link spam includes commenting on unrelated blogs with links to your website and posting promotional messages in forums.
What are the consequences of black hat SEO?
Search engines are starting to really crack down on websites using black hat tactics to game the ranking algorithms. This is especially evident in all of Google’s recent algorithm updates such as Penguin and Panda. These updates make it harder to game the algorithms and see results from black hat tactics in the first place.
Search engines usually have a section of their website explaining their guidelines, such as Google Webmaster Guidelines, that outline what to do and what not to do. If they look into your site and find that you are in violation of the guidelines, they can penalize you. The penalty may be lowering your site’s ranking or banning your site from the search engine completely.
Even huge companies like JC Penney have been penalized for black hat tactics, showing that no one is immune. Heck, Google even lowered the rankings for one of its own products after a paid link scheme was uncovered.
Moral of the story: fight fair, while wearing a white hat at all times! What other black hat tactics and consequences have you seen? Share your story in the comments!