For those who are just starting out on their SEO journey, or are just not familiar with the term, “black hat SEO” refers to SEO tactics which are often unethical and breach Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. A common theme of black hat SEO tactics is that they are designed to trick the search engine itself into ranking the website higher, rather than tricking actual human users, which often makes them very easy to spot through a human pair of eyes and also makes them a tell-tale sign of a shady website.
Back in the days before Google’s Webmaster Guidelines were introduced, the search engine was kind of like a Wild West-type landscape, where the general mindset was “anything goes,” so to speak. During this time, crafty web developers and SEOs – behaving almost like greedy prospectors during the gold rush of the internet – came up with a few different ways to cheat the system and race to the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
However, when Google finally decided to put their foot down with the advent of their Webmaster Guidelines, which are designed to govern the ways in which websites rank on Google, many of these dishonest methods of getting ranked were outlawed and labelled “black hat” SEO. And, while most are not technically “illegal” (i.e, they won’t land you a prison sentence), they are now uniformly frowned upon across the internet and also lead to websites being penalised by Google and even banned from ranking altogether.
So, you could say that they aren’t the wisest ways of securing the gold.
However, astonishingly, there are actually still websites out there today which attempt to put these sly tactics into practice while also coming up with new cunning and seedy black hat SEO methods. Here we will outline 20 of these black hat SEO tactics which you should absolutely avoid at all costs.
#1 – Link Buying
Link buying is essentially just the act of purchasing backlinks from other websites. The idea behind this is that by having plenty of other websites linking back to one’s own website, it is possible to increase domain authority. However, these links are often of very low quality, such as spam links on a blog post (which we will cover later) and often come from shady websites which Google will already have flagged as such.
#2 – Link Selling
Similar to link buying, link selling involves the sale of backlinks where one party makes a profit while the other has its links spread across the internet in hopes of acquiring more traffic and increasing domain authority. However, Google’s algorithm is very intelligent and most of the time can approximate whether or not link selling, or something similar, is occurring which can lead to serious punishments.
#3 – Link Farming
While it would be ideal to “Live off the fatta the lan’,” as some might say, building a link farm is definitely not the way to go. A link farm includes multiple different websites which all link to one another in a sort of web, and are usually created by automated programmes despite sometimes being created by hand. Regardless, Google considers link farming a big no-no as well as a form of spam.
#4 – Irrelevant Keywords
Competing for the odd pointless keyword here and there is something most of us did when first getting to grips with SEO and the way search engines work. In most instances this is forgivable and is something we learn to overcome.
However, there are actually people out there who intentionally compete for keywords which are completely irrelevant to their website, in hopes of gaining more traffic and having the absolute maximum amount of website visitors. As you can probably tell, Google absolutely hates this and will rank any website down which it catches doing this, due to it being a complete waste of time for everyone involved and the fact that websites actually relevant to the searcher risk not being seen over something completely unrelated.
#5 – Keyword Stuffing
Speaking of keywords, here we have another frowned upon technique which sounds like it will work on paper but is vehemently tackled by Google’s algorithm and leads to a hefty penalty. Keyword stuffing is essentially the practice of packing as many keywords as possible into a page, in hopes of tricking the search engine into thinking that it is the most relevant page out there.
This is usually very easy to spot, and often means that sentences just don’t read properly due to the author only caring about sticking their keywords in there as many times as possible, ultimately lowering the quality of the copy itself.
#6 – HTML Heading Abuse
Similar to keyword stuffing, HTML abuse is very easy to spot and can be described as a very unnecessary abundance of headings, which aims to increase the amount of H1s on a page. This leads to short and choppy paragraphs which do not need to be broken up and makes reading the information presented unenjoyable and tedious.
#7 – Footer Link Spam
This will lead to a website being penalised due to the fact that the links are not embedded in a body of copy which means that it is not always straightforward as to why the link has been included on the page in the first place. In addition to this, having unrelated links within the footer of a web page may lead Google to suspect that some sort of link buying or selling has taken place, depending on what the links may or may not bring to the table.
#8 – Blog Spamming
Now that we’ve talked about links, as well as spamming keywords and H1s, we should also mention that blog spamming is another popular black hat SEO practice which should be steered clear from at all costs. Have you ever seen a comment section anywhere online which is absolutely jam-packed full of automated fake accounts simply posting links to something which you don’t care about? Well, that’s it.
This is a very selfish form of black hat SEO as it flouts the original purpose of having a comments section and makes actual comments on a blog much harder to find, potentially leading to a loss of engagement for the author.
#9 – Social Media Spamming
Moreover, this blog spamming tactic is also now used on social media, too. This can be seen all over Facebook and Twitter comment sections and really makes both the author and the audience of a post want to pull their hair out.
Once again, if Google finds that your website is receiving a lot of spammy links such as these, your website will be penalised for it, and chances are that most of the internet will hate you, too. No one likes a spammer. Don’t be one.
#10 – Clickbait
YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!!
…Because it never happened. We have all had to deal with clickbait at some point or another. And we have all been drawn in, enthralled by the absolutely unbelievable headline that we just couldn’t afford to not click on, only to find that the article has absolutely nothing to do with what we were initially led to believe.
This is another form of black hat dishonesty which is designed to draw a visitor in and lead them to a website, in hopes that they will then either buy something or read something else which the website’s host had in mind. However, this will ultimately lead to incredibly high bounce rates as users click off as soon as they realise they’ve been baited and will also lead to Google giving your website a big slap back down to the very bottom SERPs.
#11 – Bait & Switch
Similar to clickbait, this technique involves baiting a visitor in with something, such as a product sold at a very low price, for example, only to then offer something completely different to that which they had searched for in the first place.
Now just imagine if you finally found that new t shirt online which you were searching so desperately for, only to then click on and be greeted by a dress. The keywords on the page still lead you to believe you should be looking at that t shirt you were searching for, however it is unavailable and nowhere to be found. This is the bait and switch method.
While used frequently in the past by black hat SEOs, this technique can now actually result in legal action after a scandal involving Groupon back in 2011. Because of this, we would strongly suggest staying away from this one.
#12 – Shady Redirects
A shady redirect is essentially a hidden redirect which takes the user on a magic carpet ride to a completely different page, when they intended to click on something which they would never have thought to be a redirect. A perfect example of this would be when trying to watch a video online and clicking the “Play” button, only to be taken to some completely different website which is usually an advertisement of some sort.
It’s dishonest and is a disreputable way to get visitors to click onto your ads, which will also lead to some action being taken by Google.
#13 – Doorway Pages
A doorway page is similar to a shady redirect, however it is a slightly more intelligent technique which involves the use of a “door” (i.e, a page optimised for a given search query which is used to draw visitors in) which, once opened, leads the user to something related but not specific to what they were searching for.
Due to the sneaky nature of this particular technique, in March 2015 Google actually launched a doorway page-specific penalty to its guidelines, algorithmically annihilating any black hat SEO’s dreams of using it to deceive people.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why invisible text is an absolutely terrible idea and will get you caught out by search engines every single time.
On a more serious note, this is quite an old black hat SEO technique that was used back in the day to try and trick Google into indexing a load of information that was not visible to users. This meant that an article about the author’s 10 favourite cars, for example, would look like nothing more than that: an article about the author’s 10 favourite cars. However, to Google, it would also look like a recipe on how to make the perfect chocolate cake, as well as instructions on how to build a shelf from Ikea, as well as the full screenplay for the Shawshank Redemption. So basically, it would have all of this completely random information which would then make it appear for people searching for these things which just weren’t visible to users on the page.
However, this was one of the original black hat SEO techniques and, because of this, is one of the easiest for Google to spot and one of the quickest to get a website caught out.
#15 – Copying Content
Also known as plagiarism. This method of
creating stealing content
for your website will lead to poor SEO and could even lead to legal action
being taken depending on the content stolen and who it was stolen from. It is
also possibly the laziest form of black hat SEO out there, because other than
fleshing out a website a little bit and making it look like it has more
content, it isn’t even that good for SEO anyway. This is because it isn’t
giving Google any actual fresh content to index.
#16 – Content Automation
In fact, no… this is the laziest form of black hat SEO. Content automation involves using a programme which, as the title suggests, automatically pumps out content so that a website can bulk up on its content in the shortest amount of time. This basically results in some sort of Frankenstein’s Monster of content… with no formatting, no headings, paragraphs, styling and so on, it really is just a cheapskate way of giving Google more content to index with no thought of the actual audience whatsoever.
#17 – Duplicate Content
Now that we’re deep into the topic of content, we couldn’t miss duplicate content. This one is pretty straight forward, and basically just involves someone duplicating their content so that Google thinks their website has more pages to index, thus making their website more favourable and ranking better. However, this technique is pretty much obsolete nowadays – Google’s algorithm is intelligent, and it kind of knows a thing or two about content that it’s already crawled. This means that websites attempting to do this will now be punished.
If there’s one thing you need to know about Google’s website crawler, it’s that it absolutely despises old content. Its website crawler kind of treats recycled content like bumping into an ex on a night out; it’s already been there and done that, and it just wants to get away and enjoy something new.
So, if you would like to help Google out, ensure that you refrain from recycling old content and prevent Google from re-crawling content that it’s already seen.
#18 – Article Spinning
Sitting somewhere in between duplicate content and content automation, we have article spinning. Similar to content automation, this involves the use of a programme to generate content, however it typically uses real content written by a human as its source material. This is then put through a software which rephrases it while still containing the exact same information in a desperate bid to brand itself as “fresh content”.
While this does not lead to word-for-word duplicate content and may initially seem like fresh content, Google considers this to be black hat due to the fact that it does not actually bring any new content to visitors and is just a recycled version of something which it has already indexed. Almost as if Google’s ex got a nose job and dyed its hair, pretending to be a new piece of content.
#19 – Mirror Site Multiplication
A mirror site is pretty much just an entire duplicated website, albeit with an ever so slightly different URL, which has been created in an attempt to boost the overall ranking of the website and its content. While there are some legitimate uses of mirror websites and there are some reputable websites out there who use them, such as Wikipedia or the Environmental Protection Agency, it is often considered black hat when a website has a suspicious number of these mirror websites. More often than not, it is shady websites which use them, such as KickassTorrents, ThePirateBay, and so on.
#20 – Negative SEO
Possibly the most malicious entry on this list is that of negative SEO. For those who are unaware, negative SEO involves using black hat SEO techniques, like the ones mentioned above, on a competitor’s website in an attempt to have Google de-rank them and potentially even penalise them.
This can be done in a variety of different ways, such as link spamming on a competitor’s blog which will then clutter their blog with spammy links and also make it appear as though they have been buying or selling links. It could also be done by creating a link farm, which includes the target website as the primary site. Or, it could entail hacking into a competitor’s website and spreading various different black hat SEO sprinkles across the site.
Whatever the method, its aim is to breach Google’s Webmaster Guidelines as obviously and explicitly as it can in an attempt to have the target website de-ranked, thus making the perpetrator’s website rank better. As you can probably tell, this is a very time-consuming method of trying to improve your own website’s rank which just goes to show how nefarious this practice truly is.