To remain the most popular search engine in the world, Google has to continuously update its algorithm to continue delivering users the most useful results. To this end, Google also makes available Webmaster Guidelines, so everyone from web developers to SEO professionals knows the rules of the game. Of course, plenty of people want to win the game without following its rules. For such people, there’s black hat SEO.
Black hat SEO gets its name from old cowboy movies where the bad guys wear black hats.
In short black hat SEO are shortcuts that aren’t exactly laid out in Google’s best practices. Initially, they might provide a significant increase in traffic and rankings. However, they might then be penalised as Google and other Search Engines update their algorithms.
This is in juxtaposition to white hat SEO practitioners who follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, promote high-value content, and engage in deep keyword research to win in the SERPS.
Google is good at identifying and penalizing black hat SEO techniques, but that doesn’t stop people from trying them anyway.
Here are 10 black hat SEO techniques that you should keep an eye out for.
1. Buying Links
A high-quality, relevant link can drive traffic to your domain while also telling Google’s algorithm that you’re a trustworthy source.
A good backlink can also help Google map your website so that it has a better idea of what you’re all about, making it easier to serve you up as a search result.
Buying a link, however, is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and – according to Google – it doesn’t work.
If you’re caught, you could get an automatic and manual penalty that impacts specific pages, or worse, the entire site.
Google tracks links that are likely to have been bought and those that have been earned.
Additionally, the sort of website that sells you a link is the sort of website you wouldn’t want to buy a link from because it is easier than you think for Google to identify unnatural patterns – even for Google’s own properties.
2. Free Products for Links
Whether you’re giving or taking, exchanging free products (or discounts) for links is considered a link scheme by Google.
To not be considered a link scheme, make it a no-follow link, which is a link with a rel=“no-follow” tag.
A no-follow link ensures that the link doesn’t impact the search engine’s ranking algorithm.
3. Footer Links
The footer is prime real estate for a link because footers appear on every page of a website.
If you’ve been adding footer links with commercial anchor text at scale to manipulate results, Google will likely be able to identify those and penalize you for it.
4. Hidden Links
You may think that you can hide a link in your website’s text or by having the link appear in the same colour as the background, but Google will notice and penalize you for trying to game the system.
Additionally, if you include enough irrelevant links, you’ll give Google less reason to direct traffic to your target audience since you’ll be diluting your relevance.
Deceptively hidden links are a violation of Google’s guidelines. That means:
- No hiding text behind an image.
- No keeping text off-screen using CSS.
- No using a font size of 0.
- No making one little character, like a period, a link.
5. Comment Spam
You may be able to share a link to your website in the comments section of a website, but you should avoid doing so unless it’s relevant.
Otherwise, you risk being penalized for being a spammer as using comments to build links is essentially not effective.
6. Overused Anchor Text
It may make sense to match your page’s title every time you share a link to it because the title is what your page is about, and consistency could imply relevancy.
But from Google’s perspective, this is also what it would look like if you were lazily spamming.
Instead, you should make your anchor text brief, relevant to the linked-to page, not stuffed with keywords, and unique.
This makes sense given that this is what anchor text would look like if the link were a natural part of its surroundings.
This rule holds for both internal and external links.
7. Malicious Backlinks
Some black hat SEO practitioners will try to use Google’s penalty system to advance their agenda by having websites that you wouldn’t want to associate with link to you to drag down your page rank.
For this reason, Google created a form to help you disavow links.
This way, when you go through your backlinks, you can disentangle yourself from any undesirable domains. However, you should be careful if you are looking to disavow links because they might be more valuable than you think.
So it turns out that toxic backlinks were never a thing, to begin with. Just a ploy from SEO tools and removing “toxic links” will do more harm than good.
Private Blog Networks or PBNs are websites that link to each other.
They used to be much more prevalent in the 90s and early 2000s, particularly amongst fan pages for different tv shows, movies, musicians, etc.
They’re not necessarily a bad thing, but rings of websites are considered a link scheme when they’re designed to manipulate algorithms.
9. Keyword Stuffing
If SEO were only about using keywords, then a block of keywords would be all it takes to rank number one.
But since Google wants to deliver high-quality results, it looks for content-rich in semantically-linked keywords.
That way, the algorithm is more likely to provide high-quality content instead of content that simply bears the superficial markings of high-quality content. This means that rather than trying to artificially include as many instances of a keyword as possible, you should include them in a way that reads naturally.
10. Hidden Content
Like a hidden link, hidden content is content that’s made the same colour as the background.
It’s a tactic that intends to include as many keyword phrases, long-tail keywords, and semantically-linked words as possible on a page.
Of course, Google’s algorithm can tell the difference between keywords within the body of a paragraph and keywords hidden in the background.
There are several routes hidden content can take to end up on your site beyond being intentionally put there by the site owner.
- You could publish a guest post from someone who includes hidden content.
- Your commenting system could be insufficiently rigorous and, as a result, fail to pick up on hidden content.
- Your website could get hacked, and the hackers could put up hidden content. This is also known as parasite hosting.
- An authorized user could accidentally put up hidden content because they copied and pasted text with CSS styling from a different source.
Not all hidden content is forbidden, however.
The rule of thumb is that the content is okay so long as the content is visible to both the user and the search engine.
An example may be content that’s only visible to mobile visitors but is hidden to desktop visitors.
The rewards of the black hat path are short-lived. They’re also unethical because they can make using the internet worse.
But you can’t do something right without knowing how to do it wrong, which is why every white hat SEO also needs to know about the black hat path.
That way, you know how to steer clear of it.