The Dark Side of SEO: Black Hat Techniques
If you’ve done any research regarding search engine optimization, you’ve probably heard about “black hat SEO”.
In black hat SEO, individuals (or firms) try to exploit search engines where they are weak in order to appear higher in search engine result pages (SERPs).
Of course, search engines like Google and Bing are constantly updating their algorithms to combat black hat methods. However, in rare cases, it’s possible to cheat your way to the top.
But be warned – black hat SEO offers short-term rewards and long-term punishments.
As we talk about black hat SEO, you may be thinking that you’re completely in the clear. After all, most of us don’t want to cheat the system to get on top.
However, know this: even those of us who could be considered “white hats” are at risk of embracing black hat tactics.
Not on purpose, of course. But even so, there’s still a risk.
Because search engine algorithms are complicated. There can be a very fine line between what’s permissible and what isn’t.
How do you stay on top of it all?
Consistently research best practices for Google, Bing, and other search engines. By keeping up with updates on each, you’ll be able to ensure that you don’t embrace any black hat techniques.
What are some of the most common black hat techniques that can be utilized by mistake? There are several, including:
- Keyword Stuffing
- Irrelevant or Dishonest Backlinking
- Automatically Generated Content
The keyword stuffing method that’s common in black hat SEO has been around for quite some time.
In fact, keyword stuffing was essentially the original black hat method.
When search engines were just starting to come about, they relied on keywords to inform them about how relevant a page was.
After all, if someone was searching for “SEO firm” it would make sense to direct people towards a page that contained that exact phrase a few times.
Of course, search engines basing their algorithms off of something so simple ensured that the door was opened wide to manipulative efforts. Site owners quickly rushed to fill their sites with relevant phrases, jamming them everywhere that they could find.
In some cases, the most crafty site owners even filled up white space on their sites with white text that just repeated the keyword countless amounts of times.
These days, search engines have gotten smarter and don’t react as well to keyword stuffing. They’re much more likely to value content that’s actually relevant – at least as far as they can tell.
But that doesn’t mean the keyword stuffing efforts have come to an end. Everywhere you look, you’re still likely to find sites that attempt to manipulate their way to the top using this method.
While it’s essentially ineffective, there are still a few scenarios that can allow pages stuffed with keywords to reach the top for a very short amount of time. Once they’re determined to be irrelevant, they’ll disappear from the front page once again.
Irrelevant & Dishonest Backlinks
Almost anyone who’s ever tried to improve their site’s SEO performance is likely aware of this one thing:
Backlinks are great for SEO.
What’s not always so apparent is that only some backlinks are great for SEO. Some of the other backlinks available out there on the web are actually detrimental to your efforts.
Because once again: where there’s a ranking factor, there’s a way to exploit it.
If all that mattered in SEO was the number of backlinks that you could accumulate, everyone would be racing to pay for, steal, and manipulate their way towards earning thousands.
Thankfully, search engines have built-in protections against this. Most have decided that quality trumps quantity.
But that being said, black hat SEOs still make use of backlink strategies that are ridden with manipulative tactics. They’ve tried to disguise their efforts to win backlinks dishonestly.
In some cases, it works. In others, it destroys sites.
Eventually, search engines are likely to catch up to trickery, and they’ll punish your site if they find that you’re in the act.
Automatically Generated Content
If great websites are packed with tons of great content, you can see why black hats immediately jumped on the idea of “creating” content automatically.
Creating genuinely great, relevant content is hard work, and the idea of leaving this task to be done automatically makes a lot of sense – at least in theory.
However, like other black hat SEO techniques, automatically generated content ends up doing more harm than good.
This is the case because great content is rarely created by automatic means.
Think about it:
Most automatically generated content is actually “curated” not “created” – programs simply pull in pre-existing content from other sites across the internet in place of making their own.
Except in unique scenarios, curating pre-existing content is not perceived as valuable.
Relevancy & Trustworthiness
Even though you might not be intending to violate any best practice, it’s easy to make a mistake every now and then. There’s a thin line between keyword stuffing and keyword “sprinkling” for instance, and it’s best to do some research on how much is too much.
As search engines continue to get more and more intelligent, our theory is that two things will always drive the best results: relevant content and trustworthiness. While the most effective ways to be relevant and trustworthy may change over time, you can rest assured that it’s always in your best interest to create content that considers users first. If your content can be considered as genuinely valuable to your target audience, you’ll always score points for relevancy. If third parties continually point to you on the web as a reliable, honest source, you’ll always be known as trustworthy.
If all of this talk about black hat and white hat SEO bores or terrifies you, then we are here for you.
At FeedbackWrench, we focus on building trustworthy, relevant web presences for our clients. We continually research white hat techniques and black hat practices alike so that we can align your site with your best interests for long-term results. For more on this topic, check out our blog post about the two ingredients important to local SEO.