What is Black Hat SEO?

In a follow-up to our previous post on white hat SEO, today we’ll answer the question, “What is Black Hat SEO?” Even if you choose not to participate in it, it’s important to know how experts use black hat SEO tricks and techniques to improve their Google ranking.

Because there are an endless number of black hat SEO methods, it would be impossible to try to cover all of them in a single post. What follows is an overview of black hat search engine optimization in its most common forms.

What is Black Hat SEO?

Let’s answer the most basic question first…what is it? Here’s our definition:

Black hat SEO practices attempt to improve a web page’s search engine ranking through SEO methods that are prohibited by search engines or in violation of their Terms of Service.

To better understand what black hat SEO looks like, it’s useful to look at some popular examples:

Keyword stuffing

Have you ever seen a website with content that looked like this:

Cheapcarinsurance.com is your source for cheap car insurance for people who want cheap car insurance! Our cheap car insurance rates are cheap so grab your cheap car insurance before we raise the price of our cheap car insurance plans!

And on top of this nonsense, their meta tags will be chock full of their target keyword to the point of absurdity. This is someone who has given up on providing value to his audience and is just looking to rank #1 for his keyword, period. And this strategy actually used to work pretty well, which is why the practice got so popular.

Luckily for users, keyword stuffing no longer works and may actually harm your site’s ranking if it trips Google’s filter.

Cloaking

Cloaking is one of the more deceptive ways to dupe a search engine. In essence, cloaking is when you show search engines one version of your site but users see something completely different. Black Hat SEO experts might do this if a web page isn’t ranking on its own merits and they want to prepare a separate version of their web page just for search engine spiders to crawl.

Again, Google has caught up with this practice and it’s not easy to get away with cloaking in the modern era of SEO. Frankly, we can’t even think of a reason why anyone would want to do it anyway. It’s perfectly possible to rank for even the most difficult keywords with user-centered content. On page SEO factors are relatively less important than off-page SEO factors, anyway, so we’re not even sure why anyone would want to risk getting banned by Google for such a minor edge.

Doorway pages

Doorway PagesHere’s another sneaky one. Doorway pages are exactly what they sound like: pages that serve as “doorways” to other pages. What you do is create an ultra-optimized page for, say, ab workouts, and you use that page to rank for the phrase “ab workouts.” But when someone clicks on your page, they’re redirected to your sales page for exercise DVD. And then you optimize another page for the phrase “how to do crunches,” and that page also redirects to the same exercise DVD sales page.

The benefit of this system is that you can get tons of visitors to your “real” site by simply creating pages optimized for dozens of different keywords. It would be nearly impossible to rank one page for all those keywords, but when you focus on just one keyword per page, it’s much more doable.

For obvious reasons, Google hates this form of black hat SEO marketing because it tricks its users and if it happens enough, people will begin to distrust Google’s search results (bad news). So as a result, Google frowns heavily upon doorway pages and you should, too.

Hidden text

If your text is so spammy that you feel the need to hide it, it’s probably not a good idea to include it in the first place.

This one can manifest itself in a bunch of different ways. A common way is to have a huge chunk of keyword-ridden text at the bottom of your page that blends into the background. So if you’re too lazy to incorporate your target keywords within your content, all you would need to is stick them at the bottom of your page and voila, you’ve “optimized” that page for your keywords. This can also be achieved by setting your font-size at 1 pixel so although your text might be written in black, it’s too small for anyone to really notice.

Or maybe you’re renting out links to someone else but hiding them but using hidden text. Not only could you trip Google’s hidden text filter, you’re now also guilty of selling links for the purpose of manipulating PageRank. Double whammy.

Here’s the rule of thumb: if your text is so spammy that you feel the need to hide it, it’s probably not a good idea to include it in the first place.

Using automated link software

Blackhat SEO isn’t just what you do to your own site; it also includes the work you do on other sides with the intent of optimizing your own. What this usually means is link-building. And when we say link-building, we’re talking not dozens, but thousands of links. Sometimes in the span of a few minutes.

Automated SEO software that act as link machines are heavily looked down upon by Google and all other search engines. The entire reason why search engines rely on links to gauge site popularity is because links are supposed to be analogous to third-party votes. But when you use automated software to create these links, you’re basically hiring an army of robots to vote for you again and again.

This raises a very interesting question: can you send millions of automated spammy links to your competitors and get them penalized for engaging in black hat SEO? Google likes to say this isn’t possible and in most cases it’s not, but it’s definitely an idea that has been floating around the SEO world for years and plenty of people have tried it. With enough links it’s possible to rank a site for practically anything.

Notice anything funny?

Link Spamming

Does Black Hat SEO work?

In a world of imperfect search engine algorithms, there will always be effective ways to game the system and get an edge. These black hat SEO tactics will work in the short term and like any other fad, they will one day become relics. At any given time, though, there will be a host of black hat SEO techniques that actually do work, and so you must be wary of them when your site is being worked on by your SEO provider.

The problem for blackhat SEOs is that there is virtually no kind of black hat SEO that is undetectable, especially if you’re a high-ranking site for an extremely competitive keyword. After you’ve received all the traffic that you could muster, more and more eyes will begin to scrutinize every aspect of your site. If anything looks funny, your competitors will be all over it and your site will be penalized.

This is one of the main reasons why black hat SEO doesn’t pay in the long run. The better you are at it, the most obvious your tactics become, and the sooner you’re caught.

Is Black Hat SEO Worth It?

Here’s our final word: black hat SEO is unnecessary.

Your answer to this is the same as the answer to another question, “Is your site disposable?” If all you’re trying to do is make a quick buck off the latest trend and rank “Spring Break 2012″ #1 in Google, black hat SEO methods just might be what you’ll need to rank quickly. You might get your site yanked, but hey, so what? You only needed it to be up for a short time anyway.

But if your site is legitimate and you only wish to practice ethical SEO, getting caught engaging in black hat SEO can be your worst nightmare. Once you’re on Google’s blacklist, it’s not easy to get off of it. Google is very forgiving to new sites, but very unforgiving to proven violators.

Here’s our final word: black hat SEO is unnecessary. You simply don’t need to violate Google’s Terms of Service in order to rank in search engines, and this can be proven by the hundreds of sites that rank #1 for tough keywords without participating in a single bit of black hat SEO.

We’re proud to say that our SEO packages are absolutely clean of any black hat SEO. The benefits are short-lived and the consequences are just too damaging.

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