Do you remember those old westerns where the “bad guys” wore black hats, which, from the audience’s perspective, clearly distinguished them from the “good guys” who wore white hats? Well, even if you don’t, this is where the terms “black hat SEO” and “white hat SEO” originate.
So, this means that if any amount of black hat SEO forms part of your ranking strategy, then you – according to internet judge, jury and executioner Google – are a bad guy. Why are you bad? Well, because you don’t conform to Google’s rules – and Google is the master of all.
What Is Black Hat SEO?
Well, put very simply, black hat SEO refers to any disapproved practice that is designed to increase a web page’s SERP ranking.
How can you tell if it’s a disapproved practice? Well, search engines like Google and Bing (though, let’s be honest, Google is the most critical) have terms of service. If a search engine deems that a website is in breach of any of these terms, then the site in question can find itself with a penalty or can even be banned/deleted from the search engine and affiliate sites.
Not everybody has read the various guidelines that are out there. Indeed, even if you’re reading this blog post, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to click on the links above and familiarise yourself completely with the rules that will keep your SEO practices above board. And indeed, some of you who are reading this might well be conducting in some black hat trickery right now without even knowing it.
Unfortunately, though, just like the laws of the land, Google’s laws don’t deem naivety a valid excuse (after all, you wouldn’t expect to get away with murder just because you didn’t realise it was illegal).
A good rule of thumb to avoid black hat SEO techniques is to ask yourself the following question – is the content that I’m adding to my site of value to the user or the search engine? If the answer is the latter, and the rankings are likely to increase, then it’s black hat. Simple as that, really.
5 Black Hat SEO Practices You Need To Stop Now!
Ok, so here’s where we want to highlight the problem areas. Many people still use these techniques, even though niggling in the back of their minds they know that they’re black hat – but how will Google really know, right? Well, the truth is that by using some or all of the practices below, your rankings may very well spike – briefly. Black hat is all about tricking Google’s algorithms, and these can be tricked – but the price of getting caught is hefty. Remember who’s really in charge of your website being discovered…
1. Keyword Stuffing
Once upon a time, Google used to rank websites partly based on the amount of keywords that were found on the site. And indeed, it stands to reason that if you want to help a user find your page, then it makes sense to include a few keywords in your content.
However, some SEO practitioners got into the habit of incorporating significant amounts of keywords and phrases into webpage content, regardless of whether or not they were relevant to the content of the pages in question. Generally, a keyword density of between 2% and 4% is considered optimal; anything above that is considered black hat, and will be penalised by the 2011 Google Panda update.
2. Guest Blogging For Link Building
This is a bit of a grey area, to be honest. Guest blogging can be good for SEO – and indeed you would hope to gain a few links to your website for your trouble. However, guest blogging for the sole purpose of link building on low-quality or irrelevant sites is not cool, and Google and users alike don’t like this practice.
3. Buying, Selling Or Sponsoring Links
Yes, link building is taken very seriously and is a significant ranking factor in SEO. Google knows that if a website has a lot of backlinks, then it must contain some really useful content that other users could benefit from, and so rewards the site with a higher ranking.
However, SEO practitioners know this, too, and, what some do is try and trick Google by paying for backlinks from other sites. Google frowns upon this practice, because, from a user’s point of view, these links are devalued because they are not organic, and thusly skew the results.
Now, we’ve all been tempted by a link scheme in the past – why not just pay a few quid for a few links and be done with it? Well, if you do decide to do this, then you need to be very careful where these links are coming from. Irrelevant links – links from sources that are obviously unrelated to a particular website – have a negative effect on SEO. If you didn’t realise this, then you do now, and you really should perform a site audit of all your past links and get rid of any that come from sites that are irrelevant to yours.
4. Keyword Stuffing Metadata
Similar to keyword stuffing, SEO practitioners may engage in meta tag/description stuffing. This is the practice of filling meta tags and meta descriptions with keywords and phrases, again, in an effort to convince Google to index and rank webpages high for those keywords and phrases.
However, this is simply an extension of keyword stuffing techniques – especially since some practitioners use these tags as an opportunity to use irrelevant keywords just to rank for them. Google has gotten pretty good at identifying the true topic of a page through the use of Latent Semantic Indexing, so this strategy will be discovered and you will be penalised if caught.
5. Comment Spamming
This is where you comment on various blogs, websites, forums and social networks and include a backlink to your own website. However, in 2005, Google introduced the nofollow attribute that, when coded, instructed crawlers to bypass such links when indexing sites. Yahoo and Bing’s crawlers follow the nofollow link but do not include it in their ranking calculations. Even so, some SEO practitioners still try and include follow links in these places, and this can indeed result in more traffic for a time. However, as with all black hat witchery, if you’re breaking Google’s rules then you will be punished if you get caught, and that’s a risk not worth taking.
How is your SEO knowledge? Got any black hat practices you need to shake? Share with us in the comments below!