What is Black Hat SEO?
Let’s start at the beginning by explaining what, exactly, black hat search engine optimization (SEO) means. Black hat SEO is any practice that works to essentially trick a search engine into ranking a website higher without actually improving user experience. Some common techniques include stuffing content full of keywords that don’t make sense in the context of the page, link farming, and cloaking.
The purpose of SEO is to give higher ranking to websites that have taken measures to improve user experience, and black hat tactics are simply a way of cutting corners and manipulating search engines without doing anything that adds value for your website users.
The opposite of black hat SEO is (you guessed it!) white hat SEO. White hat SEO techniques are any practices designed to improve user experience that work to increase search engine ranking. This includes writing valuable, relevant content that targets certain keywords, getting backlinks from authoritative sources, improving page-load speed and more. White hat SEO is far more ethical than black hat SEO and will give you much better results in the long term. To be blunt, if your digital marketing agency uses black hat tactics, you are paying them to harm your business in the long run.
What’s the Problem with Using Black Hat SEO?
What is so bad about using black hat SEO strategies, anyway? While these methods may provide a quick boost to your website’s rankings, there are a lot of drawbacks.
Because black hat SEO practices are against search engine guidelines, if the search engines spot any black hat tactics your website will be severely penalized. This means that your website might take a serious dive in rankings or could even be removed from search engines altogether. Search engines are getting continually better at finding these underhanded tactics, so it isn’t really a matter of if, but when your website will be penalized for black hat practices. Google, for instance, updates its algorithm often and the majority of ranking updates are to find and penalize websites that try to trick it.
Common Black Hat SEO Strategies
If you notice your marketing agency doing any of these, it likely means that they are engaging in black hat SEO practices in order to boost your rankings. Keep an eye out for these tactics and don’t ignore the red flags.
Keyword stuffing is when a particular keyword is used over and over again in the content on a web page when it is not relevant or interferes with sentence structure. This can look like constant repetition of a specific phrase, mentioning particular locations over and over again in a way that does not read naturally, or using keywords that do not fit with the rest of the content on a given page. Proper use of keywords in content means integrating them into valuable, easy-to-read content that provides real information relevant to the keywords it targets.
What to look for: Writing that overemphasizes a particular keyword or key phrase. You can also find many free keyword density checkers online that will tell which words are repeated the most. There is no hard-and-fast rule for density but it’s a good idea to compare yourself to the top search results. Does your page feel as naturally written? Does it have roughly similar keyword density?
Any content that is only on your website to appease search engines but does not actually add any value to someone reading it is black hat. While it’s true that search engines prefer websites that have more content, that content needs to be relevant to what the site is all about and provide useful information to users.
What to look for: Does your page answer the questions visitors want answered? Does it have a lot of unrelated information? If you answered “yes” to the second question, it’s probably time to re-evaluate the value.
Any redirects that send a user to a link that has different content from the URL they originally clicked is likely a black hat SEO technique. Redirects are meant to send users to the content that they are looking for, which may have moved to a different location. Redirects that send users to a page completely different from what they are looking for are usually attempts to manipulate search results by sending people to pages for more clicks. This produces a bad user experience and detracts from your brand’s trustworthiness.
What to look for: Dig a little into reporting tools like Google Search Console (GSC) and Google Analytics (GA). In GSC, are you being found for keywords that make no sense (a plumber should not be found for lawyer services related keywords)? In GA, check to see where your referrals are coming from. Do those pages have links to you for completely unrelated topics?
Trusted websites linking to your website will give you authority and improve your ranking, but paying websites to link to you will ultimately have the opposite effect. Paying for links is against search engine guidelines because it is fraudulent in that you are pretending that your website has more authority than it does. Organic or naturally incurred backlinks to your website are valuable, but if you are paying for those links, you are likely to suffer for it in the long term.
What to look for: Ask your digital marketing agency about how it gets its backlinks. Use a backlink checking tool to see if you gained a large number of backlinks in a short time from many low authority websites.
Cloaking is when a website shows a different version of a page to search engines than it shows to users. This can be done through hidden text, IP redirects, and more. This means that search engine crawl bots will be shown content that fools them into ranking the page higher than it should actually be, giving real users a poor experience when they make their way to the page. This can get you severely penalized by Google once it is discovered.
What to look for: Run the page through a cloaking checker (there are a number of free ones). Or use a tool like Google Search Console to see if the keywords the page is found for match its intent.
A link farm is a website (or websites) specifically created with the purpose of linking to other websites in order to get them ranking higher in search results. When search engines see that a website has a lot of links to it, they might give it higher ranking at first, but once search engines figure out that the links are coming from a farm and not from a reliable source, your website will be penalized and your rankings will fall. Make sure that you are aware of where links to your site are coming from and, if you suspect link farming, speak to whoever is in charge of your SEO.
What to look for: Do pages on your site cover seemingly random or unrelated topics? Are there pages that are nothing but links to other sites with no relation to your own? Do some of the URLs on your site consist of random letters or numbers? If your website has lots of pages with little to no value which have backlinks from unrelated and/or low authority sites, that’s a sign of link farming. Your website should have a theme and your pages should all relate to that theme.
How to Avoid Black Hat SEO
The best way to ensure that no black hat SEO practices are being carried out on your website is to make sure that you hire a trusted, reputable digital marketing agency. Ask your agency about their SEO practices and what they know about black hat vs. white hat practices, watch for red flags, and read reviews before committing to an agency.
At ThinkProfits, our SEO experts only use white hat practices, which are proven to help your SEO rankings improve in the long term. While you might not see results immediately, you will see your rankings go up steadily over time and can rest assured that all SEO services from us are adding value and authority to your website and will not cause Google to penalize you in the future.
For more information, book your free SEO consultation today!