You’d think only an idiot would take Mad Magazine literally. Except the Oxford English Dictionary did just that. The big fancy, mid-Victorian, bastion of the English language, the OED, has officially donned the slang term black hat with the title of “word.”
The term “black hat” originated in the Spy vs Spy comic, which appeared in Mad Magazine in the 1960’s. The cartoon featured covert battles between White Hat, our hero, and Black Hat, the less savoury of the two. I’m sure there was some Cold War metaphor to the thing, but what mattered to the average 13 year-old, it was a paneled Tom and Jerry bit… Except with those round cartoon bombs that hurt no one, plus tanks, those are awesome.
Fortunately, those 13 year-olds grew up (many still think tanks are awesome though) and started to use it as a term in their day-to-day, so much so that black hat made its way into the OED.
What Does Black Hat Have To Do With SEO?
Any character that tries to game the system in their favour with underhanded techniques, that’s black hat in a nutshell. In the SEO world, it’s a person that uses certain methods to game and fool search engines into ranking websites more favourably. They’re the type of people who sneak into a taxi mid-marathon to place first.
The list of black hat SEO techniques runs long and to ennumerate them all would be unproductive, not to mention there’s only so much scrolling that middle mouse button can take. Instead, here are some classic dishes:
Stuffing Keywords like A Turkey
“Ultimately, keyword stuffing isn’t about the keyword, stuffing is about telling the search engine that the keyword, keyword stuffing, is on this page, and by ensuring that a percentage of seven or above of said stuffing keyword, it makes sure that Google ranks this web page as high because of keyword stuffing. So when someone types in keyword stuffing, it’ll appear in the top with regards to the search term keyword stuffing.”
If you’ve ever seen web copy like the above, that’s keyword stuffing. It’s the practice of loading a web page with keywords in an attempt to improve the website’s ranking. The logic is that the more times a keyword is repeated the more likely a search engine will think it’s a relevant term for a site. Fortunately, most search engines look for this technique and anyone caught using it will find themselves penalized.
Comment Spamming: Many Empty Compliments
Spend a few month’s managing a blog and you’ll become very familiar with all those interested readers from exotic countries who love to leave comments like:
“Hey! Would you mind if I share your blog with my myspace group? There’s alot of peoples that I think would really approve your content. Please let me know. Many thank yous”
“Perfection! I think you should boost more Instagram fans with SocialKingMaker.com help! Look at their page – SocialKingMaker.com”
After a month of those well-spelled and Wildean comments, you’ll quickly learn that they are simply trying to piggyback off your blog. With no interest in adding to the conversation, they seek to get a link on your blog. Nothing more, nothing less, just empty links to healthcare supplements in India.
Hidden Text and Links
It was common practice to dump in a ton of links and keywords and hide them or colour the font the same as the background. That way a human would read one thing and the bot scanning the web page another.
It’s a cheap trick and doesn’t work anymore, I bring it up because if you see it, not only will you have found evidence of a black hatter, but also one who is really behind the times.
Who are the Heroes, Then?
We’ve all heard the adage “show don’t tell.” Telling a search engine that you are important by shoving in keywords or hijacking links from other websites are just two examples of many. Black hat has no interest in quality; they are ticking boxes to please a search engine. The problem is humans are doing the actual viewing and search engines like it when you are creating something fit for human consumption. It’s like running a restaurant to please the health inspector, all the while serving the diners pig slop out back.
It’s no wonder why the Oxford English Dictionary included the term
Even though its origins are silly, black hat deserves its place in the OED right alongside distasteful, arch-villain, sully and other words Shakespeare just made up.
I mean if neuroscientists can have a Sonic the Hedgehog gene then we can have a cartoon. But that’s beside the point. Black hat is something our industry faces and not because it makes it harder for us to compete, but because it comes from a want to make money instead of quality content.
While I cannot speak for everyone, odds are the main reason a business goes down the black hat road is to save a buck, and I can’t blame them, the deal is really good. I mean really good, like cents on the dollar good, like too good to be true good.
However, is the savings worth it if it means Google’s top spot will go to someone else? You might see it for a second or two but then it’ll fall once penalized. And even though you’ve saved a thousand dollars, you’ll have to spend ten times that to fix it all up. Black hat is insidious because it’s a short-term strategy with horrible long-term effects. It’s the cigarette smoking of the digital marketing world. In fact, it’s a term that we’d equate to fraud; not so silly anymore, is it?
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