SEO is an essential skill for anyone running a website or writing online content. But some SEO techniques are better than others. Black hat SEO tactics are deceptive SEO practices that can land your website in hot water. Using these techniques can seriously damage your search rankings and even see you banned from a search engine entirely!
In this article, we’ll give you some tips on how to avoid black hat SEO techniques. But first, what is black hat SEO?
What Is Black Hat SEO?
Black hat SEO is a system of tactics that try to trick a search engine’s algorithm into increasing a website’s ranking on the search engine results page (SERP).
The opposite of black hat SEO is white hat SEO. These are SEO practices that organically improve a website’s search rankings and comply with search engine guidelines.
Black hat SEO tactics may be tempting to website owners as a quick fix to boost their rankings in the SERPs. But search engine algorithms quickly pick up on this sort of behaviour and can penalise websites for breaching their guidelines.
Search Engine SEO Guidelines
All search engines have clear user guidelines. Black hat SEO techniques violate these guidelines. For example, some of the SEO techniques Google’s webmaster guidelines say to avoid include:
- Participating in link schemes
- Scraped content
- Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
Breaching these guidelines can affect your website’s search results rankings or even result in your website being banned from SERPs entirely.
Why Is Black Hat SEO Bad?
Black hat SEO tactics are generally considered unethical by the industry because they’re deceptive. They don’t contribute to an organic SEO strategy. They also undermine the quality of content available to internet users.
On top of that, search engines can penalise your website for using SEO techniques that violate its guidelines. This will negatively affect your rankings or result in your website being banned from a search engine’s SERP entirely.
Search engines prioritise user experience. If your website uses SEO techniques that result in a poor user experience, this will impact your rankings in the SERPs. So, using black hat SEO has the reverse effect of what you were trying to do in the first place!
Let’s look at some specific examples of black hat SEO techniques so you know how to avoid them.
What Are Black Hat SEO Techniques? (With Examples)
1. Keyword Stuffing
Stuffing as many keywords as possible into your content is a black hat SEO technique. Here’s a (very obvious) example of keyword stuffing:
We’re your local coffee machine experts! We have coffee machines that are big, we have coffee machines that are small, and we have coffee machines for every size in between. We can cater to all your coffee machine needs, no matter what kind of coffee machine you’re looking for. Drop into the East London Coffee Machine Shop or email email@example.com today for advice on your next coffee machine purchase!
Not a good look, right? Apart from reading poorly, internet users just aren’t interested in fluff. They’re searching for content that gives them the information they need to solve their problem. So, always avoid keyword stuffing and instead focus on providing engaging, quality content.
Search engines will quickly pick up on keyword stuffing. Nobody knows exactly what the keyword density threshold is for search engines. But a good rule of thumb is to keep it around 0.5-3%. To work out your keyword density, just divide the number of times your keyword appears by the total number of words in your content, then multiply that by 100. If this number is less than 2, you should be fine!
In our 67-word example above, the keyword “coffee machine” appeared 8 times (not including in the email address, which may or may not be recognised by Google’s algorithms). This makes our keyword density = 8/67 x 100 = 11.94%. Not good!
2. Duplicate Pages
If there are pages on your website that are an exact or close duplicate of existing content, search engines will downgrade your websites’ ranking in their SERP. Search engines prioritise original content. Duplicate content means search engines can’t distinguish between the pages, downgrading the search ranking of each duplicate page.
It’s possible for duplicate content to appear on your website due to web development or technical SEO issues. So, always keep an eye out for this and use SEO techniques such as canonical tags and meta-tagging to prevent this from happening in the first place.
It should go without saying that this includes blatantly reusing someone else’s content from a different website. Apart from being plagiarism, copying someone else’s content breaches most search engines’ guidelines.
3. Hidden Text
Hiding keywords is another big no-no when it comes to SEO. Websites do this by making the text the same colour as the background or by setting the font size to zero. It’s also possible to hide links in small parts of the content, such as a full stop or comma. These hidden keywords and links usually have nothing to do with the page content seen by users. Websites might do this to increase their SERP ranking by tricking search engines into picking up on the invisible keywords or links.
There are some white hat SEO techniques, such as using descriptive image alt text or code for Flash files, which involve using deliberately hidden text and links. It’s ok to use these if they’re intended to improve user experience. But if you’re trying to trick the search engines into finding your content, chances are you’re using a black hat SEO tactic.
4. Buying Links
Search engines don’t tolerate websites buying links, rather than using organic backlinks based on the quality of the website’s content.
It can take a while to organically build up your backlinking strategy. But as your website grows and gains authority, backlinks will come naturally. These backlinks will be high-quality and won’t rely on any black hat SEO tactics.
Websites engage in cloaking when the content they give to users is different from the content they provide to search engines. This is usually done by using a particular type of software. This technique tries to trick the search engines into displaying the page in search results for keywords unrelated to the website’s actual content.
There’s little to gain from cloaking your content. It’s a black hat SEO tactic that can negatively affect your search engine rankings. And while users might initially click through to your website, they won’t stick around once they realise your content isn’t relevant to their search.
6. Dishonest Redirects
Have you ever clicked on a search result and been taken to a page that has nothing to do with what you searched for? Aside from being frustrating, this is another black hat SEO technique called dishonest redirecting.
You can use redirects for a lot of legitimate reasons, such as moving a website to another domain or where a page no longer exists. But if the redirect is intentionally designed to mislead the user, it’s probably black hat SEO.
7. Social Media Spamming
Spamming social media users with unrelated links to your website is a black hat SEO technique. For example, imagine you use your coffee shop’s Instagram account to spam numerous links to a blog article about the best coffee machines, but you do so in the comments of a post by a baby clothes brand. This is black hat SEO.
This used to happen a lot on blogs when they first became popular. You would often see a lot of spammy-looking links to unrelated websites in the comments pages of blogs. Many blogs now moderate their comments or use WordPress plugins to avoid this.
8. Overusing HTML Headings
Using header tags to improve SEO is a white hat SEO technique. H1 tags improve your search rankings by telling search engines exactly what your web page is about. Headers are also necessary to break up large blocks of content, making it more readable for your users.
But stuffing your content with H1s is a black hat SEO technique, designed to trick search engines into picking up the header of a single page multiple times and rank it higher. These days, search engines usually recognise the overuse of H1s as spam. So, make sure you always use header tags appropriately. As the name implies, only use an H1 once on a web page! It’s okay to have lots of H2s/H3s and so on, but make sure you follow a hierarchical system.
How to Avoid Black Hat SEO
The easiest way to avoid black hat SEO is to focus on user experience, rather than marketing tricks designed to deceive search engines. By producing valuable content for your users rather than for search engines, and following search engine guidelines, you’ll build your digital marketing strategy on legitimate white hat SEO techniques. This is ultimately the best long-term strategy for both your users and your website’s SERP rankings.
If you’re ever in doubt when it comes to a particular SEO technique, keep Google’s basic principle in mind – “make pages primarily for users, not for search engines”. This way, you’ll avoid using any black hat SEO and falling foul of SEO best practices.