What is Black Hat SEO and Why You Must Avoid It

  In SEO

So, what is Black Hat SEO?

Black Hat SEO is the process of using unethical, unapproved, or even illegal tactics to grow a site’s traffic and rankings through search engine optimization (SEO). More often than not, such tactics result in only short-term gains. Over the long-term, black hat SEO practices can seriously hurt a site’s traffic and credibility, and even get you banned from search engines.

In this post, we’ll help you understand what exactly is black hat SEO, and why you must avoid it all costs.

Understanding the Three Types of SEO

If you’ve spent any time on marketing websites, you probably know that SEO comes in three varieties: black, white and gray.

  • White Hat SEO refers to all legitimate tactics approved by Google for growing a site’s backlinks and search engine rankings. This includes, but isn’t limited to influencer marketing, content marketing, content curation, etc.
  • Black Hat SEO refers to all unapproved, unethical and illegitimate tactics to grow a site’s search traffic. Using hidden content, using doorway pages, link farming, etc. fall under this criteria.
  • Gray Hat SEO refers to tactics that fall somewhere between white hat and black hat. Some of these tactics include buying backlinks, using old domains, social media automation, etc. Search engines usually don’t have explicit rules banning these tactics, but they are still looked down upon.

Understand that while search engines are becoming smarter every year, they cannot look under the hood of every site and analyze its marketing strategies. Since top positions in any search engine are extremely valuable, marketers sometimes use black hat SEO tactics to get an advantage over competitors. Since such tactics are unfair and unethical, sites using them often get heavily penalized in the SERPs.

Before we can fully understand how black hat SEO can affect your site, it is important to figure out what Google and other search engines actually look for in a website, and how that defines ‘black hat SEO’.

What Exactly is Black Hat SEO?

Understanding what black hat SEO is, and isn’t can be hard. While both Google and Bing publish in-depth webmaster guidelines, there are no distinct rules defining what activities may be construed as black hat or white hat. Some SEO tools and tactics are looked down upon, but won’t automatically earn you a penalty. At the same time, some tactics that might have been okay two years ago, might be categorized as ‘black hat’ in the near future.

However, there is one thing both Google and Bing agree not: that web pages should be made “primarily for users, not search engines”.

This means that any attempt to over-engineer a page to rank well can have a negative effect on your rankings. Stuffing the page with keywords, using keywords excessively in links, using hidden content, buying backlinks to gain rankings, etc. all fall under this category.

Thus, the litmus test for black hat SEO is simple: ask yourself a question – “does this page offer the best possible experience to my users?”. If the answer to this question is ‘yes’, you are in the clear.

That said, there are a list of activities that are strictly prohibited by Google. Some of these are:

  • Using automatically generated content
  • Cloaking
  • Using duplicate content
  • Participating in link schemes
  • Creating pages with malicious content such as malware
  • Using hidden text or backlinks
  • Stuffing a page with keywords

You can take a look at all these activities on Google’s Webmaster Guidelines page.

Why Should You Avoid Black Hat SEO?

Users turn to search engines to find the best possible resource for a query. When a user types in history of automobile into a search engine, he expects to find links to pages that give a detailed overview of the automobile’s history.

Black-Hat-SEO

As the image below shows, the first result for this query is a Wikipedia page on the automobile’s history:

Now imagine what would happen to the user experience if a car dealership was able to rank a page filled with car ads at the top of the SERPs for this query. The user experience would be negatively impacted, which would cause users to lose trust in Google.

Thus, search engines have a vested interest in showing only the highest quality web pages to their users. To ensure this, they heavily penalize any site that tries to game their algorithms through black hat SEO tactics.

Besides SERP penalties, here are five other reasons why you must avoid black hat SEO:

  1. Short-term results: No matter how smart or advanced a black hat SEO tactic is, search engines eventually catch up. Thus, any results you might get from these tactics usually last only for a few months at most. We’ve seen this in the past with Google Panda and Google Penguin which decimated sites that used black hat tactics.
  1. No no-spam guarantee: A key black hat SEO tactic is to purchase links from link vendors at a low price. While this may give you a quick ranking boost, there is no guarantee that the link vendor won’t sell backlinks to spam sites. This means that your site will get associated with spammy properties in dubious niches. This can hurt the credibility of your site almost immediately.
  1. Affects user trust: Black hat SEO often uses tactics such as link cloaking (showing a link as an authority resource when it’s not) to game search engines and users alike. Doing this affects how users perceive your site. When you promise to link them to NYTimes but redirect them to a spammy URL, you will immediately lose their trust.
  1. Poor ROI: When you use black hat SEO, you are essentially playing a game of cat and mouse with search engines. There is no guarantee when a search engine might figure out your SEO tactic and penalize your site. This can sometimes happen in just a week. The short-term results mean that your ROI is usually low. You’ll see far better results in the long-term by investing in quality white hat SEO tactics.
  1. Search engines are getting smarter: This is the perhaps the most important reason to avoid black hat SEO: search engines are becoming smarter every year. It is becoming harder and harder to game them with black hat tactics. With Google utilizing search quality raters extensively, you’ll find it very difficult to game search engines for lucrative keywords.

Closing Words

Black hat SEO promises a lot, but delivers very little. It can tank your rankings, wreck your site’s credibility and destroy your business in the long-term. Not only does it offer poor ROI, it is also getting extremely difficult to use such tactics effectively. For building a sustainable, long-term business, you’ll see far better returns by investing in white hat SEO, content marketing and social media.

mike@marccx.com
Michael Peggs is the founder of Marccx Media, a digital marketing agency specializing in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Before Marcxx, Peggs worked at Google in business development, forming digital media and advertising partnerships in the United States and Asia. He is also a contributor to The Huffington Post, FastCompany and Business Insider as well as and podcaster, hosting the iTunes Top 10 New & Noteworthy Podcast You University.
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