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SEO Field Guide: How Black Hat SEO Can Backfire and Sink Your Rankings

February 26, 2021 | Northwoods Team, Your Trusted Digital Trail Guides

5 Minute Read

What is Black Hat SEO?

Black hat SEO tactics violate search engine guidelines to manipulate a search engine’s algorithm to artificially raise a website’s ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs).

Google and Bing spell out the prohibited practices and potential consequences of their use. Black hat techniques cause penalties that lower your website’s rank and thus reduce organic traffic.

Black Hat vs. White Hat SEO

Black hat SEO violates search engine guidelines. White hat SEO follows those guidelines to boost rankings.

Still, some marketers and website owners persist with black hat SEO, because in the short run it can appear to improve rankings faster and cheaper than playing by the rules. 

Long-term, black hat SEO is far more likely to hurt rather than help. Black hat can:

  • Lower search rankings.
  • Cause your site to disappear entirely from search results.
  • Create a poor and misleading user experience.

If you want true, long-term SEO value and mean to build a reputation as a trustworthy business, avoid black hat SEO entirely. Stick to ethical, sustainable white hat techniques.

Take Google’s Webmaster Guidelines seriously:

Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?

8 Black Hat SEO Tactics to Avoid

Some advanced SEO techniques can fall into gray areas, but most are distinctly black hat or white hat. Follow the good guys and avoid these eight black hat tricks, which definitely violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

1. Hidden Text

Hidden Text is invisible to the viewer. Black hats cram keywords into text that is in the same color as the background, positioned off screen or behind an image, that has a font size of zero, or is hidden by CSS. Search engine crawlers are much more sophisticated now and will detect the deception.

2. Keyword Stuffing

Cramming SEO keywords into your text where those words don’t make narrative sense or loading them into random blocks on your page might have worked for a while years ago. No more. Repeating your target keywords on a webpage will not raise your website rank. Quite the opposite.

3. Paid or Manipulative Links

Google looks at links as an editorial vote of trust from one website to another. Link schemes, among the most common black hat SEO tactics, undermine that trust. Links should be earned. Therefore, you should avoid any link building tactics such as:

  • Blog comment spam
  • Forum spam
  • Excessive link exchanges
  • Automated link building

To learn more about link building check out our blog post, Why Link Building Belongs in Your SEO Strategy.

4. Automatically Generated or Duplicate Content

Content remains one of Google’s top ranking factors. Creating great content isn’t easy. A common black hat SEO tactic is to automatically generate content around  keywords. Examples of auto-generated content are:

  • Content automatically translated by machine without review by a human editor.
  • Content assembled from a wide range of sources and re-published with no value added.
  • Content created automatically from scraping RSS.
  • The same content published on a multitude of location pages, each with a different name.

Follow SEO best practices to avoid issues caused by low-quality or duplicate content.

5. Cloaking

Cloaking manipulates content and/or URLs to send one, rank-boosting content set to search engines and a different content set to users.  

6. Misleading Redirects

Redirects are standard SEO procedure in updating an old URL or preparing a website migration. But black hats can use misuse redirects. One way is to display different content to search engines and to users (as cloaking does).

Search engines will index the original page, but the redirect will take users to a different destination URL. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines make it clear that sneaky redirects are black hat SEO tactics that violate guidelines.

7. Misuse of Rich Snippets and Structured Data

Structured data defines entities, actions, and relationships online. A common black hat SEO tactic abuses this type of markup by placing false information in the structured data.

Structured data spam is real. Google has specific guidelines for structured data.

8. Reporting a Competitor, or Negative SEO

Some black hat SEOs try to reduce their competitors’ rankings. A common malpractice: Point unnatural links to a competitor’s domain hoping the competitor will be penalized for it.

This is why analyzing your backlink profile is a critical SEO practice. If you notice anything suspicious going on with your website, you can file a spam report with Google. Reporting it improves algorithmic spam detection.

What Happens to Your Site If Caught Using Black Hat SEO Tactics?

John Mueller of Google says:

Sites don’t get permanently removed from Google – there’s always a way to get the site indexed again. Sometimes it takes a long time and a lot of work, but Google doesn’t have a list of permanently blocked sites. For manual actions (aka penalties), usually the things that lead to complete removal are quite severe, like when a site is just pure spam with nothing useful of its own on it.

He also said that reformed black hats can request reconsideration after fixing the problem:

In practice, that means Google has to re-review the site, depending on the type of manual action that can happen fairly quickly (e.g., “site is no longer hacked”) or take a bit of time (“I removed some bad links, idk if it’s enough” can sometimes take months).

For more reading on how Google handles sites that go against good SEO practice, read Search Engine Journal’s post, Google on the Worst It Can Do Against Black Hat SEO.

Black Hat SEO Key Takeaways

Black hat SEO poses a real risk to any website. Avoid it. That’s the takeaway. If you need assistance improving your site’s digital presence with white hat SEO techniques, Northwoods is here to help you.

To keep up with the latest digital marketing trends, subscribe to our blog emails. SEO is always changing, and we’re here to guide you through it. If you need assistance or answers to questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.