Black hat SEO refers to all those dodgy tactics you can employ to get better search rankings. As Google’s algorithm gets more and more sophisticated, it’s becoming harder to game the system. Employing any of these practices nowadays will land you with an expensive clean-up operation to recover your rankings.
Understanding black hat SEO is very important. You’ll know what to avoid if you’re looking after your site and you’ll know what to look out for if you’re outsourcing your SEO to a third party. If you have an agency up to no good on your behalf, it could cause big problems for your site.
Hidden keyword stuffing
A decade ago when search was a bit like the Wild West, there was all sorts of shady stuff going on in an effort to get quick wins. With Google relying heavily on keywords, stuffing target terms into meta tags was a common tactic.
Site owners would also hide blocks of meaningless text crammed full of keywords, either by making it the same colour as the page or putting it under a big empty space right at the bottom of the page. The idea was that Google would give the site a big tick for all those keywords, but human visitors wouldn’t see your spammy handy work.
So much has been written and spoken about duplicate content since Google’s Panda update that if you run a website, you’ll know by now that you need to avoid it. But back in the early days of search, you could build out a site with lots of very similar pages without needing to worry about a ranking penalty.
Nowadays though, any repetition needs to be avoided, even if there’s a legitimate reason for it. Your best bet is of course to produce unique content for each your pages. Failing that, you should use no index or canonical tags so that Google doesn’t think you’re trying pull a fast one.
It used to be so easy to build your links by submitting the same article to a bunch of article directories. The problem of course was that this led to more and more sites popping up with the sole purpose of hosting articles. In most cases, these sites were a horrible experience for the user and purely there for easy links.
Google’s Panda and Penguin updates both had elements that squished this tactic. Some of the sites have been made over and re-launched as proper publishing platforms, others have been killed off. If you find any still in business, you do not want links from them.
Links from bad neighbourhoods
Speaking of help you don’t need, if you’re getting ranking credit for links from what Google calls “bad neighbourhoods” the clock is probably ticking and you could see your traffic take an overnight hit. A big part of the Penguin update was about zapping links than had been manipulated.
This is a pretty broad tent and Penguin is still on the prowl, but buying a selling links, using link farms or any sites that offer little or no value to the users are definitely to be avoided. The same goes for the anchor text. If a high proportion of your anchor text is a keyword-heavy, you’ll want to balance that out with more brand links or it will raise a red flag.