Google has taken numerous steps to solidify its position as the preeminent search engine of choice, including regular updates to its algorithm and also providing Webmaster Guidelines that help web developers and SEO professionals know exactly what the rules are for their game. This does not mean there will not be people who want to circumvent the rules and accomplish goals using otherwise forbidden techniques. Such practices largely constitute Black Hat Techniques.
Black hat SEO, gets its name from the old cowboy movies in which the bad guys wore black hats. It is not as though black hat SEO practitioners do not know the rules of search engine optimization, but they instead use their understanding to create shortcuts not specified in Google’s best practices.
Contrast this approach with so-called white hat SEO practitioners, who will adhere to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, promote high-value content, and engage in proper keyword research to win the SERP wars. Google knows how to identify and penalize black hat SEO techniques, but people still try them anyway.
What follows will be 17 different black hat practices you should avoid because they can lead to algorithmic or manual penalties. Some of these practices people may do without intending to, so it will be good for you to familiarize yourself with black hat SEO and make sure that you are not engaging in any of these practices.
Black Hat Linking Techniques
1. Buying Links
High-quality and relevant hyperlinks help drive traffic to your domain while also telling the Google algorithm that you should be a trustworthy source. A solid backlink may also help Google map your website so it has a better idea of what you are all about and make it easier to serve you up as a search result.
Buying a link will be against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and Google says it will not work anyway. When you are caught buying links, you can get an automatic and manual penalty that impacts specific webpages or possibly even the entire website.
Google tracks different links that are likely to have been purchased as well as the ones that have been earned. The type of website that would sell you a link is also the kind of website you do not want to buy a link from because it is easier for Google to identify unnatural patterns, even on Google’s own properties.
2. Free Products for Links
Any giving, taking, or exchanging of free products or discounts for hyperlinks will be viewed as a link scheme by Google. To avoid being considered a link scheme, you will want to make your link a no-follow link, which is a hyperlink with a rel=“nofollow” tag.
A no-follow link will ensure that a link does not impact a search engine’s ranking algorithm.
3. Footer Links
The footer is considered to be the prime real estate for links because footers will appear on every page of a website. If you add footer links with commercial anchor text at scale to manipulate results, Google can identify those and penalize you for it.
4. Hidden Links
If you think about hiding a link in a website’s text or having a link appear to be the same color as the background, Google notices this and penalizes you. You should also know that enough irrelevant links gives Google less reason to direct traffic to your target audience since you are diluting your relevance.
Deceptively hidden links are considered a violation of Google’s guidelines, which means no keeping text off-screen using CSS, no hiding text behind an image, no using a font size of 0, and no making a single character, like a period, a link.
5. Comment Spam
While you might be able to share a link to your website in the comments section of a website, this practice should be avoided unless it is particularly relevant. You can be penalized for being a spammer, and using comments to try and build links is generally seen as not being effective anyway.
6. Overused Anchor Text
While matching your page’s title every time you share a link because the title is what your page is about, Google can view this as spamming. Try to keep your anchor text brief, unique, relevant to the linked-to page, and not overly stuffed with keywords.
Consider what anchor text would look like if a link were a natural part of its surroundings. The rule is true for both internal and external links.
7. Malicious Backlinks
Certain black hat SEO practitioners may try to use the Google penalty system to advance their agenda by using websites that you do not want to associate with link to you to drag down your page rank. Google thus created a form that allows you to disavow links.
This means that when you go through your backlinks, you are able to disentangle yourself from undesirable domains.
8. Private blog networks (PBNs)
PBNs are a link-building tactic for grey hat SEOs that are simply a network of websites that a person uses to link out from to increase the rankings of one or more websites. They were far more prevalent 20 to 30 years ago, particularly amongst fan pages for different TV shows, movies, musicians, and entertainment products.
They are not necessarily bad on their own, but webrings can be considered a link scheme when they are designed to manipulate the Google algorithm.
Content Black Hat Techniques
9. Keyword Stuffing
This is a somewhat ancient process that once delivered results because simply overloading website text with keywords could boost a page’s ranking. The practice is largely frowned upon now and Google’s effort to deliver high-quality results means it is looking for content that is rich in semantically-linked keywords.
The current algorithm now provides high-quality content instead of content simply bearing the manufactured markings of high-quality content.
10. Hidden Content
Hidden content refers to content that is made the same color as a background, and the tactic is intended to include as many keyword phrases, long-tail keywords, and semantically-linked words as possible on a webpage. Google’s algorithm is capable of telling the difference between keywords within the body of a paragraph and keywords hidden in the background.
Hidden content can end up on your website even when you did not intentionally put it there. You might publish a guest post from someone who uses hidden content, your commenting system might not be rigorous enough and could fail to pick up hidden content, or your website could be hacked and the hackers may put up their own hidden content.
An authorized user might accidentally put up hidden content if they copy and paste text with CSS styling from another source. In general, content will be OK so long as it is visible to both the user and the search engine.
11. Article Spinning
Just like duplicated or plagiarized content, article spinning involves re-writing content through changing sentence structure, substituting synonyms, or entirely re-writing text while communicating the exact same information as the source material. Article spinning may be accomplished manually or through different kinds of technology.
Even though automated article spinning is now at the point in which articles are readable, Google can still penalize you for spun articles.
12. Plagiarized or Duplicated Content
Also known as scrapping or duplicating, plagiarizing any website content may violate copyright or trademark laws. Because Google only wants to share high-quality domains, plagiarism will be grounds for a penalty.
13. Rich Snippets Spam
Rich snippets are kinds of snippets that contain more information, and more information could drive more traffic. There are several ways, however, that a schema used to generate these snippets could be manipulated, so Google has dedicated an entire support page to the topic.
Cloaking is one of the oldest black hat tricks that is still being used today. It involves using a flash or animated page to conceal information for your visitors that only Google will see in the HTML. When Google catches you cloaking, it results in a penalty.
15. Doorway Pages
Doorway pages are a kind of cloaking designed to rank for particular keywords but then redirect visitors to other pages. These are also known as bridge pages, portal pages, jump pages, gateway pages, and entry pages.
16. Keyword Stuffing in Alt Tags
While alt-tags may seem like a no-harm opportunity to use as many keywords as possible, stuffing in such a context can also hurt a website’s rankings. Misusing alt tags does a website’s visitors a disservice, and alt tags may be read aloud to visually impaired users by screen readers, what gets displayed if an image file cannot be loaded, and helpful to search engines trying to understand images.
17. Hacked Website
Having an unsecured website cannot technically get you a Penguin or Panda penalty, but it can result in the loss of valuable rankings. If a website is attacked or injected with malicious code and Google finds out, they can block the website for people using their search engine.
This not only causes you to lose the trust of anybody who visits your website from organic search, but it also causes your website to drop in the rankings. While you could receive a notification through Google Analytics that your website has been hacked, it may still mean a real penalty for your website in search results if Google knows your website contains malicious code.
The bottom line remains that the rewards of the black hat path are extremely short-lived. You cannot do something right without knowing how to do it wrong, which is why every white hat SEO also needs to know about the black hat path.
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