Recognizing Harmful Black Hat SEO Tactics and How to Avoid Them

Black hat SEOIf you’re fairly new to utilizing digital marketing and SEO tactics for your company, you may have heard of terms like “white hat” and “black hat” but not be entirely certain what they refer to.

In this post, we’ll examine the distinction, define a variety of black hat techniques, and illustrate how to avoid them so you aren’t penalized.

White Hat SEO vs. Black Hat SEO

White hat SEO simply refers to following established guidelines for optimizing and promoting content on a website that have been approved of by major search engine providers like Google and Bing.

These search engines want to provide a positive user experience for their searchers to keep them coming back again and again, and thus “reward” white hat tactics and “penalize” black hat tactics when the latter is discovered.

White hat tactics encompass anything that isn’t seen as unfairly gaming the system. Approved tactics include:

  • Keyword use
  • Developing lengthy/authoritative content
  • Internal and external linking
  • Optimizing a page’s metadata and images
  • Designing a site to be responsive and mobile-friendly

There are, of course, many other methods that are considered white hat tactics, with those above just being some of the most widely used ones.

Black hat SEO, meanwhile, encompasses tactics that are meant to game the system and usually provide only short-term jumps in keyword positions and traffic, while delivering questionable or little value to a searcher.

Many of these tactics are policed by search engines like Google and Bing which penalize pages they are found upon.

The good news is if you’re new to SEO it’s unlikely you would have inadvertently engaged in black hat SEO techniques as the majority of them require specific actions meant to deceive. If you’ve worked with a less-than-reputable agency in the past, however, they may have done so on your behalf.

Let’s take a look at a number of these tactics.

Black Hat SEO Tactics to Avoid

  • Keyword Stuffing – One outdated tactic from the “wild west” days of SEO is stuffing a page with keywords to try to gain hits. Instead of producing pages with specific, targeted, and relevant keywords, writers would repeat phrases ad nauseum or simply list names of cities and states where they wanted to rank, disregarding context, sentence structure, grammar, etc.
    • To avoid this pitfall, simply incorporate relevant keywords into well-crafted copy. About 8-10 per page should suffice. If you have pages that currently feature keyword stuffing, you’ll want a professional strategist and writer to clean up your copy to ensure its corrected and will provide results in the future.
  • Invisible Keywords – Another dated tactic involves putting “invisible” keywords on a page by making their text color the same as the background. This method often worked in conjunction with keyword stuffing. Writers also would frequently write keywords in this invisible text for something other than what the page represented, but was deemed valuable. For instance, “Chicago restaurants” and “Nike shoes” are keywords that would get a lot of traffic, so if you used them on a page your site would possibly get a lot of traffic in the short term, even if the user was frustrated.
    • Like keyword stuffing, this is one that would have needed to have been done intentionally, so if you or your agency have never engaged in this practice, you’re good to go.
  • Bait and Switch – A similar tactic to the above involves tricking search engines into believing your site is providing content that it isn’t. You would craft content for keywords to gain a certain rank, then alter the content to another topic once that rank is achieved.
    • This tactic, too, is one that you would have needed to do intentionally, unless you significantly revised copy to talk about an aspect unsupported by your keywords.
  • Deceptive Redirects – Redirecting users from one page to another can be very valuable, but if you direct search engines to one place and users to another you’re entering into black hat territory. Similarly, you could redirect a high-performing page to a low-performing one to boost the latter for a short-term gain. None of these tactics are ones you would want to engage in, though.
    • As long as you aren’t doing any of the above and your redirects are merely trying to lead users to relevant content and/or remove older, outdated posts, you’ll firmly be in the white hat camp.
  • Blog Comments – Though this is one that’s all but disappeared you’ll still see it occasionally. Some black hat operatives will comment on a blog with a link to their site of choice, often providing little to no value to the post itself. This used to be a good, if deceptive, way to get backlinks to your site from other websites, but Google caught wise and now most blog comments are “no follow,” meaning engaging in this will give you no credit.
    • If you or a representative have done this in the past, you’ll want to go into Google Search Console, Moz Link Explorer, or SEM Rush to view your external links and remove any that could be seen as spam.
  • Paid Links – Buying or selling links, or trading them for goods and services, is banned by Google, as the search engine wants to deliver quality content to its users and not simply content that has been produced by the highest bidder. External links from another site, as we discussed briefly above, are worthwhile since they tell Google and others your site has value and authority.
    • Once again, this is a case where simply not engaging in the practice keeps you safe, so you should neither agree to buy nor sell any links. Gaining backlinks is of course possible, you just need good content and accepted white hat techniques.
  • Link Farms – This tactic, along with private blog networks, involves a collection of websites that are dedicated to sharing links between each other to game search engine rankings. While these links are not bought or sold, they are not produced naturally and are almost certainly not delivering any value to searchers, leading them to being banned by search engines such as Google.
    • It’s unlikely you would have engaged in this tactic yourself, though a past firm may have done so on your behalf without your knowledge. This is another case where digging into Google Search Console, Moz Link Explorer, or SEM Rush to view your external links is a smart idea to see if you’re being linked from anything that appears spammy.

Looking to Clean Up Your Site? We Can Help!

If you’re wanting to modernize your site, boost your search rankings, and maybe clean up some old black hat techniques, reach out to the team at Sixth City because we’re ready to get to work!

Linton Lewis

About the Author

Linton Lewis

Linton Lewis is our Content Editor and a digital marketing specialist at Sixth City Marketing. He contributes to written and general marketing content for clients and oversees the editing for clients in fields such as home services, manufacturing, education, and more.

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