Search engine optimization is a key marketing strategy, but it’s only effective when done ethically. Although it’s getting harder to game the system, it’s still possible to a degree. However, no matter how well black hat SEO tactics appear to be working, if shady strategies are part of your SEO plan your site will eventually crash and burn.
Black hat SEO tactics might get you to the top of the SERPs for a short period of time, but those results won’t last. Shady SEO tactics are short-sighted strategies that will kill your SEO efforts. Black hat tactics waste time and money while putting your entire site at risk of being de-indexed and/or blacklisted entirely.
When optimizing your site for search, don’t let your money and hard work go to waste. Avoid the following black hat SEO tactics at all costs.
Link building has always been and always will be central to every SEO strategy. The purpose of search engine optimization is to bring your webpages to the top of the search results for relevant keywords and phrases. Unless your industry is so unique you have absolutely no competition, you won’t gain rank in the search engines without backlinks.
There are plenty of ways to build backlinks. After all, a backlink is simply a link pointing to your webpage. Links are easy to get. However, there are good and bad ways to build links. And if you don’t build links properly, they can disappear, make your site look bad, or put your website on Google’s radar as spam.
Worst case scenario, your entire domain name could get de-indexed or even blacklisted from Google and other search engines. As of 2020, Google owns 62.5% of the market share for search engines. You don’t want to get de-indexed or blacklisted by Google!
The difference between good and bad link building methods is nuanced, but generally speaking, black hat methods build links artificially through manipulation.
If you think you can get away with using manipulative link building strategies, think again. There’s no way around it — search engines know when you’re using black hat methods and you will get caught.
If you’re serious about optimizing your website to gain the rank you genuinely deserve, you’ll want to avoid the following black hat link building practices.
Link farms are by far the worst way to build backlinks. Link farms exist only to create and host backlinks. They often consist of websites that appear to serve a genuine purpose at first glance. However, a closer look reveals the inauthenticity.
Be careful not to get sucked into private link farms. You’d be surprised how many sneaky tactics are out there. For instance, some link farms operate like a pyramid scheme disguised as a blog network. Existing members recruit new members who add their blog to the network and automated software adds backlinks to existing members’ websites. The oldest members get the most backlinks.
Be extremely skeptical of blog networks. If you get an invitation to join a private blog network where automatic backlinks are a selling point, it’s probably a link farm. It doesn’t matter how high-quality the content appears to be or how many blogs are in the network. A link farm is a link farm.
Back in the day, reciprocal link exchanges were common courtesy. If someone linked to you, it was respectful to link back to them. However, that was before people began intentionally generating backlinks to gain rank in the search engines.
It’s perfectly acceptable to link to websites your visitors might find useful. However, it’s rare that all the sites you link to will also want to link back to you. If you have a number of reciprocal links, it’s a sign that you’re trying to game the system.
Unless you have a legitimate partnership or mutual connection with another website, creating a reciprocal link exchange to get “link juice” or money is considered manipulative.
Paid links are popular, but if that’s your approach you can expect your backlinks to disappear at some point. Paying for backlinks en masse or even one at a time is against search engine terms. If you want your backlinks to stick, you need to generate backlinks authentically through ethical link building practices.
On the flip side, if you’re selling and hosting paid links, you may want to consider a different approach. If your scheme is discovered by Google, your entire domain name could get de-indexed or blacklisted. If that happens you’ll lose your source of income and you’ll have hundreds or perhaps thousands of upset customers.
If you’re tempted to disguise paid links as images that look like legitimate ads, don’t do it. If it’s not a genuine ad relevant to your site’s content, it will degrade the quality of your site’s user experience. For example, if you’re blogging about vegetarian recipes, your visitors don’t want to see gambling ads.
There is one exception to paid links. According to Matt Cutts, former head of Google’s Webspam team, paid links that don’t affect search engines are okay. Paid links are only a problem when they manipulate the search engines to gain rank.
To create links that search engines will ignore, use the “rel=nofollow” attribute. When this attribute is present search engines will ignore the link in terms of flowing PageRank. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since “nofollow” links have the potential to generate traffic.
Article directories are essentially link farms that provide somewhat decent content sometimes, but the quality isn’t high enough to be worthy of ranking high. By default, search engines don’t give high ranking to content published on article directories. The problem is that article directories will publish guest posts from anyone without any editorial oversight.
While some articles published to these sites can be fairly decent, many are low-quality, which brings down the overall value of the entire site. Not surprisingly, you’ll almost never see pages from article directories in the SERPs despite having thousands of articles and a steady stream of new content.
Hidden links are a long-standing, shady black hat tactic. Most of the time, hidden links are also irrelevant. Some people hide links from visitors by making the anchor text the same color as the background or making the font so small it’s invisible to the naked eye.
Links are supposed to be useful to visitors. If a link wouldn’t be interesting or useful to visitors, it shouldn’t exist, even when hidden.
It’s never a good strategy to hide links from visitors solely to gain rank. Search engines use latent semantic indexing (LSI) to determine the context of content on a page. Pages that are jumbled with a bunch of irrelevant keywords and links will not rank, period.
Overusing exact match anchor text will make your backlink profile look artificial. Artificial backlink profiles will tank your site’s rankings more and more over time until you hit rock bottom — or get de-indexed.
For your backlink profile to look normal, you need to vary your anchor text. To vary your anchor text, use a variety of brand mentions and action-oriented casual phrases. For example, say you’re selling WordPress themes and plugins. You’ll want to use anchor text variations like:
If you’re stuck on how to vary your anchor text, try writing out a few natural sentences and then choose part of the sentence to use as anchor text. Whenever possible, select the part of a sentence that instructs visitors to click or visit your site.
The consequences of using shady content marketing tactics are severe. In addition to getting black listed by the search engines, you might get sued for copyright infringement if you’ve plagiarized any of your content.
The following 9 black hat content marketing for SEO tactics should be avoided.
Search engines know when a page contains irrelevant keywords because the subjects will be mismatched. For example, a social media marketing website containing gambling keywords will not seem right to search engines. The only place gambling keywords will make sense is on sites with content like addiction recovery or typical casino games.
Targeting irrelevant keywords will not only drop your rank if they don’t naturally relate to the rest of your content, but you’ll lose traffic when visitors realize they’re in the wrong place.
It’s never worth ranking for keywords irrelevant to your niche. The only keywords you should be focusing on are keywords related to your products and services.
Keyword stuffing is not a side dish at Thanksgiving. It’s a black hat tactic that involves stuffing a bunch of keywords and phrases into one webpage or article. If you’re practicing keyword stuffing, you’re probably using irrelevant keywords as well.
In the past, this practice tricked the search engines into giving weight to a stuffed page based on all the keywords present. However, today, it doesn’t work. It’s not even worth trying. Search engines know when keywords have been overused.
To maintain a decent keyword density, don’t repeat the same keyword more than once every few paragraphs. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid using certain keywords multiple times because it’s a central part of the points you’re making. For the most part, that’s okay because it’s natural. However, there’s no need to intentionally repeat your keyword phrases every paragraph.
Article spinning should get the award for the worst black hat SEO tactic in existence. This is when you take an article and feed it into an automated system that replaced adjectives with synonyms and reorders your sentences to create a new article that appears unique.
Unfortunately, spun articles almost always appear to be written by someone with poor grammar. That’s the nature of automating the sentence structuring. It takes more time to fix spun articles than it’s worth. You’re better off writing fresh, new content from scratch.
Back in the day, search engines couldn’t distinguish a spun article as duplicate content. However, after Google’s major algorithm updates, you can’t get away with this tactic.
Creating quick, useless videos just to generate backlinks is another spammy SEO tactic that some people still practice. The way this tactic works is simple. You create a 30-second video using only simple lines of text to make a simple point. You upload the video to YouTube and in the description, you link back to your website. The links are in content-lite content and are rel=nofollow.
This tactic was popular because people thought it would generate traffic and “link juice” from YouTube. However, it only generates frustration. Don’t waste anyone’s time with short, useless, text-based videos. It’s okay to link to your website from your YouTube videos, but make sure your videos are content-rich.
Clickbait is one of the most annoying black hat SEO tactics around. Unfortunately, it’s still popular and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. This tactic involves using a sensational headline and/or image to generate clicks. When the link is clicked, the visitor discovers that the content isn’t relevant to the headline and/or image. It’s a classic bait-and-switch operation.
Some of the worst clickbait comes in the form of misleading images attached to stories posted to social media. For instance, you might see a preview image of your favorite actor with a title that reads, “These Celebrities Didn’t Age Well.” When you click on the link, you won’t find that actor mentioned in the article at all. Their image was purely clickbait.
Duplicate content is exactly what it sounds like — content published multiple times on different webpages. While Google has confirmed there is no duplicate content penalty, there are consequences for publishing duplicate content.
Put simply, duplicate content gets filtered out of search results. If you publish three webpages with the same content, Google will only display one of those pages in the SERPs. You’ll never rank all three. Users will need to click the link at the bottom of the page to view omitted search results. It’s just not part of a healthy SEO strategy.
Scraped content is stolen content, period. This tactic was extremely popular around 2012 when it was easy to game the search engines with black hat tactics. People scrape content from other people’s websites when they don’t want to invest the time or money to create unique content.
Scraped content is also duplicate content. If you scrape content from a site that ranks in the SERPs, you’ll probably never rank your pages with that content. Google will just filter it out.
Plagiarism is defined as stealing someone else’s ideas, words, or production as one’s own without crediting the source. This includes content found on the internet. Scraped content is considered plagiarism, but plagiarized content can include content taken from books, movies, CDs, speeches, or any other source.
An example of engaging in plagiarism for SEO would be finding articles you like and republishing them on your website or another website to get traffic and/or backlinks. Whether you attempt to take credit for the content — or if you publish anonymously — it’s still stealing.
Stealing content from other sources is a form of intellectual property theft known as copyright infringement. It doesn’t matter if content is marked “copyrighted” by the author, nor does it matter if the author has registered an official copyright for their content.
Every piece of content created automatically becomes copyrighted the moment it is created and is fully protected under the law. Copyright symbols, registration, and paperwork simply exist to make certain business processes easier.
Copyright infringement used to be a misdemeanor that was difficult and expensive to pursue. However, the CASE Act of 2020 made it a felony and provides an affordable small claims system for anyone to file a dispute.
The penalties for copyright infringement are severe. In addition to having to pay back all profits earned with the stolen work, each work infringed generates a penalty of $200 to $150,000 possibly accompanied by jail time. If found guilty of copyright infringement, the infringer must also pay for the other person’s legal fees.
When you pay $5 for an article, you get exactly what you pay for. If you publish poor quality content, your SEO will suffer. In addition to being penalized by the search engines, you won’t get returning traffic; visitors won’t be impressed enough to come back.
Before you outsource your content creation, consider who you’re hiring to do the work. It’s easy to find people with ads on Craigslist and Fiverr, but is the quality really that good?
The stakes are high. Always create original content. If you outsource your content creation, make sure your source is reliable and trustworthy. To be safe, always run your outsourced content through Copyscape to Make sure it wasn’t stolen.
The consequences of using crafty and excessive on-site optimization tactics will either be a complete waste of your time or will counteract your genuine optimization efforts.
Optimizing the alt text for your images should always be done for your users, not for search engines. Alt text is a web accessibility function. It’s an invisible description of an image that gets read out loud to a person using a screen reader.
The SEO benefits of defining alt text is a side effect of making your site accessible. In other words, search engines want websites to use alt text to make content more accessible to users who rely on a screen reader to browse the internet. However, search engines don’t analyze the content of your alt text in detail and use that to rank your webpages. You can certainly get your images to rank using alt text, but this portion of text should always be crafted for your visitors first and foremost.
If you over-optimize your alt text, search engines might consider your site inaccessible and you could lose credibility for that. However, there’s no concrete explanation for how alt text factors into how pages rank in the SERPs.
Your best bet is to use alt text for its intended purpose: to provide text-based descriptions of images to people who surf the internet with a screen reader.
You’ve probably heard that it’s important to have deep internal links throughout your website. That’s true. Your site should contain internal links on every page. However, there is a point where internal links can be too much.
It’s fine to have between 1-3 internal links on each page, or more when it’s warranted. However, make sure you only link to important and relevant pages. Don’t just link random pages to fill out a quota of internal links.
Also, be extremely cautious using WordPress plugins that automatically generate internal links. Some of these plugins give you control over how many links get generated per page per keyword, but many don’t. If you use one of these plugins, you could accidentally end up with 20-50 internal links per page that link the same phrase multiple times.
Search engines pay attention to headings, but you don’t need to stuff your pages with multiple H1 tags. It’s not natural. This is a tactic that may have worked years ago, but it’s dead in the water today. There is no reason to use multiple H1 tags on one page. The H1 tag is designed to set your title or main heading apart from the rest of your content.
Even if you want all of your headings to look exactly the same and be exactly the same size, don’t repeatedly use the H1 tag throughout your page. Instead, create custom CSS classes for your H1, H2, and H3 tags to make them all appear exactly the same to your visitors. The search engines will still pick up on the technical differences between H1, H2, and H3.
Over-using H1 tags just makes your website look spammy to the search engines.
Stuffing links in the footer of your website is bad news for your SEO efforts. Just as search engines look down on keyword stuffing, they also look down on link stuffing.
The only links that should be in the footer of your website are links that help your visitors navigate your site.
While there are many black hat SEO tactics you can use to game the system, they’re unnecessary when you create value. People want content that is interesting, entertaining, and helpful. If you can create that kind of content, you don’t have to worry about crossing over into the dark side.
If you’re not sure how to get the ball rolling, we can help. Our team of SEO experts can help you rank your website in the search engines using only white hat SEO techniques that get lasting results. Contact us to learn more — we’d love to hear from you!