Black Hat SEO: What It Is And How To Avoid It

Black hat SEO strategies go against search engine guidelines in an attempt to manipulate search results and obtain top rankings. Google and other search engines have been trying to limit the success of websites that use black-hat strategies, but webmasters have often remained a step ahead in taking advantage of certain elements of search algorithms.

Google, with its anti web spam algorithms “Panda” and “Penguin,” finally started turning the tide in the battle to rid search results of the worst web spam transgressors. For the first time, Google is penalizing websites for link spam offenses that happen outside of the would-be punished website. At the same time, it is cracking down on on-page black hat techniques that fall out of compliance with its search engine guidelines. And the punishment is swift and steep: banishment to the lower depths of search engine rankings or complete delisting until the website complies.

While Google’s Panda algorithm targets low-quality and duplicate content, the Penguin algorithm targets link spam.

Black Hat SEO Strategies

Don’t bother with these common black hat SEO strategies. Photo courtesy of

If you’ve hired someone in the past to “grow the visibility of your website” that probably meant they were implementing a link spam strategy. Google’s first Penguin update targeted the worst offenders — those with 80% or more of their inbound links being suspicious (Source). However, in the six months following the initial release of Penguin, Google has incrementally dropped that threshold to 50% low-quality or suspicious links. And the search engine giant will likely keep lowering the bar, possibly eventually to as low as 10%-15%. So if you haven’t already been bit by Penguin and have engaged in link spam, you should already be cleaning up your link portfolio.

Google launched the latest Penguin algorithm update, referred to inside the company as Penguin 2.0, on Wednesday May 22, and 2.3% of English-language search queries were affected. Some of the worst link spam offenders have already lost their search engine rankings, but subsequent updates will keep lowering the bar for what amount of link spam is tolerated.

The End of Black Hat SEO?

While black hat SEO strategies may have worked in the past, the risk no longer equals the reward for most businesses. It’s important that you know the strategies that are frowned upon by search engines and make sure your website complies with guidelines.

The short rule: if it only serves the purpose of improving SEO, skip it. Focus on marketing and website design efforts that improve the user experience, while also providing search engine optimization benefits as a bonus. Google doesn’t want any more web spam. It want’s valuable content that users love. Give Google and users what they want and you’ll be rewarded.

Avoid the following black hat SEO strategies that only serve to attempt to manipulate search engine rankings:

  • Content spinning: writing a blog post and posting it to many sites, which all link to your website. Google’s Panda algorithm is countering this by eliminating the benefit of duplicate content and even penalizing sites that have it. If you use existing content in your posts, be sure to take a new angle or greatly expand on the topic. Make sure you’re creating something of unique value to the reader.
  • Low quality content. Creating many low quality pages with duplicate content, for example spinning pages with multiple city and state long tail keywords may still work for some industries, but Google’s Panda update is making this tactic obsolete.
  • Over-optimized anchor text. Keyword rich anchor text can help your SEO, but not when all of your links have keywords in them. You should have varied anchor text to pages on your site and, naturally, a significant percentage should just be your company name or text that doesn’t include keywords.
  • Unnatural link building: Keep your link profile natural. Don’t ever buy links and don’t spam blogs with useless comments that link to your site. A more advanced black hat SEO technique is to build up affiliated (feeder) sites with lots of inbound links and then link those feeder sites to your website. The feeder sites may eventually get penalized but your site would be safe. Now, Google is catching on and may penalize all sites in the link network.
  • Keyword stuffing: You used to be able to just load up a page with keywords and rank well for searches. While you may have gotten traffic, did anyone even enjoy reading the words on your page? Probably not. Now, keyword stuffing could be detrimental to your site. Instead of worrying about how many times you use your keywords, just write content that your users will find valuable. Keep each page very targeted to a specific topic and you’ll be well on your way to a well-optimized page.
  • Hidden content: This is linked to the idea of keywords stuffing, but search engines have gotten smarter and your white keyword-stuffed text on a white background isn’t fooling them.
  • Link stuffing: Limit the amount of links on each page. The more links you have, the more the value of those links gets diluted. Only link to pages that you want users to click to. Use just a few prominent links to shape where you want them to go on your website.
  • Footer links from affiliates: Having your clients link to your site in their website footers can greatly grow your inbound links. However, Google has already devalued these links compared to body text links and may even penalize the target site. If you want those links so users can see the affiliation of the sites, make them no-follow links. You’ll still get the traffic but it won’t pass the page rank and you won’t be seen as only doing it for SEO purposes. Better yet, instead of these footer links that users very rarely click on, write a case study about how you helped the client or affiliate and make it engaging with a testimonial, images, and other media. Then share it on social media and see if it catches on. This will give you much more value than a footer link.

For more on Black Hat SEO, how Google is countering it, and how you can stay in Google’s favor at the top of search results, see Brien Shanahan‘s post on, “Google Penguin 2.0 vs. Black Hat SEO.”