What is: Black Hat SEO


Peter Jobes

Definition of Black Hat

Black hat is a term used to describe shady and unethical practices. Black hat practices are usually illegal or against the rules that they’re conducted within. Very often the reasoning behind black hat approaches are maliciousness or self-gain without care for the impact it has on others. 

Webmasters looking for a swift financial return on their website can sometimes turn to black hat techniques as a corner-cutting method of gaining prominence. There are many ways to manipulate a site’s popularity, including invisible text containing relevant wording, keyword stuffing, using Doorway pages, or even swapping an entire webpage once the initial page has become ranked on search engines.

Below is a diagram of various black hat usage in the world of Search Engine Optimisation:

The Good The Evil of SEO

This infographic walks us through the many underhanded methods of unfairly gaining prominence on search engines, and here we can explain further some of the most widely used ‘evil’ approaches listed, and why they are considered amoral in the industry:

Article Spinning: The spinning of articles is a somewhat rose-tinted term for the plagiarising of existing content. The ‘spinning’ aspect of this act comes into play when the copied work is edited to appear different in places as a way of avoiding accusations of merely copying-and-pasting pieces owned by someone else. Article Spinning has become popular among webmasters looking to drive traffic to their websites with minimal effort. The approach has become so popular that software has been developed to automatically spin articles. However, search engines have become wise to duplicate content and many disregard articles that appear to be duplicates of existing content.

Keyword Stuffing: Another popular black hat technique to drive more traffic to a site is but keyword stuffing an article. This is done by adding arbitrary words that may be prone to appearing on a search engine results page, despite said words having no relevance to the article. Examples of keyword stuffing can include an unnatural repetition of keywords in a body of text, irrelevant listings of cities that the site is trying to gain SEO within, or lists of telephone numbers with no meaning.

Spammy Guest Blogging: This quantity over quality approach to SEO had seen a surge in popularity in recent years before search engines wised up to low-quality content rapidly being produced on increasingly low-quality sites. The theory behind this method is that if you produce enough SEO enabled content en masse, it’ll drag the prominence of the website as a whole up through the search engines also. However, the generally poor quality of the number of ‘guest bloggers’ churning out articles vastly different in style and subject meant that many of the sites practising using large numbers of bloggers were dismissed as spammers.

Comment Spamming: Comment spamming is a prevalent part of blogging today. It usually takes the form of a deliberately vague statement in the comments section of a credible blog, and it usually carries a link back to the commenter’s own pages. Doing this vastly expands the potential to drive traffic to a site by adding links in places where they will be seen, and because it’s so widespread, many sites end up with hundreds of irrelevant adverts at the foot of their articles. Like all spam tactics, this is a massive annoyance to the webmaster who’s work has been hijacked by empty comments, but thanks to intuitive controls on spamming, many of these empty attempts at gaining traffic never see the light of day.

Sketchy Link Building: One of the primary goals of comment spamming is to build links in an improper way to a website. For a dabbler in the dark art of deep hat SEO, the game is about gaining exposure by any means necessary – and making sure your links are widespread and accessible is key to this. Some attempt to enhance their coverage by gaining presence on low-quality website directories while others buy backlinks to their sites from the webspace of others. More rudimentary link building techniques can also involve writing hidden links and adding arbitrary links into the footers of websites.

While the term Black Hat remains synonymous with the world of hacking that has since developed to incorporate all shady actions within the industry, the antithesis of this approach is known as White Hat – and is a term for ethical practices in SEO. White Hat methods of SEO and content development are also listed in the above diagram and tend to emphasise quality writing, user engagement, and more organic link building. White Hat is universally seen throughout SEO as the only logical way to develop a thriving website on a long-term scale, with many black hat approaches being stamped out by savvy search engines.

There’s even a term for what could be considered an ethical grey area within the world of Search Engine Optimisation – this, rather unsurprisingly, is commonly known as Grey Hat. The Grey Hat definition refers to SEO practices that are legitimate but often frowned upon. Grey areas in the industry relate to practices such as personalised link spamming in another website’s comments section – where a relevant comment is left alongside an accompanying link back to the webmaster’s site. Another Grey Hat approach is to continually redesign your website – the coding surrounding the website changes with redesigns and so search engines tend to think the content’s brand new. The use of sharing buttons is also a popular, yet morally questionable method of gaining attention – by sharing your posts on all of your social media accounts, and any alias accounts, you gain easy traction on search engines.

Tip: The adaptability of search engines in clamping down on sketchy practices in this day and age is such that dabbling in Black Hat methods of SEO is ill-advised. If caught, your website could face an indefinite ban from appearing in any search results.

Further Reading:

1. The Good and The Evil of SEO

2. 12 Deadly Sins of SEO

3. What is: Backlink (Inbound Link)

Full Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase or sign-up with one of the services, we may receive a commission.

Peter Jobes

Content Marketing Manager

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