Black Hat SEO

Black Hat SEO Guide 10 (what not to do) Tips for 2018

By Daclaud Lee, SEO/Web Developer at Archmore Business Web

Black Hat SEO Defined

What is Black Hat SEO? In a nutshell, it is SEO practices that you should not do. This guide is intended to help you understand what Black Hat SEO is and what NOT to do. By no means should you incorporate any of these SEO strategies, because you will get penalized by Google and other search engines. At Archmore Business Web, our team of professional SEO Consultants and Digital Markers want to teach you what not to do when it comes to SEO.

1 Keyword Stuffing

This is a common Black Hat SEO strategy that was used in the early days of the internet. By now, I would hope that every seasoned SEO practitioner will know that it does not work. However, if you are new to SEO, then maybe you would not have known this, so, therefore, I am listing it first.

How keyword stuffing was done. In the early days of the internet, all you had to do was copy and paste the same keyword or phrase over and over again and your website would get ranked for that keyword.

Google's Examples of keyword stuffing include:

  1. Lists of phone numbers without substantial added value
  2. Blocks of text listing cities and states a webpage is trying to rank for
  3. Repeating the same words or phrases so often that it sounds unnatural, for example: We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at custom.cigar.humidors@example.com.

Instead of having a list of phone numbers that have no value, what you should do is have a contact page or have your contact information spread out sporadically. Having your contact details in the footer or in various parts of your content as a CTA (call to action) is fine, but just do not overdo it.

There is a difference in stuffing cities on a page in order to rank a page and having a block of links to different city-specific landing pages. You can actually rank your webpage organically for each city by creating a landing page that is city specific and keyword specific (note that having keywords in your text is perfectly fine as long as you are not blatantly spamming).

Repeating the same thing over and over may have worked in the past, but nowadays Google's Algorithm is updated to detect and call out gibberish. You can have these keyword phrases in your content, but make sure your keyword density is not over 2.5 percent (as recommended by Yoast SEO Plugin). The Yoast SEO Plugin is a great plugin to make sure that you are not overusing keywords and falling into the Black Hat SEO trap.

2 Hidden Text and Links

This Black Hat SEO strategy is an ancient relic of the past (and it most likely stopped working in the late 1990's). My question is, what are you doing using hidden text in the first place? I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. It is possible that you may have done this accidentally (maybe your CSS and javascript needs work), and if this is the case, make sure you fix it before Google catches it.

This is what Google defines as hidden text:

  • Using white text on a white background
  • Locating text behind an image
  • Using CSS to position text off-screen
  • Setting the font size to 0
  • Hiding a link by only linking one small character—for example, a hyphen in the middle of a paragraph

Once again, why would you want to hide your text? Unless you've been living in the 90's, then I would hope that you will know that this strategy will not work. Hidden text used to be a form of keyword stuffing (see keyword stuffing above). Why would anyone want to do this is beyond my understanding...? However, if you notice hidden text on your website, then you might be a victim of a Black Hat SEO attack.

As a Black Hat SEO tactic, changing a website's font color can work to de-rank competitors (although it would probably be more logical to just delete someone's content outright if you are going to be malicious, but now I am just digressing). A proficient hacker (please note that I do not condone hacking nor do I even know how to hack websites, so do not ask!) can change the text of your website to white text and potentially de-rank it. The effects are not permanent, and once the text color is changed back, then rankings should go back to where they were supposed to be. Therefore, if you notice that your content is hidden, then chances are you've probably been hacked by a Black Hat SEO and it's time to fix things right away!

3 Scraped content

Scraped content used to be a viable Black Hat SEO tactic until Google decided to penalize it. Long ago there existed many websites that would feature free content. The goal was to be used as a link exchange as well as to make money as a blogger without actually putting in any work creating a unique blog post.

In my opinion, the reason why Google penalizes scraped content is to make it harder for people to make money off of Adsense. There was a time when a Joe Blow could start a blog and slap Adsense on it and make $10,000 a month (or so they claimed). Obviously, in order to stop people from abusing the system, Google had to do something about scraped content (which is essentially plagiarism) and they did. Nowadays you can no longer expect to have your webpage rank high for using scraped content (duplicate content on other sites).

Google's Examples of Scraped Content:

  • Sites that copy and republish content from other sites without adding any original content or value
  • Sites that copy content from other sites, modify it slightly (for example, by substituting synonyms or using automated techniques), and republish it
  • Sites that reproduce content feeds from other sites without providing some type of unique organization or benefit to the user
  • Sites dedicated to embedding content such as video, images, or other media from other sites without substantial added value to the user

So instead of copying content from other sites, you should write your own unique content. Do not use article spinners that modifies content. Try your best to come up with something original. Since Google does not rank duplicate content very well, you could be falling into the Black Hat SEO trap, if you are using someone else's content.

If you are using a news feed (most commons ones are Twitter and Facebook snippets that feature these live feeds), then make sure you are commenting about the content of these feeds, rather than trying to use the feeds content as your content. The same goes for YouTube videos. If you have a YouTube video embedded on your site, but no commentary, then that is considered scraped content and it will never rank well (if at all).

4 Link Schemes

Having backlinks is important for SEO purposes, but it becomes Black Hat SEO if it is not done naturally.

Find out what Google says about Link Schemes

  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.
  • Excessive link exchanges ("Link to me and I'll link to you") or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
  • Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
  • Using automated programs or services to create links to your site

Here is a misconception about "buying links." For example, if your business supports a non-profit organization through donations and they link your business on their website, then it is not considered a "paid link." Paid links are generally easy for Google to identify because the websites are usually very low quality and are owned by the same person or company.

Google's algorithms can detect link exchanges. I do not know how, but they clearly can, so just do not participate or sign up for one of these.

What Google does not tell you is that these are the same articles that are published everywhere. Therefore, they essentially mean "duplicate content" and having the same article posted on different websites. It is not considered a link scheme if you legitimately write a unique article as a guest blogger and make sure that article is non-duplicated content and is exclusive to the website you are writing for. In other words, do not go soliciting hundreds of website to publish the same article you wrote for another website, because Google considers this a Black Hat SEO move.

I interpret this as "don't crank out too much content and links too fast." If you are getting 100 links per second on every classified ad site out there, then I am sure Google can tell what is going on. It is better to just post your ads naturally.

Google Says: "If you see a site that is participating in link schemes intended to manipulate PageRank, let us know. We'll use your information to improve our algorithmic detection of such links."

This last sentence tells me that Google's Algorithms are still not that sophisticated and you can probably still get away with Link Schemes as a viable Black Hat SEO tactic, but once their programmers figure it out, then consider it doomed. Therefore, you probably should not even attempt it, since it is not a matter of if Google will find out, it is a matter of when.

5 Doorway Pages

In a nutshell, doorway pages are landing pages that funnel traffic to another part of your website. They have no SEO value due to the fact that they provide no substance to the visitor. They are flagged as poor content quality because of the high bounce rate. As a Black Hat SEO tactic, it may provide short-term gains in rankings, but once Google decides that these are doorway pages, then your pages could get deranked.

Here is what Google means by Doorway Pages

  • Having multiple domain names or pages targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page
  • Pages generated to funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site(s)
  • Substantially similar pages that are closer to search results than a clearly defined, browseable hierarchy

The difference between a doorway page and a localized landing page

What most people do not realize is that there is a difference between a doorway page and a localized landing page. A localized landing page is not considered Black Hat SEO and is perfectly fine as an SEO strategy as long as your website is a SAB (Service Area Business) and conducts work within different regions or cities. As long as this localized landing page does not funnel visitors to another area, then it is not considered a doorway page. Which is why, when you design a localized landing page, you typically want to have the most relevant information as possible for the visitor to keep your bounce rate low.

A doorway page is more or less similar to a click-bait article found on social media. These pages were designed to funnel a visitor to a different page. The best example of this type of doorway page is an e-commerce store that ships internationally, but has no local presence. Let us say I was looking for "Hershey's chocolate in Columbus, Ohio" for example. The reason why I typed in Columbus, Ohio is because I want to find a store that sells Hershey's chocolate in my area. If an e-commerce site in London, England appears with a page titled "Get Hershey's Chocolate in Columbus, Ohio" and funnels me to an order page where I have to place an order to be shipped out, then that is a doorway page.

What is not a doorway page? How are localized landing pages different?

A local landing page is for a service area business. For example, if a company that provides HVAC repair services to homes in different cities should have a localized landing page for each city. This is not considered a doorway page because first of all, regardless of where the actual business is located, it provides HVAC repair services to homes in that city. There is no click bait and no deception. As long as the landing page provides the right user information and the user does not leave the site right away, then Google's algorithms will know that it is a legitimate page.

However... if a localized landing page is poorly designed and does not offer any relevant context to the user (or confuses the users to the point of frustration and they leave the site), then it might get flagged as a doorway page due to the high bounce rate. This is why content is still king. If your localized landing pages do not have high-quality content, then you could easily be falling into a Black Hat SEO trap.

6 Cloaking

Max Cutts works for Google, so, therefore, I would listen to anything he says. In this video, Max Cutts describes what Cloaking is. Therefore, if you want a more technical definition of what cloaking is, then please watch the video because he can probably explain this a lot better than I can. It is from 2011, but it is still relevant. because definitions do not change.

Google's examples of cloaking include:

  • Serving a page of HTML text to search engines, while showing a page of images or Flash to users
  • Inserting text or keywords into a page only when the User-agent requesting the page is a search engine, not a human visitor

7 Sneaky Redirects

If there is anything you should not do for SEO, then it is a sneaky redirect. Google defines a sneaky redirect as: "Redirecting is the act of sending a visitor to a different URL than the one they initially requested. There are many good reasons to redirect one URL to another, such as when moving your site to a new address, or consolidating several pages into one."

Here are some Google examples of sneaky redirects:

  • Search engines shown one type of content while users are redirected to something significantly different.
  • Desktop users receive a normal page, while mobile users are redirected to a completely different spam domain.

To put in bluntly, sneaky redirects as an SEO tactic is Black Hat AF and should NOT be done under any circumstances. I have personally witnessed unscrupulous webmasters doing the following sneaky redirects described below.

Buying an expired high profile domain

The first example of a sneaky redirect is buying an expired high profile domain with lots of backlinks and redirecting a user to new content that is irrelevant to the original website. Therefore, unless you plan on maintaining a similar website, it is considered Black Hat SEO to buy an expired World War II-themed website that has high-quality .edu and Wikipedia links if you are running an e-commerce store. Just do not do it. You will be wasting your money and when Google catches you doing this, your website will de-rank like crazy.

Hacking into a competitor website and redirecting visitors

The second example of a sneaky redirect is done by hackers. I have personally witnessed sites that are clearly hacked and redirected to something entirely irrelevant. I am not a lawyer, but I am sure this tactic is pretty much illegal and could bring about criminal charges, therefore, you should not attempt this.

8 Automatically Generated Content

Our current level of automatically generated content is quite primitive. We are pretty far off from having robots capable of writing full-blown, New York Times best-selling novels, but I cannot confidently say that it cannot happen. Hypothetically, if robots can somehow be programmed with a type of "creativity AI," then most SEO professionals and content writers would be in serious trouble and the Robot Apocalypse would actually be a thing. If you have seen (or read) I, Robot or any of the Terminator movies, then you will understand what I mean by Robot Apocalypse, but realistically we are probably nowhere near that level of artificial intelligence. Therefore, we probably will not have to worry about automatically generated content fooling anyone (yet). Since automatically generated content is still low quality, it is still considered a Black Hat SEO tactic because Google seems to be able to identify how it is currently done through their algorithms.

Google defines automatically generated content as:

  • Text that make no sense to the reader but which may contain search keywords.
  • Text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing
  • Text generated through automated processes, such as Markov chains
  • Text generated using automated synonymizing or obfuscation techniques
  • Text generated from scraping Atom/RSS feeds or search results
  • Stitching or combining content from different web pages without adding sufficient value

Most of the automatically generated content described by Google are done by article spinners (there is software out there that can take one article and change certain words around to different synonyms, but this has already been discussed above as scraped content). Some article spinners are more sophisticated than others, but it seems like none of them are good enough to produce anything truly unique.

Could Automatically Generated Content Become White Hat SEO?

I believe that with the advancement of AI, we will eventually get high quality automatically generated content. However, we still have a long way to go before robots become viable SEO experts and content writers. When that time comes, we will just need to adapt to the changes and SEO will be at a whole different level.

9 Creating Pages with Malicious Behavior

Creating a page with malicious behavior is like high-pressure sales. You do not want to force someone to use your product or service. Therefore malicious behavior is considered Black Hat SEO for obvious reasons.

Google's examples of malicious behavior include:

  • Changing or manipulating the location of content on a page, so that when a user thinks they’re clicking on a particular link or button the click is actually registered by a different part of the page
  • Injecting new ads or pop-ups on pages, or swapping out existing ads on a webpage with different ads, or promoting or installing software that does so
  • Including unwanted files in a download that a user requested
  • Installing malware, trojans, spyware, ads or viruses on a user’s computer
  • Changing a user’s browser homepage or search preferences without the user’s informed consent

10 User Generated Spam

If you have a WordPress based website and you have not turned off the comments, then I suggest you do. Rather than using the standard WordPress commenting system (which hackers have penetrated in and out) or if you want to stop user-generated spam, then I would actually recommend installing a third-party commenting system such as Disqus because they have better procedures of filtering out spam comments than WordPress. If you have not already, then check out our article on essential WordPress plugins.

Some examples of spammy user-generated content include:

  • Spammy accounts on free hosts
  • Spammy posts on forum threads
  • Comment spam on blogs

More often than not, paying some unknown company x amount of dollars for x amount of links will often get you low-quality user-generated spam links. They are annoying and offer no SEO value. Most of the time these spam posts get deleted by the webmaster, so therefore they will not likely even constitute to a backlink of any quality. If you are planning on user-generated spam for your backlinks, then please reconsider, because it does not work. This is the most common Black Hat SEO tactic out there and almost anyone can do it. Believe me, you do not want to do it because Google knows.

If you are new to digital marketing and would like to learn more about White Hat SEO, then be sure to check out our SEO Guide for Beginners.