SEO professionals are accustomed to having their methods questioned, but what many clients don’t realize is that their own SEO strategies are either extremely outdated or misinformed. Most often the strategies suggested qualify as “black hat SEO tactics.”
Black hat SEO refers to “the use of aggressive SEO strategies, techniques and tactics that focus only on search engines and not a human audience.” These strategies are outdated and Google’s algorithm has long since caught up with these tactics. Websites that still employ these methods will not only find their approach ineffective, they will also be penalized.
How does Google penalize Black Hat SEO practices?
Google penalizes black hat SEO tactics by diminishing the website’s rankings or completely throwing it out of index. Sites are penalized manually or automatically through Google algorithm updates. If the website is penalized manually, the webmaster will receive an email notification. With or without an email notification, you will know that you’ve been penalized by a dramatic drop in your traffic or an inability to find your site on Google.
If your site has dropped in ranking you can seek help from SEO and marketing professionals to help you build a recovery strategy. The strategy they choose will depend largely on what the specific violations are, but almost all of them involve “de-optimizing.” In this process, you or a professional will have to systematically undo every black hat SEO technique you employed: page by page, line by line.
If the website is out of index, your odds of reviving the site are slim — and that’s bad news considering how much time and money is spent on a website. However, if you have gone through the process of de-optimizing your site, you can submit a reconsideration request through Google Search Console.
5 Most Common Black Hat SEO Practices
Keyword Stuffing or Keyword Spamming
Keyword spamming is “stuffing” a page with keywords that are out of context and have little relation to either the body content, the page title, slug, or meta descriptions. Google’s algorithm has evolved to understand context, so these tactics are no longer effective and haven’t been for over a decade.
“There are all kinds of weird and wonderful ‘rules’ about keyword density in content,” writes SEO expert Claire Broadley in her article 50 Reasons Your Website Deserves to Be Penalized By Google, “The truth is that none of these rules are proven, and a very high keyword density is a flag for poorly written content.”
In 2004, Google released its Brandy algorithm update, which included a number of changes. The most significant was the increased attention to anchor text relevance and the concept of link “neighborhoods” (more on that in section 5 of this post). This update expanded Google’s ability to understand synonyms and took keyword analysis to the next level. Because Google can understand context, keyword stuffing is easily spotted by the algorithm and penalized accordingly.
Cloaking is the practice of creating highly optimized pages that are only shown to search engine spiders. A spider is a program that visits sites and reads their pages to create entries for a search engine index. These pages cannot be seen by the site’s visitors, which is what makes this a black hat SEO practice. The pages aren’t providing relevant content.
As with many of the black hat SEO practices, they evolved from a white hat SEO practice. Individuals found ways to game the system. Cloaking isn’t always a bad thing and is in fact sometimes necessary. It’s the way in which you’re using it the tactic that makes it good or bad.
Doorway pages are pages that are designed so search engines can manipulate them into giving the website a higher ranking. Again, the “black hat” aspect of this practice has to do with context and value. Doorway pages contain no valuable content for their audience. One of the many ways that Google determines what is a doorway page versus what isn’t, is through a page’s bounce rate. If users are consistently clicking on the link in search and immediately closing out of the tab, they know the search terms aren’t relevant to the page.
An alternative to this black hat SEO practice is to create keyword rich landing pages that direct your audience to the relevant content on your website.
Invisible text is exactly what it sounds like. This black hat SEO practice involves placing keywords into the body text of a web page that is invisible to visitors viewing the page. This violation will undoubtedly result in having your website penalized for artificially boosting your site’s rankings. Google’s algorithm was perfected in its ability to track invisible text back in early 2004. Trust that you will be caught eventually and likely removed from index.
Link farming is still popular today, despite Google effectively cracking down with the notorious Jagger update of 2005 (rest in peace, websites who farmed). Jagger was a massive algorithm update that was rolled out in three stages, with a majority of sites being penalized or removed from the index within two months of its launch. Link farming is the practice of buying links or paying websites to link back to yours in the hope of improving your credibility and your search engine ranking through context.
The key word here is context. We touched on the Google algorithm’s ability to understand context in point 1, keyword stuffing. Since 2004, Google has placed heavy emphasis on anchor text, the text that appears highlighted in a hypertext link. Best practices indicate that the anchor text contains relevant contextual information about the content of the link’s destination.
That said, when you’re linking to link farms or ‘bad neighborhoods’ of low quality websites, it will negatively impact your rankings. Today, the Google algorithm is so sensitive to context that it’s become important to be selective about your guest posts. You can read more about linkbuilding, guest posts, and context in this article about the biggest ranking factors for SEO.
The truth is that SEO only becomes complicated when you’re attempting black hat SEO strategies. Otherwise, optimizing your site for search is partly technical but largely based on common sense: develop a deep understanding of your intended audience and provide them with content that is relevant and useful to them. No farming necessary.