Updated 16th June 2020
When it comes to driving traffic to your website, search engine optimisation (SEO) is one of the best methods to do so. If your site ranks highly on search engines such as Google and Bing, internet users are much more likely to come across your page. However, there are good ways and bad ways of doing SEO.
If your site offers information, products or services that are valuable to users, you can get frequent visitors, loyal supporters, and financial gains long-term. However, when it comes to getting your website to rank well these rewards require hard work.
Due to the difficulty of getting search engines to favour your site among competitors and to present it early in search engine results pages (SERPs), some people turn to dubious black hat SEO to achieve their goals.
Black Hat SEO can be defined as practices that lead search engines to wrongly perceive the relevance of your site and to increase search rankings inaccurately. These black hat SEO techniques often violate search engine terms of service.
White hat SEO on the other hand, involves increasing a site’s search rankings through practices that prioritise readers’ benefit. Such methods follow search engine terms of service.
The difference between black hat and white hat SEO comes down to your objectives when employing SEO. If you're putting a business’s traffic, search rankings, and success before users and their needs, you are utilising black hat tactics.
If you're employing strategies that will solely bring in more traffic and not benefit readers, you are practising black hat as well. Search engines aim to provide accurate information to users quickly and black hat methods disrupt this process.
Consequences of Black Hat SEO
Not only do black hat SEO tactics unfairly set the playing field for other businesses, but they also have detrimental consequences for you. One penalty for black hat methods is lowered search ranking.
If you're using unethical methods to help your site appear earlier in search results, a lower ranking is exactly what you do not want. It means starting from square one and having to change your content strategy to comply with regulations. Although you can recover from such a penalty, it is a huge setback for your business.
A more severe consequence of black hat SEO methods is your site being banned from search engines. This is detrimental for any business especially since search engines are the main source of traffic for many.
The temporary benefits of malpractice are not worth the risk of losing a profitable site. With advancements in search engine algorithms and the strengthening of penalties, it's difficult to get away with black hats and even more challenging to recover.
Even if you do not employ black hat SEO, your site can still be affected by competitors who do. Being outranked by sites that trick search engine algorithms into favouring them is difficult to face and counter.
Competing websites can also directly attack your platform. However, when competing sites attack you with hacks, viruses or spam links, you can employ defences:
- Requesting a malware review can help rid your site of problems like viruses.
- Tools like the Disavow Links Tool from Google Webmaster can extinguish spam links that plague your site.
- If you find that your keywords are crowded with spam sites, it is possible to report spam search results through methods such as the Google Webmaster Tools.
However, do note that falsely reporting spam is also considered black hat SEO so it is important to understand what's considered spam and what is not.
Why Would One Employ Black Hat SEO?
Considering that black hat SEO techniques are bad practice and often penalised, you can only wonder why people would choose this route. People often learn about these condemned practices through black hat SEO forums such as Black Hat SEO World.
These tactics are typically used by people who want quick financial returns. In these situations, the risk of getting banned from search engines isn't seen as a huge loss because the site is not needed for long-term use. In cases where a site is a long-term investment, black hat SEO can be detrimental in that it can shut down search engine traffic that drives your business.
Whether your website is a long-term investment or not, it is advised to stay clear of these malpractices because they are unethical and harmful for you and others.
Black Hat SEO Techniques to Avoid
- Keyword Stuffing
- Unrelated Keywords
- Hidden or illegible text
- Duplicate content or mirror sites
- Spam ping
Let's go into a bit more detail about each of these.
One popular example of black hat SEO is keyword stuffing. This involves repeatedly using keywords in your site content in an attempt to trick search engines into believing there is legitimate keyword prevalence.
Search engines typically label sites with dense keywords as informative for readers, which would ideally drive your website to the top of search results. However, keyword stuffing only causes your content to be nonsensical, random and invaluable to readers. Many people include them out of context, excessively in every sentence or in blocks of text. This harms user experience due to unnatural, repetitive language or random text that doesn't contribute to the content.
Rather than keyword stuffing, optimise your site by only including the words where it makes sense. Utilising keywords to help readers understand your content and message puts the user first, which should be your goal. Relevancy is much more important than repetition.
Adding unrelated keywords to your site’s copy in order to appear on search result pages that are irrelevant to your content is another black hat SEO example. Linking your site to searches that are not related does not provide readers with what they are looking for.
Tricking internet users into visiting your site is widely condemned by search engines since Google and others strive to provide the best experience for searchers.
Instead, use keywords that are related to your topic to bring in audiences who are seeking your content. It supports the mission of search engines and the needs of web surfers. Providing appropriate keywords shows the relevancy of your site and builds audience trust, leading to long-term traffic for your business.
Hidden Text and Tiny Text
Including text that matches the page’s background, text that is too small to be legible or including links that are difficult to find are all considered black hat SEO tactics. Doing so increases the word count on your site and including keywords in this manner manipulates search engines into thinking your site is more relevant than it is.
Search engines will detect these hidden texts and will believe your site is great for readers as it's filled with keywords. However, in reality, there is not much content or value to people.
White hat SEO practices include using appropriate text colours that contrast with the background and font sizes that are easy to read. Providing honest, quality content to readers and search engines is essentially what white hat SEO is about.
Duplicate Content or Mirror Site
Filling your site with content from another website (even with permission) is called duplicate content or a mirror site. Not only are you using content that isn't yours, but duplicate content also doesn't provide readers with new information - which goes against search engine aims.
Cheating the system by not using your own work to earn traffic creates an unfair playing field for your competitors. Also, duplicating content from more credible sources and using their text to give your own site more authority is fraudulent.
Instead of copying content from another site and pasting in your own, come up with your own original content. It's acceptable to use other sources to help emphasise a point, but using other sites as the bulk of your own is not proper. In situations where you do reference other sources, quote reasonable amounts of text and cite them to give rightful credit.
The black hat SEO practice of spam ping involves notifying search engine ping servers that there has been updated content on your site numerous times a day. The goal is to trick the servers into thinking that your site is constantly updated with relevant content that's beneficial for readers.
For search engines, this is seen as a good thing because the site seems to be providing readers with new information. However, in reality, there are no significant updates on the site. Individuals who perform spam pings often use black hat SEO software that automatically notifies ping servers of supposedly new content.
Instead of spamming ping servers, you should utilise software that notifies ping servers of actual significant updates to your site or when new articles are released. This provides an accurate account of how relevant and beneficial your site is for readers.
White Hat SEO Techniques to Utilise
Effective and Sensible Use of Keywords
White hat SEO involves featuring keywords on your site that relate to your content and to the information that people expect to see in those keyword searches. Effective research and the use of the right keywords for your content will bring in huge traffic benefits without the risk of penalties associated with black hat techniques. When done right, white hat practices are much more rewarding than black hat tactics.
Backlinking with Other Reliable and Valid Sites
Building connections with other websites that relate to your site’s topic will undoubtedly help with traffic. You can benefit from traffic coming in from other sites, especially if your platform is not ranked very highly on search results pages. Creating this network with other valid sites means long-term benefits for your business.
Original and Valuable Content for Readers
Coming up with original content means you are working for your own traffic. This is the right thing to do, as opposed to leeching off of other websites.
Providing new and informative content for readers gives people a reason to visit your site and return to it in the future.
White hat SEO techniques build trust with readers and establish authority, which helps your business in the long run.
For more information about employing good SEO techniques and avoiding bad ones, download our guide on SEO myths.