SEO is time-consuming work; success can only be achieved by building content and engaging visitors over the long-term in accordance with the rules and recommendations of the search engines. It will come as no surprise, then, that some sites attempt to circumvent this hard work by employing what are known as ‘black hat’ tactics, the goal being to vault a site to a high ranking with a minimum amount of time and effort.
The SEO world can thus be broadly divided into two camps: ‘white hat’ SEO and ‘black hat’ SEO. White hat SEO complies with the best practice guidelines laid down by the search engines, especially Google. Black hat SEO, on the other hand, is an attempt to ‘cheat’ the system by deliberately employing practices that the search engines discourage.
Remember, the primary goal of the search engines is to keep people happy – they want users to have the best possible search experience. They reward sites that searchers find useful with high rankings. Thus the best way for a site to attain high rankings in the search engines is to provide quality content and help searchers find it. This is white hat SEO. Black hat SEO attempts to mimic those results without actually providing any value to searchers.
Black hat tactics generally fall into two broad categories: content and links.
Black Hat Content
One of the most commonly used black hat tactics involves stuffing keywords into site content, including title tags and meta descriptions, to the point where the text is unnatural and difficult to read.
White hat content will still include relevant keywords, but they will be integrated into the content in such a way that they do not draw undue attention to themselves. White hat content seeks to provide some benefit to the reader.
Of course whenever we talk about black/white hat SEO there are numerous shades of gray in between. Exactly how stuffed is too stuffed? A good rule of thumb is to read it out loud. If it sounds awkward or unnatural due to keyword density, it’s probably black hat.
Google provides a helpful example of black hat keyword stuffing. Remember, this is the type of writing to avoid:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Black Hat Links
The other major component of black hat SEO involves links.
When Google determines what rank to give a site, it looks at how many links are pointing to that site as an indication of its quality and usefulness. As a rule, more links equal a higher ranking. But, Google doesn’t just look at the number of links, it also looks at the quality of the sites sending those links. If those sites are ‘spammy’ the links too will be considered spam.
In the old days, it used to be possible to ‘game’ the system by acquiring massive quantities of low-quality links. This included buying and exchanging links as well as getting links from low-quality directories, article directories, blog networks, etc. These types of links, as well as any other not earned by the quality of the content on the site, are considered black hat.
Google always discouraged black hat links, but in the past, webmasters often found a way around this rule and used these links to actually improve a site’s rankings. This was until last years Penquin update, which cracked down on spammy links and penalized sites.
Black hat SEO has always been bad for the reputation of the site and business because it did not place any focus on user/customer experience or satisfaction. But now thanks to the recent Panda and Penguin updates Google has made to its algorithm, black hat tactic now carry perilous risks: they could cause the site to be downgraded the next time Google tweaks its algorithm, penalized, or even outright removed from its index.
SEO success can only be achieved through white hat fundamentals: long-term content building and customer satisfaction.