Once you start investigating search engine optimization (SEO) techniques for websites, you’re bound to uncover all sorts of advice: good, bad, outdated, cutting-edge, sensible, questionable, and downright dangerous. While there is no shortage of “SEO Experts” and “Tips for Top SEO Rankings” articles online, be aware that the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) know what tips and tactics you’re using to enhance the rankings of your business’ website, and if you’re caught using questionable or illegal SEO strategies (also referred to as “Black Hat SEO”) your business’ website is going to be severely penalized and possibly even banned from all search results. And having that happen is going to severely hurt your marketing and outreach efforts!
This is why it’s important to make sure you’re either working with a highly reputable company for SEO or that you critically evaluate and take time to fully understand the relative merits and failures of all the tips and suggestions available online. This article will give you an introductory overview of black hat, grey hat, and white hat SEO techniques for websites that you can use when conducting your own SEO research or having a consultation with a digital marketing company about SEO improvement for your business.
Understanding What Black Hat SEO Techniques Are
Black hat SEO is any strategy to quickly improve the ranking of your website that uses tactics deemed in violation of the search engines’ terms of service. Black hat SEO can be successful in the short term, but promoting your website in this manner will ultimately have serious consequences, and will do you greater harm in the long-run.
Black hat SEO often greatly improves the ranking of a page or website, but without providing much value to people searching online. Chances are you’ve had the experience of clicking on a search result link that looked good, but once directed to the website, you were confronted with “garbage” – page content that was not relevant, lots of questionable advertising… you might even get a pop-up message from your browser warning you about malware or security issues the website has. If you’ve ever had that happen to you, you’ve experienced black hat SEO! Yuck!
Black hat SEO is unethical, deceitful, and just plain nasty and chances are, that is NOT how you want to run your business. So, if someone gives you a “hot tip” on how to get to the top of the charts using any of these tactics outlined below, save your money and your time and move along.
Have you ever read an article online that just didn’t sound natural? Maybe it repeated the same words or phrases over and over or the sentence structure and syntax sounded stilted and awkward? Welcome to the black hat tactic called “keyword stuffing.” This is when you try to jam as many keywords and phrases you want to rank for into your text, regardless of whether they really make sense, or sound natural. In addition to being frowned upon by the search engines, it’s also going to make your visitors and customers REALLY annoyed and confused. Using keyword stuffing tactics hurts your credibility and it makes your website sound robotic and spammy. Nobody wants that.
The hidden text tactic is another form of keyword stuffing, except this time all the keywords that don’t fit into the natural language text are made invisible – so search engines read them, but humans don’t. This is done by setting the text to be invisible against the background or making the size so small it is unnoticeable. SNEAKY and wrong!
There are times when hidden text is a good thing, such as when alt-text descriptions are set for images and graphics. These forms of hidden text are designed for accessibility purposes (screen readers for the visually impaired and those who turn off image display) and using them will help your SEO and your visitors.
Building links is an important part of your SEO strategy, and search engines looks to your inbound links as a factor in ranking your page – the more websites that link to you, the more relevant your content is. But these links must be relevant and natural. If you make the decision to buy links through underhanded, black hat means, you’ll be spending money for no return. Search engines take into consideration where the links are coming from and if they’re relevant to your website. If all your inbound links are from link-farms, then you’re going to experience a negative hit on your SEO.
Excessive posting of links to your website or a product you are selling on popular Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts isn’t a black hat SEO tactic; but it could get you blocked or banned from those platforms – and getting banned from social media is NOT a good marketing strategy EVER.
Adding new, relevant content to your website or blog on a regular basis is a great, 100% legitimate SEO practice. However, the black hat version uses software to take an article and move words and phrases around to create a new article or articles, temporarily fooling search engines into thinking there’s something new and exciting on your website. Articles generated using spinners are terribly written and don’t provide any new information to readers. Much like keyword stuffing, visitors to your website will look at these articles and quickly leave, wondering what the heck is wrong with your website!
Trying to Rank for Popular, but Unrelated Keywords
It’s tempting to try to add in keywords and phrases for terms that are highly searched, and in the short-term it might get you a little boost in traffic, but if you’re interested in having high-quality visitors who are truly looking for what you have to offer, why bother with an influx of traffic that is looking for something else (the latest photos of X celebrity, videos of X political candidate…). Your bounce rate for that page will soar through the roof and that not a good move for your SEO or your business.
Bait and Switch
Some websites are fortunate to have many inbound links to a particular page – this could be a very unique product or offering, or maybe it’s a highly useful article that many other websites want to reference. Having that is great for your SEO. However, black hat tactics would exploit those links by using a bait and switch technique where the link is re-directed to another page or an advertisement. That’s a pretty lousy move, and your short term gain will come to a crashing end when the referring websites realize what you’ve done and decide to pull the plug on you altogether!