In search engine optimization (SEO), techniques used to increase a website’s ranking can be classified in two broad categories: techniques working with search engine algorithms to promote good design and user experiences (white hat), and techniques taking advantage of search engine algorithms to promote search rankings, even if it negatively affects the website’s design and user experience (black hat).
Quite simply, white hat techniques tend to produce lasting results, whereas black hat techniques produce fast, temporary results for websites, which are often later banned or lose ranking due to algorithm changes.
However, the actual line between white and black hat techniques is quite thin, and it can be difficult to determine which SEO practices fall under which categories. To ensure you continue using white hat SEO practices to rise through the rankings, we’ve compiled a list of known black hat SEO techniques that have done more harm than good to all sorts of websites.
The following black hat techniques are classified in two broad categories: content spam and link spam.
These techniques alter the logical view that a search engine has over a website’s content.
As the name suggests, keywords are stuffed onto a webpage to increase the keyword count, variety, and density of that page. Often the keywords do not relate directly to the webpage’s actual content. For example, a Ponzi scheme website may try attracting users by stuffing keywords appropriate for a popular video game, in hopes the page ranks well for the video game keyword and then attracts unsuspecting users.
Hidden or Invisible Text
Keywords are hidden in the site’s web design by making the text the same color as the background, using extremely small font sizes, or hiding the text within the HTML code.
Repeatedly placing keywords in Meta tags was once an effective black hat tactic. Search engines killed this black hat technique back in 2005.
Gateway or Doorway Pages
These are low-quality pages stuffed with keywords intended to attract specific audiences. The pages are often poorly designed and serve no purpose other than to encourage users to “click here to enter,” which sends the user to a separate website. These are similar to today’s landing pages, though landing pages at least provide some informational use for the user. Gateway and doorway pages don’t even do that.
These websites use programs to “scrape” search engine results, taking published copywriting from other websites, often without permission. The scraper website then combines all this scraped content into a unique presentation that tricks both search engines and users. Scraper websites are often covered in advertising, especially pay-per-click ads, or they redirect users to other affiliate or promotional sites. There have been cases of scraper sites outranking original websites for stolen content.
As far as black hat SEO tricks go, article spinning is among the worst. This technique involves using custom programming to rewrite existing content, rather than creating new content, to avoid duplicate content penalties. Each article is extremely similar, with only a few sentences, words, or phrases changed. The process is often automated using an article spinning program, which makes it possible to churn out countless articles every day. The articles are often devoid of value or information, just clutter.
These black hat SEO techniques take advantage of the merits search engines place upon websites for receiving lots of inbound links.
Automated programs create links on third-party websites to increase a specific website’s inbound links.
Link farms are a community of websites that excessively link to each other, often referencing each other on every page.
Hyperlinks are placed in areas where users will not see them. This increases the website’s link popularity, but it does nothing for actual users.
An individual creates multiple fake online identities, using them to create fake links or websites that all link to each other, most often seen with spam blogs.
These blogs came about as WordPress web development saw a rise in popularity, and the blogs are created solely to sell commercial products and increase a specific website’s inbound link popularity. The blogs give an image of legitimacy, but the writing is often poor, uninformative, and full of outbound links.
Page hijacking happens when someone creates a rogue copy of a popular website, showing content almost identical to the original, but the rogue site redirects users to malicious or promotional websites.
Buying Expired Domains
Some individuals monitor DNS records for domains that are scheduled to expire soon. When a domain expires, the individual buys it up and replaces the domain’s pages with links to their own website. (Google now resets link data on expired domains, but some individuals still continue using this black hat practice.)
Basically, a website secretly places an affiliate tracking cookie on a website visitor’s computer. This cookie then generates revenue for the website that stuffed the cookie. In addition to generating fraudulent affiliate sales, cookie stuffing also can overwrite other affiliate cookies, denying legitimate affiliate revenue.
Websites that allow users to edit pages, such as Wikipedia, can be altered to include spam links, unless they include some anti-spam measures, which Wikipedia does. Automated spam programs have been known to transform world-writable pages into unusable messes.
Comment spam rose in popularity when websites began allowing users an opportunity to comment on blogs, wikis, and guestbooks. Many automated programs now exist to create comment spam, creating an issue for website owners.
Other Types of Black Hat Techniques
The following types of black hat tricks do not fall into either of the previous two categories, but they are worth mentioning.
Cloaking is a broad term that refers to any way in which a website serves a page to a search engine spider that is different than what humans would see. A human accessing a website may see a well-organized, informational site that holds a lot of value, but when the search engine spider accesses the site, it’s packed with data intended to appease the search engine. For example, black hat cloaking can deceive a search engine by showing it a different version of the website, one that contains information or content not visible anywhere on the website. This can increase the website’s search rankings while also appealing to human users.