What is “Black Hat” SEO?
The volume of online content went up as the number of internet users increased. But the quality of this content? That diminished. As a result, search engines struggled to provide a positive user experience. That’s because now they had a huge number of low-quality websites appearing in the search results and interacting with their users.
Search engines like Google, of course, couldn’t stand to lose their reputation because of such websites. And so, they decided to act. That’s when search engine optimization (SEO) experts and webmasters saw drastic changes in search engine ranking factors.
Google made numerous updates to its algorithm and search technology. This was to ensure users got relevant and high-quality results in response to their queries. These updates rendered some classic SEO techniques useless. Some of these tactics went a bit further from being just useless. They became downright illegitimate. And using them? That went from being perfectly fine to absolutely wrong.
From White to Black: What SEO Tactics Went from Doable to Absolute No-No
User experience has always been at the core of all search engine updates. And so, the strategies that have been the hardest hit by these updates are those that, if implemented, take away from the website’s experience. These include:
Keyword stuffing was quite popular since the early ages of search engines up until the recent past. Keywords help search engines find relevance between a website and user queries. So, websites that had more keywords enjoyed a higher chance of earning a better rank. This is why website builders used to go all out with keyword placement. They placed keywords all over the website, even if it came at the cost of making their content sound like a broken record.
No one likes reading content that has the same phrase appearing after every third word. This is why, even if the content held great value, stuffed with keywords, it ruined the user experience. And so, Google went after this approach and updated its algorithm to ensure websites stuffing their content with keywords would not rank well.
Given how important and equally effort-intensive it was to build backlinks, website owners used to turn to purchasing links. This often helped them get hundreds of links for their website in a fraction of the time it took to build the same amount of backlinks manually. This used to be an effective shortcut to get to the top.
The link-buying shortcut is still prevalent. But it is no longer effective. In fact, it can be the opposite of that.
Google came after link buying when it realized these purchased links come from link farms and private blog networks, all shady, useless websites that add no value to the user. Link buying also manipulates the search engine into believing the website is valuable and authoritative. And no one likes being manipulated.
With the progress of search technology and Google’s efforts to make search results increasingly useful, search engines have now started punishing websites that deploy such shady link-building tactics, turning this once-famous SEO technique into a potentially disastrous black hat approach.
Some SEOs, even today, promise website owners they will publish hundreds of “optimized” content pieces on their websites in no time. What website owners don’t know is, this quick turnaround for such content pieces could be because the SEO agency may be doing what’s known as article spinning.
Article spinning is when you take one piece of content and plug it into a spinning software. That software spits out hundreds of similar pieces that are essentially the same but look different.
Article spinning used to be a legitimate SEO technique to get your website brimming with optimized content. But search engines now consider it a black hat SEO tactic that can get your site penalized. Why? It’s simple. Spun content reads weird, brings in low-quality backlinks, and has every element that destroys the user’s experience.
Content Scraping and Plagiarism
Along the same lines as article spinning, content scraping and plagiarism were also considered acceptable tactics to get a website ranking higher. But plagiarized content offers no value to the users and like spun articles, may even sound a bit off. And stealing someone else’s content is unethical and just wrong anyway.
Some SEO agencies continue to sell their services based on these black hat techniques and website owners, in hopes of winning that coveted top position in the search engine space sooner, eagerly invest in these techniques, often losing more than they have gained.
Is There Anything Left that’s White Hat?
You already know how illegitimate SEO practices are called black hat. Similarly, legitimate optimization techniques also have a name. They are called white hat tactics.
But if most of the classic SEO techniques are now flagged as being illegitimate, is there anything left that’s white hat? Yes. Many simple white hat tactics have replaced the questionable black hat ones. You can easily build on them to get your website started on the path to SEO success.
Some popular and 2023-relevant SEO tactics include:
Writing High-Quality Content
Writing bots have thrown some real shade on human writers who work hard to create quality content. But even if these bots evolve and become powerful enough to run the world, they would hire human writers themselves to write meaningful content for them. That’s because as smart as they may be, these bots cannot write with the emotions and expertise that are unique to humans.
This is why, in a time when humans are increasingly relying on bots to write content on the cheap, working with humans helps you get the kind of content your human users find relevant and valuable and the bot responsible for connecting you with those human users (aka Google) also loves.
Prioritizing User Intent
What you want to tell people and what people want to know can sometimes differ. Wildly. If a user is coming to your plumbing website to learn about the best ways to fix their PVC pipes but you continue to rave about how fantastic your service is, the user will leave your website disappointed. From this, Google will figure out that your website isn’t a good place to direct traffic and therefore may lower your ranking, or never move you up in the first place.
Therefore, as you create content and build a website, it is important to replace your business owner hat with a customer hat. This will help you think like them. And once you start thinking like a customer, you can understand their intent better and make sure your content aligns with it.
Earning High-Quality Links
As opposed to link buying, building high-quality backlinks helps your website get a share of other well-reputed websites’ authority. As a result, your website becomes more authoritative in the eyes of the search engine and is more likely to rank higher in response to relevant queries.
Building such backlinks is effort intensive, sure. It takes time too. But the results it generates are long-term. With lots of high-quality backlinks, the rank your website gains sticks with it, helping the website get extended exposure and the business, increased traffic.
Voice and Multisearch
You can’t talk about 2023-relevant SEO tactics without mentioning the latest search techniques like voice and multi-search.
Voice search is when users use the “Hey Google” functionality and surf the web through vocal commands.
Multisearch, on the other hand, is one of the latest search features. It lets the users take a picture of the object they want to search, pair their visual query with a textual query, and look for exactly what they need—for example, taking a picture of a red dress and typing “yellow” over it to look for the same dress in yellow.
As search evolves, you may see a rise in optimization for voice and multi-searches. And any SEO agency worth its salt would recommend and incorporate these approaches to help your website win in the modern search engine space. That is if these approaches make sense for your business.
But the thing is, only a reliable SEO agency or expert would bother to update their SEO toolkit with evolving search algorithms and best practices. Some of them would just continue to implement the old, black hat strategies.
What’s The Worst That Can Happen If Someone Goes Ahead With Black Hat Tactics On Your Site?
Black hat tactics go against the search engine rules. You may not have the police showing up at your place because you did some black hat stuff on your site. But your website may get punished by the search engine for going against the rules.
These punishments involve penalties that can result in your website losing its search engine ranking or worse, getting kicked out of the search index.
Once a website is penalized for black hat tactics, it can take anywhere from days to months before your website can recover again. Think of all the business you may lose if your website is unfindable for this long.
Google will continue to evolve. So it is best to find a way to keep your website up-to-date with the latest SEO trends and best practices. This will help you ensure that your website is always indexed and fit to rank higher, come what may.
Working with a reliable SEO agency that can differentiate black from white can be a step in the right direction.
Landau Consulting, an online marketing company in NJ, helps small and medium-sized businesses thrive with websites that are optimized according to the latest SEO ranking factors.
With a team of web developers, SEO experts, and writers, Landau Consulting offers end-to-end support when it comes to your businesses’ online growth.