If you’ve not heard of the phrases ‘white hat’ and ‘black hat’ SEO, let’s clear it up here.
It’s simple, really: white-hat SEO refers to tactics that are approved by major search engines and by the SEO community at large. Those of us who employ white-hat methods are the good guys. We fight the good fight and love to share knowledge about what works best, and what doesn’t.
On the dark side of the moon, however, is black-hat SEO. If you’re donning a black hat, your methods are not only outdated, but are in some cases illegal. Between aggressive strategies and foolhardy schemes that were created to dupe search engines, black-hat SEOs are the bad guys and it’s only a matter of time before Google catches up with them.
But, are you 100% sure which hat you’re wearing? As SEO methods get more and more sophisticated, the lines get increasingly blurred. Don’t worry, though – we’ve got you covered.
The most common black-hat methods
If you recognise any of your own methods here, you’ll know that it’s time to change up your strategies. Here are some of the most common black-hat methods that are being used today.
#1 Duplicate content
This is one of the main offenders because it’s so often committed. On one end of the scale, it may seem like a harmless time-saving thing – a simple copy-and-paste job. This comes down to a lack of knowledge.
On the more dangerous end of the scale, many use duplicate content to manipulate search engine results. Luckily, search engines have become far smarter and can usually smell duplicate content a mile away.
This method is possibly the oldest of the lot. Since the days of SEO yore, people have been stuffing keywords into their content like somebody trying to cram their foot into shoes that are three sizes too small: it looks bad, and it feels even worse.
Today, it’s not as common. It makes for an awful user experience, and it’s so blatant that anyone with a basic knowledge of SEO will find it ridiculous – even people with no knowledge of SEO, like your users. In fact, it’s something we look back on and chortle to ourselves – “Were methods really that basic?”
#3 Invisible text
Invisible text is basically implementing white text, usually stuffed full of keywords, onto a white background – which appears invisible to visitors, but means that search engines would still take notice.
It’s a classic black-hat technique, and one that will surely get picked up by Google nowadays.
#4 Irrelevant keywords
As semantic variations become more important in modern SEO, irrelevant keywords are now a grey area. You need to get the balance right.
Having a few keywords that are closely related to one another is an accepted (white-hat) method, because it shows search engines what your content is about.
Go too far the other way, though, and you’re essentially keyword-stuffing again. Over-optimising with irrelevant keywords will result in sky-high exit rates and a shoddy clickthrough rate (CTR) – not what you want.
Think about it: by optimising for a keyword that has nothing to do with your content, you make promises to visitors that this content will deal with certain topics, when it doesn’t. Your visitors will run for the hills, and you’re likely to get pulled up on it by Google.
#5 Private blog networks
This is a pretty rare one these days, but it’s been known to happen. It refers to creating separate blogs that link back to your own site. The reason you would create a collection of blogs (a PBN) is to generate links to your site in order to help it rank higher, basically. Often, expired domains are used for this, due to their high domain authorities (DAs).
Sharing link-juice in this fashion is massively underhand, and because of its technical nature it often goes unnoticed (keyword-stuffing this ain’t). It seems a good idea because the perp has full control over the network, and can manipulate it this way or that.
Some SEOs call this a ‘grey hat’ method. To us, that’s just blurring the lines further. As Google grows more sophisticated, it becomes less tolerant of underhand techniques.
Keep wearing that white hat, folks.
Article-spinning gets more popular as lazy marketers look for ways to get around duplicate content. Again, it’s a little more technical than the older methods. It involves a special kind of software that takes duplicate content and, figuratively speaking, rearranges the order so that it makes sense without being too similar.
It’s classed as a black-hat method because it’s not giving visitors new, helpful, or relevant information. It just regurgitates other people’s content. By using article-spinning software, you’re not bringing any value whatsoever to your own website. The better thing to do here would be to write an even more insightful article about the topic – aim to write the most in-depth analysis on said piece of news, with your own thoughts and opinions included in it.
#7 Selling links
We can’t quite believe that this business still goes on, but it does.
Link-selling refers to just that: the selling and/or buying of links in order to rank more highly on search engines. There are a number of benefits to those who buy links. First, it’s really easy and you don’t have to bother with the quality of the content.
Second, you can choose whichever anchor text you want. Anchor text is a prime ranking factor for search engines, so the power is in the buyer’s hands.
Until Google gets them, that is. It’s just not worth chancing it.
Cloaking is when the content presented to the search engine spider differs from that which the web visitor can see in front of them. It makes little sense because, although it boosts traffic, your bounce rate will skyrocket.
It produces different results than what the user expected, creating a poor user experience. It’s a cheap trick, and one that falls flat on its face.
White hats at the ready
Now that you know what a black hat looks like, it's time to practise some legitimate, above-board SEO techniques. The last thing you want is a penalty from Google. To ensure that you stay in their good books, here is everything we’ve ever written about SEO.
One more thing – if you’re looking for a new digital agency, you want them practise responsible SEO too, right? There’s so much more than that, though – check out our How to Choose a Digital Agency guide for more.
In the meantime, you can always give us a call to chat about your rankings. We’re on 0161 848 4300 – you can even arrange a call with our director Kleon. He’d love to talk about your future goals.