Spoken of in whispers across the online world, there exists a society of shadowy SEO’s known as “Black Hats.”
These are the rule-breakers, the SEOs who laugh in the face of Google’s “Terms of Service” and believe in one thing and one thing only
What is Black Hat SEO?
Doing whatever it takes to make money online, regardless of ethics, Google’s guidelines, or any moral aversion to spam.
It might sound a bit… “evil”, but they’re also incredibly smart. They operate in secret, keeping their tactics close to their chests – an effective tactic is only effective until Google sniffs it out.
But sometimes, word leaks out and the rest of us get to peek behind the black curtain and into the dark world of black hat SEO. Without further adieu, here are some of the most common tactics black hats use in their ruthless quest for online gold:
1. Tiered Link-Building
Black hats rarely have just one site (usually, they own thousands of domains hosted all over the web), and like most businesses, they want to protect their money-making websites. But how can this be accomplished when building spammy links?
Core to many of the ideas that we’re about to see is “tiered” link building. Black hats will set up “tiers” of websites, building the most spammy links to their lower tiers and then linking those lower tier websites to their money-sites. Doing so can create the illusion of quality linking.
Real linking networks look much more like spider webs or wagon wheels. They’re intricate and diverse for a reason: to prevent Google from sniffing out the spammy activity of the primary website. Keep this linking scheme in mind as we move forward.
2. Article Spinning & Blasting
Creating great content takes a lot of work – as anyone who has tried to do so can attest. Black hats have a sneaky shortcut: They “spin” high-quality pieces of content into hundreds – maybe thousands – of iterations. Sometimes this is automated through tools, but the really adept black hats will use cheap overseas writers to do this manually. When the articles are ready for launch, they’re blasted out across the web using automated tools that place them on as many websites as possible.
Again, they’ll use these articles to link back to their tiers of websites and create the illusion of a real content campaign. Sneaky!
Sometimes, things are not as they appear. Cloaking involves showing search engines one version of a website (usually with keyword-rich content) and then showing users something completely different, like a site all about credit cards, Viagra or payday loans. Through cloaking, black hats can scoop up great rankings without having great websites, then pull a bait n’ switch on the visitor.
4. Hidden Content
An ugly sibling to cloaking, hidden content involves placing enormous reams of content where visitors can’t see them in an attempt to deceive search engines. Content could be white on a white background, or it could be placed so far off the screen that a human visitor would never, ever see it. Again, the goal is to trick search engines into thinking your site is a content-rich resource when it’s really not.
5. Doorway Pages
Doorway pages are pages of content that solely exist to target a particular keyword phrase. The content on these pages is usually unhelpful, and the process of creating doorway pages is usually automated to save time. Automated doorway pages may be nothing more than content pulled from other places around the web, spliced and arranged to try and entice Google to reward rankings. This tactic goes hand in hand with unexpected redirects: a black hat may use doorway pages to instantly redirect a visitor to another page with real content, like a home page or sales page.
6. Fake Social Drips
When real content goes viral, there’s a flurry of activity on social media – shares, likes, pins and so on. To mimic this success, Black Hat SEOs will set up hundreds or thousands of fake social media profiles, then “drip” their content through these social profiles using a similar process to how viral content actually gets shared in real life. The goal is to fool search engines who measure social signals as a signal for content popularity.
7. Hacks & Hijacks
Maybe the most insipid of all, Black Hats will hack vulnerable websites (they LOVE the weak security on WordPress websites, so be sure yours has been locked down) and hide their links in your pages. The goal isn’t to take your site down or even to cause a commotion. Instead, they want to stealthily hijack your pages to point back to their sites, leeching from your hard-earned authority. In some cases, a hacked website will also be subject to cloaking or redirects, so when visitors arrive on your pages they’re served something unexpected.
8. Link Blasts
This is actually a multitude of tactics all wrapped up into one, but it’s an old trusty trick in the black hat’s repertoire. Automated tools like Xrumer were designed to spam the web through blog comments, forum profiles, directories and more, putting links in as many places as possible. All that comment spam you get? Thank black hat SEOs for it. With the push of a button, they can ruin the day of thousands upon thousands of websites all at once.
9. The Black Hat Time Machine
Recently shared by Glen Allsopp (a legendary black hat who is also very friendly), Google drastically overvalues the sharing date on a piece of content. Just by manipulating the time stamps on their websites (in conjunction with all the other black hat work they’ve been doing), Glen was able to secure and hang on to top placement for some really, really competitive keyword phrases.
It’s so simple it’s almost insulting, but changing the date on pieces seems to carry some clout with the bumbling Google algorithm. It won’t last, but it’s a neat trick for now.
10. Private Networks
We started with a common one, and we’ll end with one. Remember how we mentioned that black hats own thousands of domains? They organize these domains into private networks, and they’re fiercely protective of them, too. Black hats will go so far as to host all their websites on different servers, pay with prepaid credit cards (so their names can’t be tracked) and more to avoid having their networks exposed. These networks all interlink and serve as sophisticated content farms that help black hats mimic genuine engagement, link building and authority.
Why Not Join in the Fun?
We’ve only scraped the surface here – but many people start asking why they should keep playing by the rules (“White Hat” SEO) when black hats keep beating them out in the search results.
There are two answers:
1. Black hat SEO is not easy, fast or inexpensive. Just like content marketing and legitimate SEO, great black hat SEO is time consuming, costs money and requires a whole lot of strategic thought to succeed. It’s far from the “easy way out” people make it out to be. And,
2. There’s huge risk to your business. Google actively cracks down on this kind of spamming. They hate it and want to see it go away, because their whole mission is to serve up relevant results to human visitors. Get caught using black hat tactics, and your website can be penalized or de-indexed. Suddenly, your revenue stream is gone, and your business is left to rebuild. For most real businesses, it’s not worth the gamble.
For long-term, sustainable and ethical success, you’re better to enlist the help of a professional SEO agency who won’t roll the dice on your dollars.