Naughty, naughty. Very naughty.

One thing you’ll hear a lot when looking into SEO strategy is “Black Hat”. There may be mentions of “White Hat” and even “Grey Hat”, but what do all of these funny coloured hats have to do with having a good search presence? And who is deciding what colour hat goes with what?

What is black hat SEO and white hat SEO?

Black hat SEO and white hat SEO are common terms thrown around in the SEO world: the former essentially refers to ways of exploiting Google’s algorithm in order to perform better in search rankings. The latter (while still aiming to improve rankings) generally focuses on a great user experience and ensuring your website is technically sound.

White hat SEO is seen as the more ethical of the two for obvious reasons and the main focus of deep strategies is to produce content that is applicable to the site’s target audience.

In some respects you could say that black hat is anything that goes against Google’s guidelines and white hat is anything that stays within them.

Some white hat techniques include:

  • The usage of specific keywords in meta tags
  • Keyword research to better understand user intent
  • Creating content for specific questions that users are asking on Google
  • Building sections of sites with good logical hierarchy and structure

Some black hat SEO techniques include things like:

  • The repetition of keywords in the content produced (spam)
  • Purchasing links or link schemes
  • Content automation / copied content
  • Doorway pages / Gateway pages

It’s quite discombobulating actually, the fact that some marketers actively choose to run with black hat SEO as it can have some short term benefits. In the long run however it can seriously damage their websites future potential, this is definitely not a risk worth taking. They say “an elephant never forgets”. Neither does Google in most cases.

Why is it called black hat?

The origin of the term ‘black hat SEO’, comes from old western movies where the antagonists often wore ‘black hats’ to separate themselves from the protagonists – who usually wore ‘white hats’. The term ‘grey hat’ is just where a technique being used could be considered black hat by some and white hat by others. A mix of the two colours essentially.

What are black hat SEO tools?

According to Google people often ask “what are black hat SEO tools?” There are a number of tools out there that help to facilitate black hat techniques. In terms of the actual techniques used, they can differ greatly and can range from anything spammy to completely cruel. They are, of course, generally the polar opposite of current guidelines from Google.

Let’s have a quick look at one example shall we?

The name of this tool has been obscured for obvious reasons…

G*A S*a*ch E*g*n* R*n*e*:

As you may be aware, backlinks (links from other sites to yours) are a core part of Google’s algorithm. This tool focuses on backlinks and more specifically automating the process of ‘building’ them. It allows full automation of backlink building, so you’ll never have to do it by hand again! Sounds great doesn’t it? The backlinks are constantly being ‘built’, 24/7 around the clock, and it requires nothing from the user.

The technology behind this tool is impressive as it acts by itself to create accounts and register them on authoritative sites, whilst also simultaneously submitting your content. It can also keep track of numerous campaigns at the same time thanks to its advanced scheduling capabilities. All of this gives complete autonomy over the amount of projects you would like to run at a single time. You also have the power to make adjustments, where necessary, to the more complex settings such as minimising activity at different points throughout the day and even choosing exact start and stop times, which all helps with accuracy and control. If you’re not a fan of complex data, this tool would certainly seem inviting and help ease your nerves as the diagrams and charts are straightforward to understand. It’s easy to see why this might be a tantalising offer that some just can’t ignore.

Google’s guidelines say not to engage in link schemes. Specifically “Using automated programs or services to create links to your site.”

This tool is exactly that and much more…

Does black hat still work?

At this moment in time, yes it does currently work…in some cases. But it’s often a short term gain. These gains do not justify the long term repercussions, it’s not a sustainable model.

Short term gains can be had but only until Google fully catches up with your activity and in a lot of cases you will receive a manual penalty from Google (you’ll see this in Search Console). These can be hard to have removed as you will need to show evidence that you have undone what you did, or at least tried to. Even then there is no guarantee that the penalty will be lifted.

In other cases where there is no manual penalty the site may simply not recover once the robots have caught up with everything. You’ll inevitably end up chasing your tail instead of being proactive in your efforts.

Why is it so unethical?

Due to its nature Black SEO receives a lot of negative criticism and rightly so as it cons the user, and the search engines. It’s considered unethical as when these tactics work users will not be seeing the best results from the web. From Google’s perspective this is a disaster as it means their customer (the sherchee) is getting poor results from their search engine. Also other sites that stand to lose traffic and potentially revenue as low quality results in the search engine attract users that would otherwise be coming to their site. These users are basically being conned into thinking they are on the best and most relevant site when they are not.

Why should you avoid black hat SEO?

The negatives outweigh the positives by a landslide. The main aim when building a website should be to make sure it can be found. Good visibility on Google is essential. Black hat SEO has no regard for this. These tactics might give you some initial visibility but ultimately they will result in zero long term, sustainable, visibility. The tendency is for sites that use these tactics to completely evaporate from the search results overnight.

Where there is action, there is a (negative) reaction, and this is no different for black hat SEO, due to the violation of guidelines, search engines (not just Google) will often slap you with a penalty. You’ll end up with no visibility and a penalty to go with it.

How should I avoid it then?

All things considered, it’s understandable that you may be cautious of certain SEO activities and not want to engage in any black hat SEO. Who wants to get in trouble with Google right?

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • First of all, writing your own content is a good place to start, copying and pasting from other websites is not the best way to go about creating great engaging content for your users. If there is a piece of content out there that you think would help your users and you agree with then why not link to it?
  • Invisible or hidden text is also another common facet of black hat SEO, it may involve using white text on a white background for example, the user won’t be able to see it, but the search engine will still be able to pick it up. If what your user gets/sees is different to what the bots see you could be heading for trouble.
  • Purchasing links / Link schemes, as mentioned earlier this is a big no no. This goes directly against Google’s guidelines. More info on that here.
  • Repetition of keywords (stuffing/spam) – once upon a time this would work, but now Google is quick to recognise this and it won’t get you far.

There are a large number of “tactics” out there, all designed to increase your rankings. The real rule of thumb is to always have your user in mind. If you think something is beneficial to your users then get it on the site. Label it correctly so search engines have an easy time understanding what it is/does and.. that’s it. Nothing magical or manipulative, just do what’s right for your audience.

If you need any help or advice on how to avoid “black hat” or you just want to know more about how to do things the “white hat” way, drop us a message, we’d be happy to help. No hat-tricks.