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We have all heard the terms “black hat” SEO and “white hat” SEO; but what exactly are some of the downright nasty tricks that SEO practitioners can pull? How can we safeguard ourselves against these unscrupulous vigilantes?
Let’s start with a generally accepted definition of what constitutes Black Hat SEO techniques. Simply put, Black Hat practices are those which:
- Generally contravene the search engine rules and regulations
- Create a poor user experience
- Unethically present content different to users and the search engine spiders
The following are some of the more “popular” Black Hat SEO techniques that you need to be aware of:
1. Keyword stuffing
This is simply the art of packing long lists of keywords into your site in order to appear relevant for a specific search term. This can be done in a number of ways, including:
- Manipulating the code of your site so that the keywords do not appear to the user, but they do to the search engine spiders (invisible text).
- Having reams and reams of keyword-laden content on your site that adds no value to the experience of the user, but only serves to ensure that you are “appearing” relevant to the search engine spiders.
2. Doorway pages
These are pages that users would typically never actually see. They are simply there as bait for the search engines to list them highly within the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Once a user clicks through to a “doorway page” they are instantly redirected to a user landing page.
3. Comment spam
The Holy Grail of SEO is offsite optimisation; the art of getting backlinks to point to your site. A very common Black Hat technique is Comment Spamming. This is simply going and looking for related (and sometimes not related) blog posts on which to place a useless statement that has a link in it pointing back to your website. These sorts of backlinks are completely not credible and will not add any long-term benefits to your SEO strategy.
4. Link farms
These are quite closely linked to Comment Spamming as link farms sell the illusion of high quality backlinks from highly relevant and credible sources. Typically they promise hundreds of backlinks for a few hundred Rand; what you get in essence is a depleted bank account, an annoyed search engine spider and lower rankings.
5. Multiple domains
This used to be a good idea in the early days of website marketing. It was about owning multiple website domains (and I mean multiple, not a selected handful for strategic reasons); each of these domains would then have a copy of your website on and each would be indexed and show up in the SERPs.
In the old days, this meant multiple windows into your site, which translated to more traffic which was the baseline on which all website efforts were measured.
Today, this leads to all sorts of duplicate content issues, canonical link issues and in general, just a really poor experience for spiders and users alike.
6. Multiple websites
As more Black Hat SEO “specialists” became aware that their multiple domain tricks were no longer working; they started to change the websites in very small ways to make sure that they were not picked up as duplicate content; or as any other SEO violation.
Even though the above three sites all have different URLs :
This is another cheap trick that does not actually add any value to the user and can be seen as Black Hat. All that this thinly-veiled excuse for multiple sites does is:
- Hurt your brand identity
- Confuse your audience
- Increase your website costs and website marketing costs
Google has also weighed in on this one with a Webmaster Central blog post.
Microsites, on the other hand, are ok to use provided that they are centered around either a singular product or service that you are trying to push, or are campaign driven which then demands their autonomy.
7. Multiple subdomains
This one follows on from the multiple domains issue of before; but is slightly different. While multiple domains is about having multiple windows into your site; multiple subdomains is about having specific keywords at the front of your website URL; (e.g. seo.mydomain.co.za and adwords.mydomain.co.za).
When there is no index structure within a subdomain, and its only purpose is to house 1 page without any relevant content within its structure on multiple pages, then this is Black Hat SEO.
How do we make sure we are not falling into Black Hat traps?
These days the name of the game is user experience. If you are designing your website and the ways in which you want it to be found with the user in mind and the objectives that they have for wanting to interact with your site, then you are automatically going to shy away from all Black Hat techniques.
Black Hat SEO is typically derived from doing two things:
- Coding and designing websites with the objective of appeasing the search engines; giving them what they want to see to ensure that they rank you well.
- Tricking the search engines by exploiting or over-delivering on a loop-hole within the rules and regulations. This will typically very quickly ensure that your current White Hat technique becomes a Black Hat one.
When recruiting an SEO company to work on your brand; ensure that you know its methodologies and that it can show you pre-existing examples of client work that is performing using White Hat SEO techniques.