Why You Should Steer Clear of These Black Hat SEO Tactics (and What to Do Instead)


hat’s “black hat” SEO? Like the black hat signals in old Western movies, black hat SEO is the bad guy. These taboo tactics could take the form of stuffing your metadata with your competitor’s name, cloaking URLs to increase rankings, or buying links. In short: Black hat SEO refers to any underhanded or manipulative way of increasing a website’s search rankings.

Black hat SEO isn’t illegal, but it is unethical and widely frowned upon. Black hat tactics violate search engine guidelines and can result in penalties or even getting banned from search engine results altogether. In a world where organic and local search account for 69% of digital traffic, that outcome could wreck your business.

So, what are some of the most common black hat tactics out there? We’ll take a look at a few examples, along with our (good guy) tactics for raising your search engine rankings in a way that won’t get you canceled. Think of this blog as our version of Defense Against the Dark Arts.

Black Hat SEO Tactics

Keyword Stuffing
This is an SEO technique that’s aptly named. It involves overloading a webpage with keywords or phrases to try to manipulate its ranking in search engine results. Keyword stuffing includes stuffing page titles or adding way too many target keywords or internal links into the content in an unnatural way. (If you’ve ever stumbled upon a stuffed webpage, you’ll know exactly how this looks and reads.) Keywords and phrases can also be stuffed into a site’s meta tags and alt tags, or even hidden in text throughout the site by coloring the font to match the background, making it invisible to the reader.

As the web crawler algorithms have advanced, they can easily spot and penalize this behavior. And that’s a good thing, because a keyword-stuffed webpage is awkward at best, and unreadable at worst.

Improper Backlink Acquisition
Your website gets a backlink when another site links over (back) to you. They’re an essential part of a strong SEO strategy because Google sees them as evidence of your website’s authority and trustworthiness within your industry. Think of backlinks like word-of-mouth recommendations.

Because they’re so important, some websites resort to improper methods of acquiring them. Some of these black hat tactics include buying backlinks, trading backlinks with other sites solely for the purpose of search engine rankings, submitting your site to low-quality directories, or comment spamming. Like keyword stuffing, these practices violate search engine guidelines.

This is a deceptive technique in which websites serve up different content based on the user. For crawlers, the site may present content beautifully optimized with keywords and links that increase search engine rankings. When regular users click on the site, however, they may see entirely different content that has nothing to do with the topic of their search.

This practice also violates search engine guidelines and is considered highly deceptive, but search engines constantly update their algorithms to detect and penalize websites that do this. Sites found to be cloaking can face severe consequences, including being taken off search engine results pages completely.

Hidden Text
A variation on keyword stuffing, hidden text occurs when a long list of keywords is written on the page but is rendered invisible to the reader. Hidden text can be a font color that matches the background, positioned off-screen or behind an image, or use a zero-point font size.

Some sites also use CSS or Java programming languages to hide text on the front end. Much like the back-end techniques, web crawlers are usually a step ahead and will ultimately block those pages.

What To Do Instead

The answer is simple: Do the work. Create an amazing website that you have no reason to hide. Research and get to know your target audience, be creative and smart with your strategy, and build a reputable online presence that people want to interact with.

Instead of trying to game the system, focus on creating high-quality, relevant content that incorporates keywords using natural language and in a way that provides value to users. Instead of tricking your visitors with cloaked websites, make sure your content and metadata are search engine-optimized.

Thinking about buying backlinks? Skip that unethical practice and instead, cultivate relationships with peers in your industry that will make them want to link to your site. It all comes back to taking the high road — and the rewards are worth your investment of time and effort.

The Hawthorn Creative Approach to SEO

We work with clients to create powerful strategies that combine SEO and SEM (search engine marketing) while keeping a constant eye on the ever-evolving criteria that guide the world of online search. Our SEO experts continually assess and adjust our clients’ strategies and build websites that are search engine-optimized from the start to ensure that they launch from a strong position.

If you’d like us to help you create a “white hat” SEO strategy that works, let’s talk.


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