I enjoyed a sinister moment of glee this week watching my ever-confident colleague Orla spit coffee all over her desk. Wincing with displeasure she choked out “I put salt in instead of sugar”.
While simple mistakes often lead to great discoveries, in Orla’s case it’s safe to say she won’t be leaving CONKER to trailblaze the ‘Saltwater Americano’ anytime soon. The incident led to a mini revelation for me, however.
I was struck with the thought that putting salt in your coffee is a little like using black hat SEO techniques on your business website. They both resemble what you want. But despite looking like sugar, salt is definitely not a substitute for the sweet stuff. Equally, black hat SEO tactics, which may initially seem like a good idea, cannot circumvent the best practice search engine optimisation techniques that define White hat SEO.
Inevitably, both salt in your coffee and black hat techniques in your SEO strategy will leave a bad taste in your mouth.
In this article I will talk about why you should avoid Black hat SEO tactics. Of course, the counterpoint to this argument is that White Hat SEO is preferable. So, let me begin by distinguishing between the two terms for you.
What is the difference between Black Gat SEO and White Hat SEO?
If you’re a total newcomer to the term SEO then you should know first that it stands for Search Engine Optimisation. Web developers use SEO as an ongoing strategy to help websites rank well in organic search engine results. You can get a quick lesson here by checking out The 5 Most Frequent Questions SEO Newbies Want Answered,
So what’s the differentiation between black and white all about?
In essence, Black Hat SEO is bad and White Hat SEO is good. And yes you guessed it – the terms derive from the archetypal symbols of the bad cowboy (black hat) versus the good cowboy (white hat).
Yet good and bad cowboys share many of the same characteristics and behaviours. Likewise,, salt and sugar in matching jars are easily mistaken for each other. Orla learned that the hard way!
When it comes to SEO the shared characteristic relates to objective, because both Black Hat and White Hat SEO seek the same thing – to drive traffic to a particular website.
How can we distinguish between the goodies and the baddies of SEO?
For me, the distinction is simple. It relates to the ‘who’ that Search Engine Optimisation targets. Black Hat SEO optimises for Search Engines, whereas White Hat SEO optimises for humans.
A further distinction relates to compliance. Black Hat SEO uses aggressive strategies that attempt to evade search engine guidance or trick search engine algorithms. White Hat SEO, on the other hand, focuses on providing quality content for humans and adheres to search engine best practices.
What are Black Hat SEO Strategies?
Here are some of the aggressive SEO Strategies that are considered to be malpractice. If you want to stay in Google’s good books then you should avoid these techniques. If your business uses an SEO Service provider to manage your website’s optimisation then use this as a checklist to ensure they are not operating in the SEO underworld!
- Keyword Stuffing
- Hidden/Invisible Text or Hidden Links
- Doorway Pages
- Automatically Generated Content
- Reporting a Competitor (Negative SEO)
- Sneaky Redirects
- Link Schemes and Link Manipulation (including buying and selling links and link farms)
- Guest Posting Networks
- Article Spinning
- Rich Snippet Markup Spam
- Automated Queries to Google
- Creating pages, Subdomains, or Domains with duplicate Content
- Pages with malicious behaviour, such as phishing, viruses, trojans, and other malware
Want to know more about these strategies? For a detailed description of these tactics you can check out our Explainer Sheet of Black Hat SEO Techniques.
Why Should I Avoid these Black Hat SEO Techniques?
Black Hat SEO is Short-Lived
The appeal of Black Hat SEO Tactics is that they can deliver Quick Wins. Businesses are often impatient to rise up the ranks on Google Search Engine Results. This is a natural impulse, because ranking high in organic searches means more traffic to your website and ultimately more customers. It’s a lucrative place to be.
For that reason, some companies’ approach to SEO is to do whatever you can to increase your search engine ranking and do it fast. The black hat SEO techniques I listed above are quick fixes that can bring a lot of traffic to your website in a short burst of time. But be warned, success is short lived.
Search Engines like Google have checks in place, which eventually catch up with websites that are breaking the rules. Once identified bad websites are penalised and fall rapidly down the search engine rankings.
There is, in fact, a dedicated e-commerce business model centred on black hat SEO. These websites are set up to ride the wave of Black Hat SEO success until they are caught by the Search Engines. At this point, they simply fold and move their product onto a new domain name and start again with quick-win SEO strategies.
Id you are a credible online company this IS NOT your business model. Indeed, you probably want to build a reputable, long-term brand. In this case, you need to play the long game with Search Engine Optimisation and avoid black hat SEO techniques like the plague!
Black Hat SEO Enables Disreputable SEO Agencies to Evade Their Customers
The fact that black hat SEO tactics are short-lived is one reason why some companies who use contract SEO service providers enjoy good results to start and then encounter a decline in traffic. By this time, your SEO service provider may have taken a step back or may be harder to reach. Worse still, they may be full of excuses about how you need to spend more money on your SEO.
This is by no means the only outcome of using an SEO company. There are tons of reputable SEO and digital marketing agencies that follow best practice protocol – including my own, CONKER.ie. I’m just drawing your attention to this practice so that you are aware of it. That way you can monitor the activities your SEO contractor undertakes on your website’s behalf.
Make yourself aware of black hat SEO techniques to ensure that you are paying for a quality SEO service that will benefit your business in the long-run.
Black Hat SEO Can Cause Permanent Damage
Undoubtedly, the drop-off in sales revenue once black hat SEO tactics burn out is disappointing. Far more detrimental to your online business, however, is the long-term negative effects those tactics can have.
As I noted earlier, Search Engines routinely check for website malpractices. They want to present the best possible results for their customers’ search queries. This means quality content that provides the information a user is seeking. Thus, search engines want to cultivate an organic search environment where the cream rises to the top.
Black Hat SEO tactics attempt to manipulate the systems Search Engines use to determine what content to display to their customers. For this reason, Google and other Search engines actively work to weed out black hat culprits. If underhand SEO techniques are detected on your website you can expect penalisation from Google. Depending on the severity of the crime, you can even be black listed.
Once you have been shunned to the bottom of a search engine rank it is extremely difficult to climb your way back up. Some websites will never recover the rank position they had even before their SEO campaign was launched . You have to ask yourself is a quick-win really worth permanent damage?
Black Hat SEO Can Repel Customers
So far I have discussed how black hat SEO tactics are designed to optimise websites to search engines in an attempt to beat the system. Ultimately, however, the point of a website is to facilitate human transactions.
Black hat SEO strategies can drive customers to your website, at least in the short tern. But – and this is a big BUT – evidence of black hat tactics on your site can drive customers away.
One example of this is keyword stuffing. I’m sure you’ve experienced reading a webpage where a keyword and close variations are densely packed into the text to the extent that it loses all meaning? It’s so frustrating.
Another example is the duplication of content across a number of pages. A website may include the exact same paragraph of keyword dense text on ten different pages, where each page has a slightly different title. Websites often do this to appeal to location specific search terms. I recently visited a website that had separate pages for ‘ Hen Party Dublin’, ‘Hen Party Wicklow’, ‘Hen Party Cork’ and so on, but where the text on each page was heavily duplicated.
In my personal opinion, these tactics result in a bad user experience. Hence, my professional opinion is to AVOID them! They are the salt in coffee that no one will enjoy.
In 2017 online users are web savvy and impatient. If they feel they are being duped or that their time is being wasted, they will leave your website and never return. Provide quality, however, and they will stay.
Say No To Salty SEO and Life Will Be Sweeter in the Long Run!
So there you have it – my anti Black Hat SEO manifesto! And did I mention that salty coffee is a bad idea also?! Don’t be fooled by false appearances – they will inevitably leave a bad taste in your mouth. While you can clean your desk after spraying it with coffee, it is much harder to remedy a penalised website. So beware! Choose best practice SEO strategies and life will be sweeter in the long-term.
If you would like to share any tips or experiences relating to this article, or even have a question, please feel free to leave a comment below. I’m always happy to hear from readers and to help if possible.