Many business owners outsource their website’s search engine optimisation to professional SEO and digital marketing agencies. Rightly so. SEO takes time, technical proficiency and expertise. And when time is money, you’re better off spending yours on the parts of your business you do best.
Unfortunately some disreputable SEO companies use black hat SEO techniques to try manipulate search engine rank. For business owners and managers it is therefore important to know enough about SEO techniques to know that your SEO agency is providing a quality service.
Read why Black Hat SEO techniques can be damaging to your website in my recent article ‘Why Black Hat SEO is Like Putting Salt in Your Coffee’. Put short, Black Hat SEO optimises for Search Engines rather than for humans. Inevitably, the user’s experience suffers. This is exactly what SearchEngines want to avoid. Thus, once detected, culprit websites are penalised – and this can leave permanent damage.
To be vigilant of SEO malpractices on your website you need to be informed. In other words, you need to know what Black Hat SEO techniques actually are.
The following explainer list will help you identify and understand some of the most common SEO tactics that fall outside the best practice codes set out by Search Engines. In particular, this list is mindful of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.. Use this as a quality control checklist to ensure that the SEO agency you employ is legit.
Black Hat SEO Technique #1: Keyword Stuffing
Knowing what keywords your customers are using in their Google searches and optimising your website for those keywords is a crucial part of SEO. But there is a fine line between keyword optimisation and keyword cramming or ‘keyword stuffing’.
Good SEO agencies will weave keywords into your website’s text in a natural and relevant manner. The objective is to provide useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.
‘Keyword stuffing’ occurs when the repetition of keywords or numbers is so great that text loses its meaning. Keywords appear in lists or blocks, often out of context, and disrupt rather than serve the natural prose of information-rich content.
Web users find heavy repetition frustrating and will not tolerate it. You must ask yourself then: What’s the point of using keyword stuffing to draw large volumes of people to your site, if readers are then repelled from it? The quality over quantity argument rings true here.
Black Hat SEO Technique #2: Hidden Text
Hiding text on your website may seem like a crafty way to get extra keywords on your page without compromising user experience. However, Google considers this to be a deceptive tactic.
Keyword blocks can be hidden in several ways.
- Putting white text on a white background
- Placing text behind an image
- Using CSS to position text off-screen
- Setting the font size to 0
Links are another important factor in SEO. To avoid displaying excessive amounts of links, webpages sometimes conceal these too by only linking a single character. A hyphen (-), for instance, is a popular place for masking a link.
While these strategies take account of user experience, they are nonetheless deceptive tactics. Search engines look on hidden text and links unfavourably and will penalise guilty websites if detected.
Black Hat SEO Technique #3: Auto-generated content
Automatically generated content is content that’s been created programmatically. This can appear as paragraphs of seemingly random text that makes little or no sense to the user, but which contains target keywords.
The best way to think about auto-generated content is as text that humans do not review before it is placed on your website. For example, text that is translated by an automated tool or text generated by skimming RSS feeds or search results. When text is auto-generated it can be taken out of context. For that reason, web visitors may find it obscure or confusing. Consolidating content from several automated sources on your webpage only works if this content can be contextualised and given some additional human value or curation.
Black Hat SEO Technique #4: Doorway Pages
Doorways are websites or webpages that are created to rank highly for specific search queries. For example: www.yourkeyword.com.
These can be bad for users because they lead to content duplication. Users may find multiple similar pages appearing in search results, where each result takes them to what is essentially the same destination.
Some examples of doorway malpractice to watch out for include:
- Having multiple domain names or pages to target specify locations, but which funnel users to one page (E.g. www,yourdomain.com/yourkeywordlocation1; www.yourdomain.com/yourkeywordlocation2, www.yourdomain.com/yourkeywordlocation3 and so on…)
- Excessive Pages generated to funnel visitors into the meaty portion of your site(s), where relevant information gives real value.
- Pages with duplicate content
- or text content that appears more like a search result display than information-rich prose.
Black Hat SEO Technique #5: Cloaking
Websites that present different content or URLs to humans than they do to search engines are said to be ‘cloaking’.
An example of this is a website that serves a page of HTML text to search engines, yet displays a page of images or Flash to users. Another cloaking tactic is to insert keyword text into a page only when the agent requesting the page is a search engine and not a human user.
Cloaking is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines because users often receive different results than they expected.
Black Hat SEO Technique #6: Crafty Redirects
Web developers often use redirects to send a visitor to a different URL than the one they initially requested. There are lots of good reasons for this. When moving your site to a new domain it is important that visitors to the old domain name are redirected to your new site address. Another good reason is when a number of webpages are consolidated into one. In this case the old page links need to be forwarded to the new master page.
But not all redirects are honest. Some web developers use redirects to display content to human users that is different from that which is displayed to search engine crawlers. Manipulating redirects is therefore a little like cloaking.
Sneaky redirects evade search engine’s into indexing the original page instead of following the redirect link. Meanwhile, users are brought to the redirect target. Like cloaking, this practice is deceptive because it attempts to display different content to Googlebot than that experienced by the human user. Visitors can be taken to a different destination than they expected.
Black Hat SEO Technique #7: Link Schemes
This is a big one.
Links that are solely intended to manipulate a website’s search engine page rank may be considered part of a link scheme. These are a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Links are supposed to direct users to/from relevant and useful information. In the case of content marketing assets like blogs and articles links are used to reference credible sources and direct readers to more in-depth info.
Links to/from credible sites, and which are intended to enhance the reader’s experience, are a positive. They’ll build up link juice which is a healthy ingredient for good SEO.
Link malpractice occurs when the key purpose of including links on a website is to counterfeit link juice. Evidence of link scheme practices can negatively impact your website’s position in search engine results.
Here is what your SEO agency should not be doing:
- They shouldn’t be buying or selling links that pass page rank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that containlinks; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone free product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.
- Your SEO agency shouldn’t be involved in Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”)
- They shouldn’t develop partner pages for the exclusive purpose of cross-linking.
- They shouldn’t participate in large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
- And finally, your SEO agency should not use automated programs or services to create links to your site.
The key thing to remember here is that links should never be paid for or coerced. You can do this by building strong relationships and, most importantly, by providing high-quality content. If your content gives value then other web owners, blog writers and content distributors will want to link to you.
Stay in the Know About SEO!
Reputable SEO agencies will not use the black hat techniques I have listed above. And there are many great companies providing quality SEO services out there – so fear not! Don’t hasten to outsource this important activity. SEO is an essential part of digital marketing that your website cannot afford to miss out on. All you need to do is ensure that the SEO company you employ is the right one.
Use the above checklist of common black hat SEO techniques to make sure your website is being optimised correctly. Be informed and your website will thank you in the long run!
I hope this article proves useful to you. For more tips, advice and insight on all things digital and content marketing related be sure to sign up to our newsletter. In the meantime, if you have any specific questions or topics you would like to see covered here why not pop me an email to Sinead@conker.ie and I’ll see what I can do 🙂