The digital ecosystem has become increasingly saturated. The amount of data available is projected to rise from 130 exabytes in 2005 to 40,000 by 2020. It is understandable, therefore, that brands want to find ways to ensure that their websites rank well and gain the attention and traffic they need to drive their digital success. Unfortunately, some people will turn to black hat SEO.
Black hat SEO refers to strategies that try to manipulate the search engines and their ranking factors to artificially increase rankings. These strategies will sometimes work in the short term, but Google continues to update and improve their algorithm to root out those using these techniques, often harshly punishing sites that do with rank drops or even delisting the website.
Here are the most common black hat SEO techniques with which site owners should be familiar.
Article spinning describes articles that marketers have rewritten to avoid any duplicate content penalties, but do not add any new material. This results in a poor user experience.
Bait and Switch
Marketers using a ‘bait and switch’ approach will promote a particular product or service for a certain price. Then when the customer clicks through, they find that the promotion is no longer available.
Blog Comment Spam
Blog comment spam refers to the comments people add to others’ posts that do not contain any original value. They also often include hyperlinks back to the poster’s own web properties to artificially boost their rankings and traffic.
Bot queries are used to artificially inflate the traffic on particular sites or piece of content– such as YouTube videos. Since traffic helps to determine the value and popularity of sites, this can artificially inflate rankings.
Buying links refers to site owners who try to boost the number of backlinks pointing to their website by paying for other sites to link to them.
When site owners buy reviews, they pay for people to leave a positive opinion of their product or service to boost their credibility with new potential prospects.
Clickbait articles and headlines have been written to draw clicks with nearly outrageous titles, but then generally fail to deliver on the expectations.
Cloaking describes when site owners offer certain information to search engines, but then different information to the user’s browser. This results in users finding different information than they clicked from the search engine to see.
Commercial Anchor Text Keywords
Commercial anchor text keywords excessively use ‘commercial’ related words, such as product names, in the text. Natural anchor text tends to use brand names, navigational terms, or random words. Excessively using commercial terms signals to the search engines that the links are unnatural.
Content automation means material that is automatically produced with little regard to the value. The material often provides a poor user experience and was produced solely to include particular keywords.
Cooking dropping, or cookie stuffing, refers to sites that drop 3rd party cookies from websites unrelated to the one that the user browsed.
These are several low-quality directories that serve as link-building schemes just to send backlinks to the registered website.
Domain or cybersquatting refers to purchasing domain names similar to large, trademarked brands with the intention of then selling the domain to the original brand for a profit.
Doorway pages work to get themselves to rank for certain keyword phrases, but then purposely send visitors to a different page.
Duplicate content refers to material that has been copied from other pages to draw traffic without providing any new value for the user.
Also referred to as a Google bomb, Google washing means making a website rank highly in the search engine results for irrelevant terms by excessive linking.
Guest Post Spam
Those who engage in guest post spam will reach out to countless blog owners, looking for opportunities to guest post. They want to cultivate more backlinks with little thought to adding value for the blog audience.
Headings are supposed to tell spiders and users about the content. Heading misuse refers to creating headings that are irrelevant for the content or excessively stuffing them with keywords.
Hidden text refers to content that cannot be seen by users typically on the webpage, but can be seen by the search engine spiders, such as white text on a white background. This is used to try and boost rankings without letting the user see all the content on the page.
Irrelevant Keyword Targeting
Irrelevant keyword targeting means going after particular keywords to attract interested viewers, but then bringing them to landing pages that do not have any relevance for the user.
Keyword stuffing implies an attempt to manipulate the ranking signals in the search engines by using important keywords excessively to try and make the page seem particularly relevant. It leads to choppy, poor-value content.
A link exchange describes websites who agree to link to each other in an attempt to raise their collective rankings.
The term ‘link farm’ describes a website that has been created solely to link to another website in an effort to raise the second site’s rankings.
Link Bait and Switch
Link bait and switch refers to creating content that encourage people to link to the page, but then removing the valuable content and replacing it with advertising.
Malicious content generally refers to material on websites that users were unaware were infused with various programs that could harm their computers, such as viruses or phishing sites.
Mirror sites are replicas of the original website, making it harder for users to sort through and find the information they need.
Negative SEO refers to efforts to employ black hat SEO to purposely hurt the rankings of competitor sites, such as through hacking or linking thousands of spam sites back to the targeted site.
Over-Use of Rich Anchor Text
When links are done naturally, the anchor text will use a variety of terms and brand names. When links are disproportionately anchored with rich keywords, it signals that these links are unnatural and designed to inflate rankings.
Advertorials are advertisements disguised as editorials. When they are not clearly marked as ads, they can confuse visitors and drive them towards undesired sites.
Parasite hosting involves posting a free blog or other posting on a high ranking host with the intention of creating backlinks to other sites, taking advantage of the host’s rankings to boost their own position on the SERP.
Posting Fake Reviews
Since customers read reviews to get a more accurate idea of the value of particular products and services, fake reviews are falsified information to manipulate the customer’s trust.
Private Blog Networks
A person who controls a private blog network will use these sites to link to their other, financially beneficial, sites.
Referrer spam, also known as log spam, makes repeated website requests with a fake URL. Websites that publish their access logs will then link back to the spam site unintentionally.
Schema spam refers to using the schema markup on parts of the site that are invisible to the user or to draw attention to false or misleading content, such as fake reviews.
Scraped content refers to material that has been taken from other, reputable, websites with the intention of either copying it directly or modifying it just slightly. Those using this technique want to rank for the terms, but do not add anything of value for the user.
Selling links refers to web owners who will agree to link back to various websites in exchange for money, rather than because it benefits the user. This generally results in irrelevant links that hurt the user experience.
A shady redirect will take a user from the site that they intended to visit to another page that they did not want to see, often landing them on poor or even malicious pages.
Social Network Spam
Social network spam describes messages and links that are placed on platforms with user-generated content. They can range from false promotions or reviews to profanity intended to incite.
Spammy Footer Links
Spammy footer links are links in the footer of the page that spam users by sending them to poor quality websites or duplicate content. They are generally used to stuff keywords on the page.
Interlinking should make it easier for visitors and search engine spiders alike to navigate the website. Excessive interlinking hinders this effort and hurts the user experience.
Toxic sites are those that are negatively regarded by Google because of their poor or even malicious content. When they then link to other websites, they can sometimes hurt that site’s reputation as well..
TrackBack features allow websites to communicate with each other, such as letting a website know when it has been linked to. TrackBack spam uses this feature to insert spam links on websites.
Typosquatting targets people who mistype common URLs into their browsers. They can use these sites to download malware, sell competitor products, or otherwise create a negative user experience.
Web rings are similar to link exchanges. It describes groups of related sites that link to each other to build their backlinks. These backlinks offer little value for the user.
Although black hat SEO can be a tempting opportunity for site owners trying to raise the rankings of their websites in an increasingly competitive space, in the long run, these strategies hurt both the website and the end user. Reputations become damaged and sites lose significant rankings, making it even harder to find them online. Instead, site owners should focus on using quality content and promotion to draw attention and traffic to their websites.