How to Avoid Black Hat SEO

If you’re feeling preoccupied with your website’s rankings, you’re far from alone. Google processes around 8.5 billion searches per day, and jostling for a position in the results pages can be tough. In today’s crowded digital marketplace, it can feel harder than ever to get eyes on your products and services feels crucial—which is why you might be tempted to try something different.

Black hat SEO practices make it easy for you to jump to the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) fast. However, like many quick-and-easy tactics, black hat SEO comes at a cost. From minor ranking drops to major penalties, the wrong technique can cost more than it’s worth!

Whether you’re an experienced SEO professional or a new entrepreneur learning the ropes, how can you tell which tactics to avoid? Let’s take a look at what’s involved in black hat SEO, how to avoid it, and what to try instead.

What Is Black Hat SEO?

Before we dive in, let’s clarify a few basic definitions.

“Black hat SEO” means a set of tactics that increase a website’s search engine rankings while violating the terms of service of those search engines. This is in contrast to “white hat SEO,” which are SEO practices that increase a site’s rankings while adhering to the terms of service.

The terms “black hat” and “white hat” SEO stem from old western movies. While the good guys—like the Lone Ranger—wore classic white hats, the villains of each film often wore black hats, making it easier for audiences to tell them apart. Given what each type of SEO entails, it’s obvious why the more negative term went to the rule-breaking tactics we’re about to describe!

Why Should You Avoid Black Hat SEO?

Black hat SEO is tempting: it offers high rankings fast, sometimes allowing you to streamline your site’s success long before you could get the same results from white hat SEO. So why shouldn’t you invest in it?

If it isn’t already obvious, there’s one key reason why you should avoid black hat SEO at all costs. Black hat SEO tactics don’t follow the terms of service of the search engine you’re trying to get your site to rank for. In other words, you’re putting your site in jeopardy, as search engines will eventually penalize websites that don’t play by the rules.

In other words, the results of black hat SEO might be great—for a short period of time.

Once Google’s algorithm takes note of your underhanded tactics, it can result in various penalties that lower your rankings. Worse, someone in Google’s spam check team may drop a Manual Action, which keeps your site from showing up in Google’s search results at all. As you might expect, this means a significant drop in website traffic, leads, and revenue.

Think of black hat SEO as a method of gaming the system: you’re earning an advantage in your rankings, but at the cost of more risk.

Aside from the effect on your site’s rankings, it’s also worth noting that black hat SEO isn’t great for your audience, either. Most black hat techniques focus on gaming the system at the cost of providing helpful tools and content to the site’s visitors. This sometimes means that even while you are getting more eyes on your site, those prospects may not be satisfied enough with the experience to head further down your sales funnel.

How to Avoid Black Hat SEO

Sticking with white hat tactics is always solid SEO advice—but how can you be sure to avoid black hat SEO?

Fortunately, there are white hat alternatives to almost every black hat tactic in the books, as we’ll discuss below. However, there are also a few general principles worth keeping in mind if you’re trying to avoid unnatural or spammy strategies:

Keep Your Audience in Mind

Good SEO always focuses on the audience experience for two reasons.

The first is obvious: offering a great user experience makes your audience more likely to engage with your content and your brand.

Second, search engines like Google are also focused on providing helpful content to searchers. After all, the entire point of Google’s rankings is to provide the best possible content for a given keyword! Offering valuable content and using helpful practices can help convince the search engine that your site is worth showing to searchers.

Stay Up to Date

Google’s algorithms and guidelines are always changing. If you want to be sure you’re informed about the current best practices, as well as the terms of service you’ll need to follow, consider checking Google’s guidelines or the guidelines of any other search engine you’re focusing on.

Below, we’ll take a look at a few common black hat practices to avoid, as well as white hat strategies to use in their place.

Keyword Stuffing

Whether it’s done on purpose or in a misguided attempt to rank high in the SERPs, keyword stuffing is a common black hat tactic.

With keyword stuffing, you add your chosen keyword or keywords in as many places as possible throughout your content. In theory, this idea makes sense: if mentioning your keywords a few times boosts your rankings, why not sprinkle them in more often?

However, adding your keywords in unnatural ways can make your content seem robotic and hard for your audience to read, encouraging them to click away. On top of this, Google’s algorithms are getting much better at identifying content with unnatural keyword stuffing, meaning that your site may drop in the SERPs.

As a white hat alternative, write your content for your audience, not for bots. Create compelling, in-depth content that offers valuable insights to readers, focusing on their interests and needs. Remember, Google isn’t only looking for how many times you use a keyword; it’s also interested in offering relevant and helpful information.

Low-Quality Content

On that note, let’s talk about low-quality content.

A decade ago, Google wasn’t adept at identifying duplicate or bad content. This meant that websites could rank well from almost any content, provided the right keywords appeared throughout. After the 2011 Google Panda update, low-quality content became much harder to hide—but not impossible.

Websites can still publish shoddy content and pepper in invisible keywords by matching the text color to the background. They can generate identical or similar content for multiple location pages while changing the place names throughout. They can engage in “article spinning,” which involves rewriting an existing piece of content to create multiple new pieces of content.

All of these practices may offer a brief boost in your rankings, but not for long!

The white hat alternative for this tactic is similar to the SEO tip above: create useful and unique content! Unique content takes more time and effort, but it can offer longer rewards.

If you’re hoping to spin existing content, consider tactics like rewriting it for a new niche (e.g., “PPC ads for doctors” vs. “PPC ads for new startups”) or turning it into a new content form (e.g., an infographic, video blog, or landing page).

Content Cloaking

Another way black hat SEO can manipulate a site’s content is through content cloaking. Through this strategy, a website shows one piece of content to search engine crawlers, but actual human readers will see a different piece of content. This allows the site to make content rank well, but it often means readers get information they weren’t expecting when they first clicked.

As you can probably expect, Google isn’t a fan of this “bait-and-switch” strategy, and neither are your readers. Instead of taking the time to put this deceptive practice into place, focus on creating content site visitors will love, as it’s likely the search engine will love the resulting engagement and rank your site well because of it.

Paid Links

At this point, you might be thinking, “Wait—aren’t you supposed to invest in link building?”

It’s true that link building should be a major focus of any attempt to increase your rankings, but paying another site to link to your site is a definite no-no in Google’s books. This “payment” also includes sending another site gifts or free items in return for links.

Note that when we say “paid links,” we’re talking about a situation in which you are directly paying another website owner for a link. Paying a freelancer or agency to handle your backlink outreach and guest posting on your behalf is not an issue.

If you do have existing paid backlinks on your website, you’ll want to disavow them. This ensures that Google won’t consider the paid links when deciding how to rank your site. Our free backlink tool allows you to get an idea of your current backlinks if you need to do a thorough audit.

As an alternative to paid links, you’ll want to do some white hat SEO link building. This involves doing link outreach to other websites. As you’d expect, this process takes time—more time than you’d spend paying for links—but it also offers better results.

Check out our tips on getting backlinks for an in-depth guide.

Blog Comment Spam

If you’ve spent any amount of time online, you’ve probably seen at least one instance of blog comment spam. This kind of spam happens when you post a comment on a blog and include a link back to your site. Often, the comment itself is irrelevant to the topic of the blog, making it little more than an annoyance to both the original poster and to anyone reading through the comments.

Nowadays, most blogs make any links in the comments “nofollow” by default, meaning that the link won’t help the ranking of the poster’s site. However, that doesn’t mean this practice is out of use! Don’t waste your time on this tactic: there are better ways to increase your website’s value.

Negative SEO

This tactic takes black hat SEO to a whole new level. With negative SEO, you’re attempting to undermine the SEO efforts of your competition, which can in turn help improve your own site’s rankings.

In essence, you’re using black hat SEO for someone else’s site in the hopes that Google will penalize them for it. Placing unnatural links to a competitor’s site, for example, might encourage the algorithm to lower their rankings.

Practices like these are not only unethical but also a waste of your time. Even if the website in question doesn’t catch and address the black hat tactics, Google might still ignore them. And unless you’re dealing with a single competitor—and confident no others will ever appear—you can’t expect to hold off the flood of more effective websites for long.

Instead, focus on improving your own website by creating a great user experience, matching search intent, writing helpful content, and getting strong backlinks.

Get More Out of Your SEO

The bottom line is this: if you’re hoping to get more out of your SEO efforts, only white hat SEO will do. Black hat SEO can offer great results for a short time—if it works at all—but those results aren’t worth the risk to your brand’s site.

Of course, focusing on white hat strategies doesn’t mean you can’t climb to the top of the rankings fast. In fact, the most effective tools and tactics can help you streamline your site and crush the competition.

To learn more, check out our other helpful guides on our blog, or try SEOJet for free to maximize your link building efforts!