What is and is not acceptable in terms of SEO has changed a lot in recent years, and once common practices are now considered taboo and referred to within digital marketing circles as Black Hat SEO. Seen by Google as an attempt to garner undeserved organic traffic, a website that utilises or has even the slightest remnant of Black Hat techniques will draw the search engine’s ire.
Google’s displeasure at encountering Black Hat SEO on a site is expressed in numerous ways, all of which are passive-aggressive. There will not be any warnings, nor shall you be informed of impending sanctions, but Google definitely makes its feeling known. Recovering from sanctions is no mean feat, which is why we believe avoiding them altogether is the best recourse.
Identifying Black Hat SEO Practices
Google’s search engine algorithm is incredibly sophisticated and has been developed by some of the best programmers around. Constantly being updated, its ability to recognise trends and pick up on duplicity should never be underestimated. The following are 5 Black Hat SEO techniques to avoid at all costs, and so long as you are able to avoid them you’ll be well on your way toward having a healthy website.
Inorganic Backlinks – If you check the spam folder in your emails, there is a fair chance you’ll find an email offering to produce countless links to your website (for a small fee, of course). Paying for links is a massive turn-off to Google, who use off-site links to judge how much value visitors found on a page. Search engines have means of determining whether links have inorganically generated, and penalties are always soon to follow.
Keyword Stuffing – Keywords make up the foundation of SEO and are used by Google to determine a page’s subject matter. As a rule, keywords should make up approximately 3% of a page’s written content, as search engines want websites to be just as readable as they are optimised. Keyword stuffing is when the keyword density is so high that readability is clearly being sacrificed in favour of appealing to search engine algorithms.
Cloaking – Unlike the previous two Black Hat SEO techniques mentioned, when it comes to cloaking there is no possible way to feign ignorance. Cloaking is the act of intentionally trying to fool a search engine by presenting it with one version of a page, but presenting another version to an actual visitor. Cloaking methods were once utilised to inform Google of a page’s subject when there was no other way of doing so. However, more efficient means have been available for over 10 years.
Duplicate Content – One of Google’s major pet peeves, duplicate content has been used in the past to trick crawlers into believing a site is more relevant than it actually is. Whether on-site or off-site, duplicate content can seriously damage a site’s SERP ranking and is one of the first things to look for when auditing a website. It is important to note that duplicate content does not only apply to identical content, but also content that share extreme similarities.
Invisible Text – There is a lot more written text on a website than that which is immediately apparent. HTML code, for example, is used to style websites and within this code it is possible to implant keywords that Google bots can see but readers cannot. Black Hat SEO techniques such as this are certain to draw the wrath of Google, as they can be used to make pages appear expertly comprehensive when in reality they’re quite sparse.
For more information on exactly what search engines look for and are prejudice against, give this video by Matt Cutts, an engineer in Google’s search quality division, a go.
As you can see, the 5 Black Hat SEO techniques listed above are barely the tip of the iceberg. For websites to function and remain attractive to search engines they require almost constant upkeep and improvement, something not many businesses will have the resources to ensure. Fortunately, digital agencies, such as Optimus Performance Marketing, excel at managing websites like yours and can guide you through the pitfalls and up the SERP rankings!
Author: Alem Al-Khamiri
The head of SEO, PPC and digital content at Optimus-PM, Alem is Google AdWords certified and has years of digital marketing & website management experience.