Black hat SEO is heavily frowned upon by the SEO community and is penalized by Google, whether or not it was done on purpose. Black hat tactics have worked to trick search engines into boosting a site’s PageRank in the past. However, Google has since taken action and continues to update its algorithm to weed these shady ranking techniques out and provide an authentic search experience.
In this article, we answer the question “what is black hat SEO?” and explain why it is never the way to get ahead in search results. We also list the most common types of black hat tactics, how Google penalizes each of them, and what you can do if you get a manual action notice from Google.
Never Do Black Hat SEO: 3 Reasons Why
It will affect your PageRank and visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Your site will have a lower PageRank or drop out of SERPs completely when Google issues you a manual action. Until you fix these issues, depending on whether or not Google accepts your reconsideration request, bouncing back to the position you want can be very difficult to achieve.
It will lead to a poor user experience.
For 2021, Core Web Vitals places weight on UX as a major ranking factor. Because black hat techniques typically lead to empty, gibberish, deceptive, or winding pages, expect to suffer painful penalties.
It will hurt your E-A-T.
While E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) is a human concept (scoreless and not a technical ranking factor), Google is really good at understanding which content is valuable and will use such criteria to determine whether or not your site deserves any attention. Black hat practices reduce (or even cancel) your legitimacy online. That’s not where you want your website to be.
15 Black Hat Tactics That Will Surely Hurt Your Website
1. Automatically generated or duplicate content. Content automation is using scripts or tools (like Markov chains and article spinners) to create content without any intent for the reader and without any effort from you. This will result in a partial penalty for one or some pages or a site-wide penalty.
2. Page with thin to zero content. Low-quality or shallow pages are a result of scraped content, spun content, poorly-written blog posts, doorway pages and thin affiliate pages that contain no real or unique information. Google could issue a penalty on a few pages or your entire site.
3. Keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing is a black hat SEO tactic that refers to the practice of overloading pages with keywords with an intent to manipulate web crawlers. Examples are blocks of text with locations the page is trying to rank for, listing numbers that have no value to the article, and using keywords in an unnatural manner.
4. Link scheming. Link schemes include buying or selling links to manipulate PageRank, such as exchanging goods and services for backlinks, cash for links, or sending somebody any free products in exchange for writeup and a link. Unnatural links, or those that weren’t editorially vouched for, also fall under link scheming.
5. Paid links. Similar to link scheming, paid links are black hat tools that can hurt a few pages or your entire website. While buying and selling links are part of paid advertising practices (not all paid links are bad), they shouldn’t be used for crawler manipulation purposes. You can rank the right way by using high-quality backlinks.
6. Hidden links or text. Hiding links or text in your content with the intent to boost search rankings is deceptive and manipulative. Such practices include using CSS to position the text off-screen, placing the text behind an image, hyperlinking to only one unnoticeable character, using white text on a white space, etc. When conducting a site audit, ask yourself: Are there any links on the page that are placed for search engines to crawl but are not visible to readers?
7. Cloaking. Cloaking is the practice of presenting different pages to Google and to human users. Examples include inserting keywords into a page only when it’s shown to search engines (and not to human readers) and showing an HTML page to Google and then an image-populated one to users.
8. Doorway or gateway pages. Doorway pages are similar to cloaking as they are designed to rank for certain keywords, but then redirect to somewhere else. Examples are jump pages, bridge pages, entry pages, and portal pages. Doorways create an inauthentic user experience by showing up multiple ways on SERPs and then actually leading to one location.
9. Sneaky redirects. Redirection is when a user visits a URL but is later sent to another URL. While redirects are an accepted practice for organizing pages, black hat redirects manipulate the system by showing search engines one thing and then sending human visitors somewhere else (like a totally different spam domain).
10. Affiliate programs that have zero value. Affiliate marketing is widely accepted, but when you populate your page with affiliate links that have copied content and bring little value to your website, Google will impose harsh penalties. Thin affiliates are those that include replicated product reviews and item descriptions.
11. Sending automated queries to Google. Google penalizes automated queries because these use up resources unnecessarily, like using apps to send searches to Google to see how a page or site ranks. Another example is sending searches using a computer program, bot, search scraper, or automated service. When you see “Our systems have detected unusual traffic from your computer network,” you need to conduct a site audit right away.
12. Content scraping. Scraping is similar to duplication in that it hosts copied content, often with little to zero value added to your page. Examples are copying and republishing unrelated content, slightly modifying content from others using automated techniques to make it seem original, reproducing content feeds, and embedding images and videos that do not have substantial contributions to the user experience.
13. Structured data issues. Structured data refers to the standard format of providing information on a page, and Google will penalize your site if your markup content is not shown to users or is irrelevant or misleading. You can test if your website is compliant with Google guidelines using the URL inspection tool and Rich Results Test.
14. Pages with malicious behavior. Distributing software or content that does not comply with Google’s Unwanted Software Policy or downloading and executing files without the users’ consent will lead to heavy penalties. Examples include swapping out ads, changing search preferences without informed consent, manipulating the location of content on a page, and installing trojans, malware, spyware, and viruses.
15. User-generated spam. Even if you have a “good” site, it can still generate spam from malicious visitors, especially if you allow users to add content or create new pages. Manual action will be issued if your site has too much user-generated spam, which include spammy posts on forum threads, spammy posts on blog comments, and spam accounts on free hosts.
Black Hat SEO FAQs
White hat vs. black hat SEO: what’s the difference?
Black hat SEO and white hat SEO have the same goal: to win in SERPs. However, black hat engages in malicious behavior to win instantly (but only to fail harshly later), while white hat plays by rules slowly but sustainably. Here’s a rough comparison between black hat and white hat SEO.
White Hat SEO
Black Hat SEO
Optimizing for human readers, not for search engines
[Process is slow and steady, but the results are positive and sustainable]
- Creating quality content designed to improve user knowledge and experience
- Building a website that stands out from the competition for the right reasons
Optimizing for search engines without regard for the user experience
[Process is quick, results are quick, but the penalties are heavy and possibly permanent]
- All 15 black hat tactics mentioned above
- Creating content designed to manipulate and deceive
For further reference: Read Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Is black hat SEO illegal?
Black hat SEO tactics are not illegal, but they are manipulative practices that violate Google’s webmaster guidelines. You might get away with black hat without anything blocking your way, but you must be willing to take all the painful penalties that come when you get called out. To ensure that you are creating a healthy site that ranks nicely and won’t earn Google’s ire, we gathered some helpful advice from SEO experts.
Do some black hat SEO tools still work?
Partly yes, but they will come with crippling and possibly permanent Google penalties. Using shady tools or hiring companies that offer black hat SEO services might get your website a huge boost in the beginning. However, these are never sustainable and can be dangerous. When search engines call you out for black hat tricks, it will be very difficult to get your position and reputation back.
I received a manual action for black hat SEO practices. What do I do?
A manual action is issued when a human reviewer from Google finds that a page or an entire site has violated policy guidelines, like practicing black hat SEO.
When you find this on Google Search Console, you need to immediately do these:
- Review the details of the action and click “Learn More” for the steps to fix the issue. Note that fixes should be applied on all affected pages.
- When you believe you’ve addressed all issues, click “Request Review.” The request should have the issue details, the steps you took to resolve the issue, and the outcome of your efforts.
Google then decides whether to Accept or Reject your request. There is no specific turnaround time, but Google will typically reply via email in one to two weeks.
No to Black Hat SEO. Google Says: “Do The Right Thing!”
So what is black hat SEO? It is a shady and unethical ranking tactic that will eventually tank your website. When in doubt, stick to Google’s motto: “Do the right thing.” When you write for readers and not just for engines, you can rank your website without resorting to questionable black hat tactics. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Markitors for help on the best white hat strategies that will never violate Google’s guidelines.