What is Black Hat SEO & How Can You Avoid It?

Chances are that the majority of your business’s website traffic comes to your site through a search engine. Search engine optimization is the process of formatting your website & content to drive more traffic to your website by improving your ranking on search engine results pages. This is why search engine optimization, or SEO for short, is becoming an increasingly important focus for more businesses to drive traffic to their site. But what if you found out that not all SEO practices are beneficial for your site? And that some practices known as Black Hat SEO can actually negatively impact your rankings through penalties from the search engines. This article will walk you through what black hat SEO is and common techniques that you should avoid. 

What is Black Hat SEO?

Like many jobs in life, there is a good way and a bad way of performing SEO. Within the realm of search engine optimization, there are two general kinds of SEO practices, white hat & black hat. One focuses on making the best content for your audience and abiding by all search engine terms and conditions. The other tends to move away from satisfying the users’ needs and instead tries to con the different search engine algorithms into ranking them higher.

White Hat SEO

White hat SEO is the good of the two. White hat SEO focuses on adhering to the guidelines and best practices that search engines put in place for your website and its’ content. By following these guidelines and focusing on producing the best content for your users you’ll naturally move up the rankings and avoid any punishment from search engines. The aim of white hat SEO is to provide your users with the best possible experience by giving them the information that they’re searching for.

Black Hat SEO

Black hat SEO is the bad of the two and can result in negative consequences for your ranking on search engine result pages (SERPs). All major search engines have strict guidelines and policies telling site managers the best practices and procedures to follow to improve their ranking. These rankings are based on algorithms that the search engines use to determine the most relevant sites to show to a searcher’s query. Some people try to trick the search engines using tactics that go against the suggested best practices. Black hat SEO may work for some in the short term by initially showing some results. However, the search engines will eventually catch on and depending on the severity give you a manual penalty or even deindex your site. 

Techniques to Avoid

Not everyone who performs black hat SEO does so knowingly. Some people may perform a task thinking it’s in the best interest of their website and then finds that in time the search engines penalize them. The following are a number of black hat techniques that you should avoid to prevent search engines from hindering your ranking ability.

Keyword Stuffing

It may seem like a good idea for you to include a keyword, or variations of that keyword, as many times as possible in your content so that it registers more with the search engines. While it is true that search engines do use keywords as a factor in determining rankings, they also take into consideration the overuse of keywords. Keyword placement should sound natural, not repetitive or forced. Adding every imaginable variation of a keyword where they don’t belong is not good for your overall user experience and can also have the negative side effect of making you rank for other less relevant searches. 

Internal & Inbound Link Over-optimization

Internal links help users more easily navigate your site and serve an important role in distributing link equity as well. Just as with your content, the anchor text for your internal links should avoid being unnecessarily filled with keywords. The anchor text of your links should be natural and make sense to anyone reading it. The same rule applies for any inbound from other sites that you have control over as well. 

Alt Image Tags

Alt image tags play an important part in how accessible your site is for visually impaired users. Alt image text should be optimized to accurately describe the image in question. This is so that crawler bots can understand what an image depicts and how it relates to the content on your page. It also allows users who are visually impaired and using a screen reader to have an accurate description of what an image portrays. What you should avoid while writing alt text for your images is stuffing the text with keywords. This will do little to improve your on-page SEO and will likely be confusing for your visitors who need it.

Stuffing Your Meta Descriptions

Most major search engines don’t use the content in your Meta descriptions as a factor in your page rank. This doesn’t mean that you should stuff your meta descriptions with keywords since you won’t accrue any penalties. Your Meta description acts as your ad copy when displayed on a search engine result page. This makes it an optimal location to describe your content in an accurate way that draws users into your site. So while meta descriptions can’t necessarily hurt you, they can help you when used correctly.

Doorway Pages

Doorway pages are pages submitted to search engines in order to increase your ranking for a keyword or phrase. These pages are designed to bring visitors into your site but fail to actually inform them once they’re there. While they may temporarily increase traffic to your site, they fall short of transitioning that traffic into conversions. The bounce rate of your site will skyrocket as a result which will end up hurting your ranking anyway. 

Invisible Text

You may think “out of sight, out of mind” but that doesn’t always hold true. Invisible text is a prime example of this. Using invisible text involves hiding keywords on your site by matching their text color to the color of the background. This makes it invisible to the human eye but not to the search engines. Search engine crawlers can still pick this up and are now advanced enough to recognize what is and isn’t visible to readers. Search engines negatively rank sites with invisible text on them so it’s best to avoid doing this. 

Clickbait

There’s nothing more annoying than thinking you’ve found an interesting article or video only to open it to find that it’s nothing like what you expected. This is clickbait. Clickbait is the search engine equivalent to being catfished, you expect one thing and what you get is something completely different. This is another one of those practices that may drive traffic to your site in the short run, but your click-through rate will tank in the long run. 

Buying/Selling Links

Search engines have made it clear that it is prohibited to buy and/or sell links or exchanging free products or goods in return for links. All exchanges of links must follow FTC guidelines and anytime money is involved chances are that it’s a bad idea. When search engines detect this they penalize both the buyer and the seller simultaneously. If you’re ever approached about buying or selling links, Google asks that users notify them. If you have purchased links in the past before reading this, then your first plan of action should be having them removed as fast as you can.

What to Do Next

Read the search engine guidelines and best practices to get an idea of what techniques are generally accepted. Then, go through your website and look for any black hat SEO that you, or whoever manages/edits your website, may have used. If you happen to come across any of these in your searches make changes to either remove it or update it to avoid penalties. Use our free Grade My Website tool to generate a full SEO report to evaluate your site’s current SEO performance!

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