Black hat SEO needs to be a part of your digital marketing. It is the ugly duckling that gets shunned for it’s colour – don’t be quick to judge. Mother duck Google can love you if you understand the spectrum of black hat SEO techniques.
I will reveal 15 SEO techniques used in the black hat world that when slightly adjusted can yield positive results for any white hat SEO project. If your clients and Google find out about the methods, you will not be left naked bewildered with red checks.
The Beginner’s Guide to Black Hat SEO
Let us do a quick review of black hat SEO in layman’s terms so you know what you’re doing behind that computer. Know the dark-side to fully understand the light-side.
Black hat SEO is a group of methods against search engine guidelines to boost page rankings in search engines.
The methods include keyword stuffing; creating doorway, gateway, or portal pages; cloaking; hidden text; tiny links; hacking sites for inbound links or redirects; automatically generated content; mirror sites; trackback spam; rich snippet abuse; and pretty much anything against Google Webmaster Guidelines.
Most SEO professionals avoid black hat techniques with clients to be safe. We implement them on our test sites in a naughty splurge of pleasure to see what is possible. The sugar high is fun until Google catches up and spanks you with its webmaster ruler. The site receives either a complete delisting of pages in search results or sudden drop in rankings on a page or site-wide basis.
Allow me the honour of introducing to you an ethical way of doing black hat SEO. Use them for good and not evil in the website ranking race.
1) Keyword stuffing
Unethical: Keyword stuffing artificially inflates certain phrases thereby playing around with search engines into ranking the page higher than it rightly deserves.
Ethical: Employ folksonomy, also known as user-generated tagging, social classification, and social indexing. This creates a web of metadata more readable and acceptable to search engines to improve the precision and relevance of content within pages. Stack Exchange do this well by: 1) allowing question-posers or readers to tag questions to organize the mass amount of user-produced content and 2) educating them how to do it:
2) Doorway, gateway, or portal pages
Unethical: Pages that capture a variety of queries often geographic-based from template-like pages or scraped content. Startrek producers like this futuristic sounding technique. Google say they hate it, but it can do well in rankings.
The website below is optimized for “SEO services Adelaide” and “SEO company Adelaide” given the keywords in their headings and content:
How is the site performing? They are number one for these two keywords as of May 2015. Like all true black hat, it’s a matter of time before the search engines catch up on the technique and dish out punishment.
Read the content. None of it relates to their major keywords. To their credit, they have a physical address in Adelaide mentioned in the site’s footer. The test you can run on on such content is replacing “Adelaide” with any city. If everything makes sense after the swap out, it is a doorway page from crap content.
Ethical: Up the quality of “doorway pages”. Turn them into a warm cozy “landing page” users love to visit. Does the page answer the user’s search query with unique content and media? Good.
As you produce landing pages over time, you capture more long-tail search to bolster organic search traffic.
Unethical: What would a black hat be without a cloak? While I have no idea if the two are a fashion match or disaster, cloaking is rampant by black hatters who deliver one page to a search engine based on bot IP addresses while serving a different page to humans.
Ethical: Google confirm there is “no such thing as white hat cloaking” because Googlebot must be treated the same as a user.
Check Google can crawl all your resources by seeing blocked resources in Google Webmaster Tools. For images, use alt tags. For flash, have a text-equivalent that Google can read and blind-users have read out like this NSA example.
Do as much as you can to boost accessibility. Opt for good css in place of images, allow the user to pause animations, and have a website that is cross-device compatible. It’s surprising what you can do with CSS3 and HTML5. Follow best practices so someone with a disability on any device can use the website.
For further help in this department, Andrew Normand from the University of Melbourne has a list of 10 good accessibility tips.
4) Hidden or small text and links
Unethical: Links with CSS to match surrounding text, tiny text hard to read, and text the same color as the background. The commonality? It all hides stuff from the user because the creator knows it leads to a bad user experience.
Ethical: Sexy jQuery effects like accordions for FAQs, CSS pagination, navigation alternation based on scroll position, or tab navigation to filter key information. These tools hide portions of text to display them on click or mouseover for usability, accessibility, and searchability. E-commerce sites get value from tab-based product navigation that include reviews, specifications, and product information. See Matt Cutt’s comments on this topic who agrees.
At Digital Darts on our SEO services page, we use this technique to produce a user-friendly FAQ:
5) Page jacking
Unethical: Commonly known as content theft. Content from the legitimate site is copied into the illegitimate website to trick visitors the illegitimate site is what they are looking for. Traffic is taken from the legit site.
Ethical: Publish work where you have the creative license to do so. Always follow the license guidelines whether it be to notify the copyright holder or reference the original work. Another good man’s way to use page jacking is aggregation. Google Panda hit pure content aggregation so you need to add value. Refer to the upcoming section on duplicate content for ways to add value to existing content.
6) Brand jacking
Unethical: Fake blogs, fake user comments, affiliate marketing disguised as the original brand, and deceptive title tags or meta descriptions that deceive the searcher about who represents a brand.
Ethical: Some argue this is not ethical, but it’s ethical in search engine guidelines and can get you good branded search traffic. Use carefully. Write a competitor a justified negative review to rank in Google for such traffic where you allow consumers to voice their agreement or disagreement to your argument. Your review must have truth for authority. Brace yourself for the competitor to do unto you as you have done unto them by tracking your brand with Monitor Backlinks.
For larger budgets, produce a quality spoof video mocking something your competitors do poorly. Greenpeace built public awareness of Kit Kat destroying rainforests by doing what they do in ads and turning it around on them. Greenpeace went at it again going after Lego for partnering with Shell leveraging the “Everything is awesome” song in the Lego Movie.
7) Duplicate content
Unethical: Your content is re-posted on the site or on sister sites (by you or another) with no additional value whether it be added commentary or media.
Ethical: Repurpose content with a variety of methods. A simple error content marketers make with their content is not repurposing it. You have done the hard work laying out clear ideas so use these six methods:
- Do a video, audio recording, or slideshow of the content to hit other places your users look to consume content.
- If someone gives you the right to use their content, add value to the repost with commentary, media, or a different perspective.
- Freshen up a topic with new methods, experiences, and insights. Create a new post, link to the old one, and edit the bottom of the old piece of content to share the new update. Look in analytics for your most popular blog posts then ask yourself, “What else can I share on the topic?”
- Write the same tweet at a different time of the day or tweet old but useful content. You can often get the same or increased response.
- Use your good performing content as a foundation to write a similar piece for another site.
- Internally link your content so when others copy it, your links are included to show Google the original source.
8) Trackback and pingback spam
Unethical: Look no further than any blog. A post is made in their blogging software that either links to your blog or is included as a trackback. Seems good so far until you visit the url in your commenting system and find hundreds of other links they’ve pinged, your link is already removed, or you see other erroneous behavior like redirects and irrelevant content.
See the screenshot below of my brother’s blog where he posts about his professional golfing journey. The IP addresses have the same C block and follow similar posting patterns. When I visit the urls, there are doorway pages, advertisement spam, popups, and now probably a virus on my computer. (Excuse me while I do a virus scan.)
Ethical:The interconnected nature of the web means content is made to be intertwined. Ethically implement pingbacks and trackbacks by referencing additional resources in your content. Trackbacks are similar to pingbacks except trackbacks provide a content-teaser for legacy blogging platforms.
If a topic in your article is not covered, provide a resource that anticipates and answers a user’s questions. Look for opportunities to add value in your content through outbound linking.
A scarcity mindset of “losing” a reader by having them leave the site stops many people linking. I have found no loss in outbound links after digging through the analytics of one hundred sites provided it’s a link complementary to the content. It helps SEO and increases the likelihood of your content being shared. You devalue a scholarly journal, much like an article, if it does not reference another person’s work where appropriate.
9) General spam
Unethical: You are naughty if you need an unethical description of spam. Spamming is the delivery of unrelated or unrequested messages often to a large number of people.
Ethical: The right way to “spam” utilizes systems and groups of people to automate quality work for you. It is not spam per se, but the adaption of its principle of leverage.
Hit your market hard with the right systems and appear where they browse thanks to social media advertising, remarketing, fan updates and tweets at your market’s peak usage of social media, autoresponder emails, and content production with a team of writers. While others spam comments, emails, or guest posts, you share thoughtful comments, use double opt-in emails, and make quality guest posts. Systematization is an area I’m always working on.
10) Click fraud
Unethical: A million dollar problem where the baddie seeks to drain a competitor’s marketing budget. It plays into black hat SEO because:
a drained budget or poor performing AdWords = less ads = more organic clicks
To combat the problem, Google automates checks of click fraud. If you require further help, they have a good support team to manually investigate fraudulent clicks.
Another aspect of click fraud is repeatedly visiting the site (from the search results) that the black hat person wants ranking high.
Ethical: Click on your top competitor’s organic listings then analyze how the specific landing page is different to a page you want to rank well. Manually check how the content is semantically different to yours. Refine your landing page to the search intent of the primary keyword you want the page to rank for.
Unethical: Includes tools that inflate article view count or video views, boost one’s website statistics with the intent to resell the site, and harvest email addresses to spam with content in hope user behavior drives SEO.
Ethical: Use a tool like Screaming Frog to crawl your site to correct errors. Also use the tool to identify broken links on another’s site where you have relevant content that could replace the broken link. Other tools and bots like Scrapebox can be used for the good of humanity by saving you time. While “bot” feels too narrow of a definition for the Monitor Backlinks tool, it’s a great piece of software to harvest link profiles of topic competitors so you can do better SEO.
12) Paid links
Unethical: Exchanging money for links, paying to get links published inside articles, text advertisements that pass PageRank, and even sending a free product to a blogger in exchange that they write about it. SEJ share four ways Google evaluates paid links.
Ethical: When you buy links or sell paid links, there are two SEO best practices to use. Use nofollow and ensure the paid link is clear to the user and search engines that it is an advertisement much like a newspaper ad contains “advertisement”.
13) IP delivery
Unethical: A method that describe the delivery of doorway pages and can involve cloaking.
Ethical: Serve the right language and domain locality of your website based on the user’s IP address. Google do this because it improves user experience. If you have an ecommerce site, deliver the domain and currency targeted to the user’s country and provide the option to return to the original options. For an extra boost in conversions on international e-commerce sites, let the user know you ship to their country.
As an Australian, I want to know if a .com store will deliver the goods to my outback shed. One of my favorite stores bodybuilding.com are on top of their IP delivery and international shipping information (amongst many SEO factors):
14) 301 redirects
Unethical: Buy unrelated expired domain names that have good PageRank or traffic, then permanently redirect them to the main domain or its child sites.
Ethical: Use 301 redirects when you change URLs of content to help users and search engines find the updated location. The biggest SEO mistake developers and designers make when creating a new site is not 301 redirecting old pages to their newer equivalent. Go for the 503 redirect if the URL change is for site maintenance.
If you buy a domain then redirect it, don’t expect it to benefit SEO.
Unethical: I love the name. Para-site and parasite. The black hatter leaches off an existing site by having their content on a dedicated page of an authority site often through hacking. The number of hacked sites I’ve discovered on new client sites in the past 4 months is astonishing compared to previous years. The hacker often cloaks content based on user agents or 303 redirects a page so the original site gets a unique SERP listing yet takes the user to the hacker’s site.
See a parasite example below. I seriously doubt a community law site sells Viagra:
Ethical: Leverage a site’s authority by writing for them. If your blog audience is 4k per month, while theirs is 100k, put your best content on their site for greater scope. Do something special for them. Your content can skyrocket in search results due to their domain authority and gets in front of a larger audience.
Let’s say there’s a market whose search queries your site performs poorly on (yet you believe the market is still profitable). Find an authority blog in the market then use your seductive skills to write for them or come up with another creative way to partner up. A search optimizer with a web designer could build a tool, run a competition, or develop an optimized theme together. The defining factor? Quality business relationships.
There you have 15 black hat techniques done in an ethical way. If you’re an advanced digital marketer wanting more, Google “buy viagra” then analyze the breadcrumbs.
Please comment below to share what you learned from this post or tips to use iffy SEO techniques for good. Together we can asunder, bad guys who like to loot and plunder. The power is yours!