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Black hat SEO: 7 tactics to leave back in the 90s

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About the author

Claire Beutel offers over 10 years of experience in developing innovative SEO and marketing strategies across retail and e-commerce websites of all sizes. She has worked with a plethora of industries and business models—from the Denver Broncos to Aramark—implementing technical SEO recommendations and creating quality content that drives organic traffic and conversions. With a strong passion for increasing the quantity and quality of website traffic, Claire utilizes data-driven analysis to determine the best holistic strategy for businesses to achieve organic success.

Before search engines like Google started cranking out algorithms to rank websites on things like relevancy, quality content, and links, black hat search engine optimization (SEO) tactics were the hottest thing since sliced bread. But what exactly is black hat SEO?

In layman’s terms, black hat SEO consists of website optimization strategies that are now deemed as unacceptable or unethical to search engines. The term “black hat” is derived from old western films, where the good cowboys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats.

Black hat SEO used to be appealing to marketers. It could grow organic search rankings relatively fast. Today, however, the results of using these techniques are far from positive and could cost you. In this blog, we discuss seven black hat tactics that you are better off leaving back in the 90s.

Hidden text

Do you remember those cool invisible ink pens as a kid? Back in the day, marketers used invisible or hidden text on a website to try and entice search engines to rank them higher in organic search engine results (SERPs). 

For example, if the background of a website was white, a sneaky marketer would place paragraphs of keywords on the website in the same color as the background, thus making it “invisible” to users, but crawlable to search engines. This hidden text is often put in places on websites that visitors usually wouldn’t notice, such as the footer. 

Today, this tactic does not fly with search engines, and it is deemed as an unacceptable SEO tactic that can result in lower organic rankings.

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Cloaking

As its name suggests, cloaking is a sneaky way to show one website to search engines and an entirely different website to users. An example of this, according to Google, is when one website shows flash content to users while another shows HTML content to search engines.

Google and other search engines consider both internal and external website links to be valuable, and they use them as a ranking factor.

 Many website owners used to pay link farms to get additional links to point to their site. However, search engines have become wise to this tactic and will penalize a site that uses it. 

Keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing used to be an effective technique in the 90s and the early 2000s to rank organically in the SERPs. But now this is not the case. The thought behind this sneaky technique was that if you inundated your website with keywords you wanted it to rank for, Google would rank the website higher for those search terms and user queries. 

Ever since Google released the Panda update, keyword density is something that Google monitors very carefully. Instead of keyword-stuffing a website with terms you would like to rank for, creating user-friendly content with natural language is the best way to appease search engines. 

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As we mentioned above, search engines consider link equity when ranking a website. Hidden links are just what they sound like: links on a website that the user cannot see but search engines can still crawl. 

Some common ways to hide links include placing link text behind an image, using links with a font size of zero, or adding links that are the same color as the background color of a website.

Duplicate content

Duplicate content can come in many forms, and search engines nowadays do not take duplicate content lightly. Before search engines caught on to this black hat SEO technique, website owners would place the same content on several pages of a website to improve individual page rankings, and oftentimes, they would steal content from other websites. 

Today, search engines like Google take duplicate content very seriously, and it’s something that should be avoided at all costs.

Clickbait

Clickbaiting is a devious way to entice users to click on a website by using a deceptive headline to catch a user’s attention. Often, the page title or meta description will say one thing, and the website will say another. 

For example, a site may entice users to click on a title tag that says, “Get a Free Car.” When clicked, the link will take them to a website that has nothing to do with getting a free car. This is an easy and unethical way to get website clicks. Most website owners who use this black hat SEO technique are trying to generate income based on website clicks. However, search engines have caught onto this—it should absolutely be avoided.

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The two main reasons to avoid black hat SEO

There are two main reasons why you should avoid the unethical practice of black hat SEO tactics as we have presented above. For one, black hat SEO can lead to an unpleasant user experience. 

Think about it: Have you ever gone to a website and found that the site had absolutely nothing to do with what you searched for? This can be incredibly frustrating to users, which means they probably won’t come back to that website anytime soon.

The second, perhaps biggest reason to avoid black hat SEO is the fact the search engines are smart enough to catch onto these techniques. They will not hesitate to demote your website in the SERPs. And that will make it much more difficult for your business to attract prospects and turn them into customers.