Black hat SEO – it’s bad for business
What is black hat marketing?
When planning a digital marketing strategy, you might have come across the term ‘black hat marketing’ or ‘black hat SEO’. As many know, (or at least should know), it’s vital that you use ethical and organic SEO techniques when promoting your business online. Black hat SEO, however, is the complete opposite to ethical practices.
Thought to be unethical and sometimes illegal, it uses SEO strategies that are designed to ‘trick’ search engines into giving their website a higher ranking – leading to more traffic to their site.
For example, a user might search for ‘five-star hotels near me’ obviously hoping to get a list of the best hotels in their location. But by using black hat marketing ‘hacks’, a company is able to promote their business to appear higher up in results when they don’t necessarily deserve it.
One of the main reasons some businesses opt to use black hat marketing in their digital marketing strategies is that they can often get immediate results. But this benefit comes with a price – it can cost a business its reputation in the long run.
Not only could your business be deemed untrustworthy in the eyes of consumers but by utilising these techniques, you could be subject to fines and/or removal from any Google search results for a period of time.
How is black hat SEO unethical?
Not only is black hat SEO thought as unethical as it’s directly tricking both users and the search engines, but it also directly goes against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Attempting to bypass the best SEO practices laid out by the search engine means companies are using negative practices that focus solely on ranking higher and not on delivering the best content to the searching audience.
The key differences between ‘black hat’ and ‘white hat’
As well as black hat marketing, you might have come across white hat marketing. But how do they differ? Let’s start with looking at what white hat SEO is, before directly comparing the two.
White hat marketing – what is it and what are some examples?
White hat marketing (also referred to as white hat SEO) is known as the ethical way to optimise a website and other digital assets. Writing content that’s targeted for users and using practices that follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines is far from manipulative – unlike its counterpart.
White hat marketing focuses on providing relevant, consistent and high-quality content on your website so that it’s beneficial to all that visit it. This credibility makes the site more useful in the eyes of Google (as well as other search engines) meaning that your content is perceived as more ‘evergreen’ and higher quality than that promoted through using black hat marketing techniques.
Another key factor of white hat SEO is that it takes a long-term approach to boost rankings. As it follows Google’s guidelines in order to create a more memorable, useful and positive user experience, sites which use white hat SEO tend to be more successful in the long run.
Some other white hat techniques:
- Keyword analysis and implementation
- Link building – internal + external
- Creating relevant meta tags
Some marketers opt for black hat marketing over white hat as they want quick results and to be honest, they’re lazy about it. By implementing these unethical processes to improve their search visibility more quickly, they are actually hurting their long-term SEO.
Examples of black hat techniques
- Keyword stuffing - repeating high-ranking keywords in the content
- Plagiarism - copying content from other websites in order to compete
- Purchased links – buying links
- Hidden content - hiding keywords that are stuffed into various parts of the website (a very old technique was to add white text keywords hundreds and hundreds of times onto a white background so not visible to the visitor but visible to search engines)
- Linking to spam sites
As well as SEO, there are several other related digital marketing strategies that are often linked to black hat marketing. These include:
- Social media manipulation: websites can sometimes install a feature that forces visitors to the site to automatically ‘share’ or ‘like’ something on their social media accounts.
- Cookie stuffing: although this usually tends to be legitimate, when it’s linked to black hat marketing, it’s the act of secretly implementing fraudulent cookies on a user’s computer when they don’t click on a specific link. This act is illegal and can result in heavy fines.
- Scraper blogs: blogs created using plagiarised content to generate traffic.
Will I be penalised for black hat marketing?
There is a high possibility that if you use black hat marketing, you’ll be penalised for it. As you aren’t using accurate, unique content and techniques that follow the search engine's strict guidelines, not only will you face a negative impact on your search rankings but you’ll potentially be fined.
So, how can you tell if Google has sanctioned your website?
If the traffic to your website has faced a sudden drop in traffic and you know you’ve been using black hat techniques, chances are that they have banned your site for using unethical SEO practices. Your website can be penalised either manually by the search engine, or through an algorithm update they’ve carried out.
What are Google’s algorithm updates?
When your website is manually penalised by Google, it’s been flagged up to a human team who have then sanctioned it. However, an algorithm update is something that’s happened automatically. Google frequently updates its systems in order to improve the results that it displays to users.
Many of these updates are directly designed to identify any websites that are using black hat marketing. Over the years Google has released many updates - such as the Penguin update of 2012 - which was designed to catch out any websites using spam links or that were buying links in order to rank higher.
It’s clear that black hat marketing is bad for business – whether you have a small business or a large organisation.
Even though it yields fast results, its unethical features make it a bad move for those looking to improve their brand’s credibility and reputation.
To increase rankings and for users to recognise your website’s value, it’s worth opting for white hat marketing techniques instead. Not only will you see benefits for much longer, but you’ll also be following legal practices and you won’t risk receiving any penalties, including being removed from search engine results altogether.
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