In the world of SEO (search engine optimisation), there’s a lot of grey areas where the line between legitimate optimisation strategy and outright exploitation can become blurred. This can cause anxiety for many new digital marketers as they may not be aware of every rule they need to follow to ensure they don’t earn their clients a Google penalty for ‘black-hat’ tactics.
‘Black-hat’ SEO refers to any optimisation tactics that are deemed ‘spammy’ or unethical in the eyes of Google. Most black-hat strategies are little more than attempts to manipulate the search engine algorithm by attempting to trick it into thinking a domain is more authoritative and relevant than it really is.
In the early days of search engines, several black-hat tactics were effective simply because (1) there was less competition and (2) because Google’s algorithm was still very primitive. Nowadays, black-hat tactics are not only unethical, but normally detrimental for a website to use as Google has gotten very good at identifying and punishing those who bend the rules.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common black-hat SEO tactics that you really need to avoid at all costs.
Keyword stuffing is the poster child of black-hat tactics because it’s so unashamedly manipulative and lazy. Basically, this tactic attempts to artificially inflate the relevancy of a website by spamming a keyword over and over again.
The hope is that Google will see the keyword mentioned hundreds of times throughout a website and therefore rank it high in search results based on raw keyword relevancy. Sometimes the keyword would be inserted unnaturally through all the website’s copy or it could even sometimes be coloured the same as the site’s background, disguising it from human readers but being detected by search algorithms.
This tactic has aged the worst out of all of them simply because it was so heavily combated by the earliest algorithm updates. Nowadays, keyword stuffing only really occurs accidentally when digital marketers over-optimise a piece of content they are trying to target with particular keywords.
Bait and switch links
Bait and switch is a pretty easy to understand black-hat SEO tactic. Basically, it involves luring people to a website with hyperlink text that does not accurately describe the page it is taking users to.
For example, if you posted a link that said “free smartphones” and the link to users to a page where you sold smartphones, this would be considered bait and switch. You have earned clicks to your domain dishonestly, and therefore this is considered an unethical optimisation tactic.
Nowadays, bait and switch is more cleverly disguised in the form of clickbait. Clickbait can usually be identified by articles that have provocative titles and images such as “you won’t believe this new trick to seduce women” or “see how I made $50,000 in one day”.
Link purchasing, link buying or link scheming refers to when a website orchestrates a paid strategy with another website for links to be shared so that one or both website can get an SEO benefit. This strategy is seen as unethical by Google because neither website is earning the link naturally, which makes it difficult for users to know which referrals are authentic and which aren’t.
Obviously, these tactics should never be pursued by any SEO practitioner who wants to remain in Google’s good graces and achieve real results for their clients. While unethical strategies can sometimes yield short term gains, the long-term consequences for both the website and the brand image of the parties involved really aren’t worthwhile.