First venturing into the world of online marketing is at best confusing, and at worse, intimidating. Whilst online/inbound marketing is less expensive when compared to conventional outbound methods, it doesn’t mean that errors aren’t costly. In fact, working with the wrong digital advertising agency can all but destroy your marketing budget and set you back many months as you repair the damage to your company’s website and online reputation.
What is Black Hat SEO?
Black hat SEO is the term used for the set of on and off-page actions one can use to increases the search engine ranking of a website, that are in direct violation of search engines’ terms of service.
But first things first. We know the question you really want the answer to, is: Why is it “Black Hat”? In the old Spaghetti Western movies, the bad guys would generally wear black cowboy hats, and the hero would come to everyone’s rescue wearing a sparkly clean white one. This is where the terms “White Hat SEO” and “Black Hat SEO” comes from. The good guys of the online and computer world, those who act ethically and use their incredible skills for good, see themselves not only as the good guys but also as those combatting the bad guys, the virus creators and computer hackers of the online underworld.
When black hat SEO practices are performed on or for a website, it may result in a ban from the search engine as well as any affiliate sites, the exact opposite of what any website owner wants. black hat SEO techniques to avoid include adding automatically generated content to your website, being a part of linking schemes, adding hidden links or text to your website copy, loading pages with keywords that are not relevant to the general topic of a page, and many more. An extensive list of both white and black hat SEO practices is available on Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines.
The most important thing to ask yourself if you’re unsure whether something you’re doing might be in breach of search engine guidelines is this: Am I adding value to the user experience? If the answer to that question is Yes, then chances are you’re well within the white hat guidelines. On the other hand, if you’re adding something to your website or doing something off-page that is purely done to be seen by search engines, chances are you’re entering dangerous black hat territory.
If your outsourcing, success in online marketing ultimately comes down to choosing a digital advertising firm that combines proper search engine optimisation (SEO) strategies with common sense online marketing best practises, versus ones that employ dishonest, unscrupulous, snake-oil salesmen approaches.
One doctrine produces solid organic growth based on unique keyword-focused strategies, whilst the other focuses on Black Hat SEO strategies that produce immediate, short-term gains but that carry long-term, dire consequences.
So, what are these Black Hat SEO strategies that promise immediate returns but cost too much in the long run?
External Link Purchases
Search engines measure the importance of a given webpage by tracking how many relevant outside sources link back to your website.
The right approach is to focus on organic growth where those inbound links come from natural sources, ones that are relative to your content.
The wrong approach is to buy external links, ones that aren’t natural and ones that are rarely, if ever, relative or applicable to your website’s content.
There are a plethora of online advertising firms that promise their links will drive traffic to your website, and they will, initially. In fact, it’s common for companies to see a huge spike in traffic in the first month or two only to see a gradual and steady decline over time.
After this period, it’s common for companies to see their traffic and visibility in the search engines plummet dramatically as Google’s Webspam team penalise them for link purchases.
The best approach is to build your links naturally by creating thought-provoking content that appeals to your market’s influencers and building relationships where like-minded individuals are more likely to reference your content through the appropriate social media channels.
It takes more time, and far more effort, but it’s much more rewarding. In fact, your first warning sign about a possible scam comes from any SEO firm promising immediate traffic.
Related: 5 SEO fails to avoid
Keyword Stuffing and Keyword Stacking
In the early days of online search engines it was common for online marketing professionals to incorporate high-volume search terms and keywords within their content.
When search engines crawled the page, they saw that page as highly relevant and ranked that page accordingly.
However, those days are long gone and today’s search engines are able to determine whether a website is stuffing keywords in order to manipulate search results.
The best indicator of this practice includes content that seems unnatural or stuffed with irrelevant keywords and keyword phrases.
The focus should be on producing well-written content by incorporating keywords naturally.
If you purchase content from an advertising agency, then make sure the grammar and spelling of those all-important keywords are in-line with how they should be read.
Cheap Content and Repurposed Content
If it sounds too good to be true, then it most likely is. This is especially the case when paying for content creation.
A common Black Hat SEO technique is to sell copied, repurposed content, or content that has been produced by article spinning software.
It’s not original, is most likely plagiarised, and in a number of instances, doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
It’s common for companies first entering the world of online marketing to get sucked in to buying copied, inexpensive content. So, how can you make sure this never happens to you?
Investigate the Source
Find out who is trying to sell you the content. They should be more than willing to provide you with a full list of references and or client list.
This should be readily available on their website, and if they don’t have a website, or can’t provide a reference list, then move on.
Copyscape Plagiarism Checker
Make sure you all the content you purchase passes Copyscape. This is a free online plagiarism checker that will check the entire internet to make sure your content is unique.
Also, it’s common for some websites to have the Copyscape warning banner and yet still sell repurposed content.
As such, if you want to move forward with a new content supplier, then purchase one article and check it on Copyscape yourself before moving forward.
Insist on Vivid Imagery and Quality Content
Ultimately, it all comes down to making sure the content you purchase is thought-provoking enough for potential customers to move forward.
That includes having vivid, bright and clear images and infographics combined within a well-written and engaging article.
It has to make sense and it has to give your customers a reason to move forward.
Spamdexing: Hidden Text, Hidden Links and Comment Spam
One of the worst Black Hat SEO techniques is to insert illegible text written in small font at the bottom of a given page or just below an image and then have it blend in with the background colours of the website.
It’s a way of keyword stuffing and stacking that a number of companies are unable to recognise. However, it gets crawled by search engines nonetheless.
Eventually, that page is discredited by search engines and your PageRank suffers as a result.
Black Hat SEO firms are known for flooding the internet with comment spam on other websites inviting users to visit another website for immediate resolutions to common problems.
An example of comment spam. Not the keyword heavy anchor links – Source
The issue with this practice is that search engines measure the quality of your website’s inbound and outbound links. If those spam comments link to your website, then your PageRank might suffer as a result.
Mirror Websites, Spam Blogs and Link Farms
It’s common for Black Hat SEO firms to create mirror websites, link farms and or spam blogs, ones where authoritative content is either plagiarised or repurposed with the sole intention of building links back to your website.
Spam blogs often use software with poorly written text with the sole intention of getting visitors to click on spam advertisements.
Ultimately, it’s a strategy built on deception where the sole intention is to get you signed up and amazed at the immediate returns.
In the end, it’s all about common sense approaches. It takes time to build an online reputation.
However, it must be done properly and done by cultivating solid relationships with reputable online entities and solid social media optimisation strategies.
If you are ever inundated with SEO firms promising immediate results, then remove them as a possible partner and focus on those who are willing work with you to build a long-term, viable online strategy.