What is Black Hat SEO?


If you are new to SEO, you are probably feeling very overwhelmed by the amount of information to consume on the subject.

There are endless tactics and nuggets of advice vying for your attention and readership. Could I be bold enough to add one of my biggest tips to the mix? Stay away from black hat SEO.

Even if you’re still learning the ins and outs, you probably already know the basics of SEO, like how the goal of Google and other search engines is to provide the best possible results for their users.

And you probably already know that search engines help these users have a great search experience by using an algorithm to only get the cream of the crop out of the content at the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). This is why SEO is so important. If you want your content to rank, you need this algorithm to like what you broadcast.

What you can do not Be aware that there are different sets of techniques and schools of thought for how to classify your content: white hat SEO, SEO black hat, and their sometimes sketchy love, gray SEO hat.

We will talk a bit about each, but here we will focus on what the black hat is, why it is sounds like a good idea (but not), some common tactics and how you can avoid breaking search engine guidelines.

Remember those old western movies where the hero wore a crisp white hat and shot down the villain wearing the black hat? Well, in the same way, black hat tactics are the “bad guys” in the SEO world. They are used by websites that attempt to increase their rankings in a way that violates the instructions for webmasters search engines like Google.

Instead of providing users with real content of value, black hat SEO tries to trick search engines into achieving higher rankings in the SERPs. These methods do not add much value to website visitors, can create an unpleasant user experience, and harm your website in the long run.

You might be thinking, what a search engine doesn’t know won’t get me in trouble, right? Wrong. Because if you use black hat methods, it’s only a matter of time before you get caught by the search engine and punished. Sites that violate a search engine’s guidelines will see their rankings suffer. And this is not good.

Why is black hat SEO so attractive?

Much like the good-looking villain who speaks softly in Western movies, black hat SEO looks appealing. It might seem like a quick and easy way to increase your website traffic and ranking, especially when compared to the time and effort required by white hat methods.

The results of healthy white hat SEO don’t appear overnight. You can’t expect to post a few keyword optimized posts on your blog and suddenly be at the top of Google’s SERPs. It would be like going to the gym for an hour and expecting rock-hard abs the next morning. As frustrating as it can be, this just isn’t how it works – white hat SEO takes time and dedication. In fact, it usually takes 4-6 months to start seeing results.

It may be difficult for some to use the resources now for something that may not pay off for several months. These people are easily lured into the black hat by promises of quick results and quick rankings improvements.

Stay strong, my friends, and don’t resort to shady tactics!

Common Black Hat SEO Techniques

So what SEO tactics are considered a black hat? Good question! Let’s take a look at some of the practices you should avoid when creating a content marketing strategy.

Bad content

Poor quality content is one of the most common forms of black hat SEO and is a big no-no. Content on the Subpar website does not meet a searcher’s query and can take many forms:

  • Automatically generated content: The automatically generated content is that which was created by programming. If it doesn’t make sense to a human user and is just a conglomeration of keywords, it’s prohibited.
  • Duplicate content: This happens when a person or bot scratches other websites and simply copies the content. Before 2011, it was easy to get by; nowadays, not so much. Google has managed to identify the copied content and your ranking will take a hit when you get caught.
  • Bait and switch: Ah, the old bait and switch. Websites that do this write content that ranks successfully for a certain keyword. Once they get a good ranking, they’ll trade in the content for something completely different.

The key to avoiding bad content is to create your own relevant and original content. We will discuss this a bit.


This is where you show search engines crawling your website different content than what users see when they visit your page. Some do this in order to rank for keywords that don’t really appear on the page or use it to hide spam content. While it’s okay to tailor the content to your different user groups (i.e. mobile visitors vs. desktop visitors), attempting to trick search engines into what is actually there on your site is not.

Keyword filling

You’ve probably heard the old adage “too much of a good thing can be a bad thing”. This is true with keywords. Keyword stuffing involves bundling as many keywords as possible on a web page for the purpose of manipulating search engines to rank those phrases.

Not only is this a violation of the webmaster’s guidelines, it also creates an unpleasant user experience. No one wants to read an article that unnaturally repeats the same sentences over and over again with slight wording variations. It’s hard for a human to miss an article like this, so you know the search engines sure won’t overlook it.

Related: Don’t waste your chances of ranking before you even hit publish. Learn what keyword cannibalization is and why it matters.

Link diagrams

Links should be earned because a website or piece of content is actually useful, relevant, and worth linking. Links created with the intent to manipulate ranking may be considered part of a linking system, which is in violation of Google guidelines. Here are some common link diagrams:

  • Paid links. Paying to other websites, as well as sending free products, in exchange for links, is strictly prohibited by Google. And if Google detects that this forbidden exchange has taken place, the buyer and the seller will be penalized. Do not do it.
  • Excessive link exchanges. If you and another site have an agreement that looks like “I will link to you if you link to me” just to link, that could be considered a linking scheme.
  • Automated linkage. Like auto-generated content, the use of automated services to link to your website is not permitted.

Other black hat techniques

There are a number of other sketchy SEO tactics that should be avoided at all costs. This includes practices like …

Abuse of rich snippets and structured data
Create hidden links and text
Sneaky redirects
Pages created with malicious intent

All of these could harm your page rank. And other than that, they’re just not cool.

When does the gray hat become black hat?

There are a number of SEO tactics that fall between the white hat and the black hat. These are practices that are not explicitly described by search engines, so it’s hard to say exactly where they fall between black and white.

It’s important to pay attention to the gray hat, because understanding it can be the difference between increased rankings and lost traffic. As search engines evolve, what might be considered a gray hat at one point may be black or white later; for this reason, it is always important to stay on top of SEO related updates and news.

It can be hard to tell when, exactly, the gray hat turns into a black hat, so it’s always good to err on the side of caution. If you feel that an SEO tactic you are using is a bit sketchy or unethical, research more or don’t. Prevention is better than cure.

White Hat SEO Techniques To Focus On

Of course, in the movies, the hero in the white hat always comes out the winner in the end. And if you use White Hat SEO to improve your search engine rankings, so will you! Here are some ways to increase your rankings the white hat style:

  • Create original and useful content: Respond to researcher queries with informative and relevant content that serves a purpose. Use keywords (no jam) that help users find what they’re looking for. Engaging material, like visual content marketing, will drive more traffic.
  • Create an easy-to-navigate website: Your site’s information architecture can help increase your rankings. If users can easily move around your site, it will create a better user experience and encourage them to spend more time on your pages.
  • Correctly use meta descriptions and snippets: do not trick people into clicking on your site; instead, grab their attention with blurbs and helpful descriptions of what they can expect to see on your website. Hopefully that’s what they came for!

As the old saying goes, slow and steady wins the race. You won’t see results overnight with White Hat SEO, but when you do, it will be worth it. Stay away from sketchy black hat ways to improve your ranking and you will be golden!

Need help using the right channels to improve your SEO? Don’t take the black hat route. Have an arsenal of SEO tools on hand to make sure your white hat SEO wins the race.

See the easiest SEO tools to use →

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