We all want to improve our search engine optimisation (SEO) performance to boost Google rankings right now. In the cut-throat world of business, it is those brands that show initiative that rise up the ladder the fastest and in doing so, collect the major dividends.
Companies are constantly told to update their material and be aggressive in the marketplace to secure their place at the table. Act first and think later has often been a by-product of this desperation.
Yet the conduct of those operations is not just a moral quandary but one of significant relevance in the context of 2018. Search engines are wise to the backdoor techniques that see websites engage in suspicious and callous behaviour for a cynical grab at clicks.
Herein lies the issue of Black-Hat SEO. As opposed to White-Hat practices that attempt to achieve an organic ranking via modes of keyword integration, authoritative backlinks, multimedia use and traffic from genuine social media accounts, black hatters use and abuse these metrics to the nth degree.
Any maneuver that is designed to trick and deceive the search engine essentially is a Black-Hat tool. Some of these have had success over the past decade or so, but the likes of Bing and Google have outlasted their reach to crack down on nefarious operators will ruthless efficiency.
If you have ever felt the need to engage with Black-Hat SEO practices to score some quick traffic points, then consider the following examples as a cautionary tale.
Heading down this path will lead to severe penalties. Don’t say you have not been warned.
Entering the article spin zone
There is an incredibly fine line between boosting a quality article for SEO purposes and simply spinning it for the means of recycling. Termed “article spinning,” this robotic trend has been viewed for what it is – a cheap grab at scoring traffic by regurgitating the same material with only a slight twist to try and avoid detection for plagiarism.
What makes this technique all the more puzzling is that the re-appropriation of article spinning does nothing to help the user experience. It is not designed for them and it is one of the more obvious Black-Hat strategies out there. Rewriting and reposting for the sake of the search engine results page (SERP) exposes the operation to a greater degree than other methods due to the size and scale of the content.
We say there is a fine line because if used properly, there is nothing to suggest that topics cannot be expanded upon and “recycled” in a healthy fashion. Paragraphs from a previous piece can include updated information and when used sparingly, a finite amount of recycling can work when utilised appropriately.
Essentially, the more words and paragraphs that are copied from one source and pasted into another, the greater the risk of violating search engine terms and conditions.
This might sound delicious but user beware – dropping unsuspecting cookies on the browsers of visitors is no laughing matter in 2018.
These small pieces of HTTP files are designed to help the searching experience by tapping into the history of browsers and saving that code for Google to track the user and for future references. A fairly innocent concept on the surface but it has taken Black-Hat operators to ruin the fun for everyone.
The underlying principle behind many of these cookies is to con the search engine by packing their data with links that tell Google they have scored ‘X’ amount of traffic. The individual who has clicked on this link or visited the website is left completely in the dark about this with a series of unrelated cookies sitting on their search history and taking up valuable space on their hard drives.
It is in a similar vein to cloaking to hide the real data behind a link that has nothing to do with that brand or topic.
Backlinks are one of the key pillars of SEO performance. They help to judge the credibility and authority of a brand by communicating to the search engine that other peers and respected names in the niche are validating their presence.
This sounds to be a foolproof method that can’t be abused, right? Well not exactly.
Of course Black-Hat marketers always find a means of bypassing the natural order to access their clicks. One of the ways they abuse this process is to exchange links. Rather than relying on external sources to give your site the tick of approval, they are the architects of both parties to tie these links together under the guise of being separate entities.
Exchanging in this sense is one link scheme that Google does not look favourably towards. Should your underground system be exposed in any fashion, then your domain can be blacklisted and your account shut down with the potential of further penalties imposed.
Some marketers might find it hypocritical of search engines to penalise operators who pay good money for their links. In one respect, they are happy to take a financial investment for Google AdWords space, all the while harming sites that take the same practice to backlinking.
However, there are some key points of difference. First and foremost, Google does not provide a service to pay for backlinks. The AdWords they do offer are clearly labeled as paid advertisements for the sake of transparency.
Then there is the need to reward sites that create an organic search engine traffic. If they didn’t provide this environment, they would be invisible against the money makers who can essentially buy their way to the top SEO ranking.
Link purchasing is therefore straight out of the Black-Hat playbook. Since the Penguin update took place, the buyers and sellers of links suffered setbacks on rankings. This is now in the spam basket and it is advised that you avoid this trick at all costs.
Anyone who has attempted to find a live stream of a sporting match or broadcast of an overseas television program will know the pitfalls of cloaking. What was promoted on the surface as a means of viewing an event online would quickly turn into an attempted sale of something else entirely, often packed with nefarious cookies and unsuspecting pop-ups that flooded your screen.
Matt Cutts talks about cloaking. Video: Google Webmasters, YouTube
This is cloaking played out in real time. At its very core, cloaking is deception for both the search engine and the user. Depending on your online experience, it can be possible to identify a cloaker from the outset. If something about an account or message feels unnatural, inconsistent or just off, then the likelihood is that a cloaking is taking place.
The problem that occurs in the current environment to see this process repeat itself is the rewarding of links clicked. The user does not have to remain on the page for an extra second or follow through on a purchase or subscription, they just have to make that click to see the cloaker rewarded financially.
The likes of Yahoo, Bing and Google dedicate a large portion of their Black-Hat SEO combative resources to targeting cloaking activities. Engage in this technique at your own peril.
Repetition, repetition, repetition – this might be the formula for practicing the piano or becoming an athlete, but it is no longer a means of impressing search engines. In much the same as backlinks help to boost SEO, keywords are indicators that crawlers utilise to scan a site for relevance. These are necessary to use efficiently, yet if you overuse, it will place your site in the category of spam.
Keyword stuffing is the lazy option for Black-Hat marketers who simply want to shoehorn their brand name and content into the conversation.
The stuffing can take place with common terms popping up in any of the following locations:
- Written paragraphs
As with any technique that is designed to enhance your visibility, there must be a balance struck between the user experience and the need to include and drive keywords. Keywords can not be flooded across your page because it will see a rise in the bounce rate, a decrease in the time spent on your domain and search engines will punish your standing.
It is jut downright spam. Quantity is not part of the equation when we discuss keywords with the quality and relevance of terms and phrases the most vital indicator of a well run operation.
As mentioned right from the get-go, there is a race to be first and to be relevant in the landscape of 2018. Whatever message can be thrown together and broadcast to the world, it can be considered good enough so long as people see it. Right?
Well the reality is that low-quality content is a card-carrying member of the Black-Hat SEO community. Even if this is not purposely the case, the plugging and promotion of articles, blogs, videos, audio files and guides that are poorly crafted, inconsistent and incoherent will harm your search engine standing.
Visitors don’t respect it. They don’t stay on the domain for long and it is the fastest route to poor ratings and reviews which all come into the equation. WordPress is one such example that incorporates SEO metrics and readability, weighing the ease and quality of reading alongside the need to include keywords, backlinks and on-topic images.
By 2019 there will be further evolutions and developments to this exclusive Black-Hat SEO list. Some clever tactics that Google turns a blind-eye to today might very well be considered spam in the near future, so it is always wise to check and examine the guidelines for healthy SEO practice.
Organic modes of optimisation are not just a means of being accepted by the authorities, but they are the best way to accelerate your SERP standings. The stress and hassle of engaging with Black-Hat techniques is simply not worth it, because the risk significantly outweighs the reward.
Lucas is a Senior SEO Expert and Strategist with nearly 15 years of experience. He is also an independent web publisher of popular websites.
Lucas has presented at major internet marketing conferences in USA, Australia and Singapore.