Picture the scene: The year is 2022. The world seems to be coming to the end of two years of absolute chaos. It’s a time for reflection, where nostalgia is aggressively monetised. Naturally, you find yourself thinking about the past.
Specifically, for some reason, the history of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). The early 00’s. A simpler time, when SEO just made sense. You might be looking at your website with the thought of “Well… It always used to work…”.
Have you ever wondered why SEO seems to be so complicated? Perhaps you’ve spent years not updating your website because it “used to drive loads of leads” and your past tactics haven’t tripped you up yet.
Against all my better instincts, let’s take a stroll down through the barren hellscape that is black hat SEO tactics, and see whether there is still some value to be found…
What is black hat SEO?
Black hat SEO (formally known simply as “SEO”) are tactics that aim to manipulate search engine algorithms to improve the visibility of a website within search engine results pages (SERPs).
These tactics are usually specifically against search engine guidelines, which now place user experience ahead of aggressive optimisation.
In the short term, it is possible to gain an advantage from black hat techniques. However, SEO is a slow lumbering beast. So, by the time you notice the Google penalty you’ve been hit with, it’ll probably be too late to fix the damage and recover – leading to much lower rank and less organic traffic.
Examples of black hat SEO tactics
When we talk about black hat SEO tactics, we’re typically talking about 9 practices. However, for the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on the tactics that still occasionally get talked about.
Keyword stuffing is the excessive use of your target keyword on a single page, attempting to make search engines believe that your page is highly relevant to the term.
Back in ye olde days of SEO, keyword stuffing was a legitimate tactic, and search engines did use the number of instances of a keyword on the page as an indication of relevance.
However, it didn’t take long for the teams responsible for search engine algorithms to realise that simply including a keyword many times on a page, might not actually return the result that demonstrates the best value to the user.
These days, Google Webmaster Guidelines state that stuffing keywords “results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking.”, so the best bet is to focus your attention on writing content that best meets your user’s needs.
Hidden text (or “ghosting”, as it was also called), is hiding text from your user by making it the same colour as your background, hiding it behind other objects, or using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to obscure it.
Most of the time, this tactic was used to hide additional keywords in the page, presenting thousands of keywords to search engines, but keeping the page clean for visitors.
Much like keyword stuffing, as search engines become more sophisticated over the years, this tactic became less viable. Again, modern best practice would be to tailor your content to your user and ensure that every part of your user journey makes sense and is easy to follow.
Manipulative or paid links
Anyone who has read an introduction to SEO knows that links are good, but not all links are created equal.
Turn your eye to the past and once again we see a time when having a high quantity of links was a determining factor in whether your site ranked against keywords. After all, the more links you have, the more relevant your site must be, right?
The World Wide Web responded with the pioneering spirit of the wild west, with link farms and link schemes cropping up that would sell you thousands of links for a low price, bumping your site to the top of the search results and resulting in an incredible ROI.
However, once again, the evolution of the search engine has very effectively killed off this practice, even resulting in huge penalties if this tactic is detected.
Rather than paying for links in bulk, it’s preferable to build a portfolio of high-quality, relevant links, which help modern search engines to understand the context of your site and build a genuine picture of how authoritative you are within your industry.
The dark horse of black hat SEO, negative SEO aims to negatively affect the ranking of a competitor site for your own gain. While buying thousands of links for your site is a terrible idea, there is technically nothing to stop you from buying thousands of links for your competitor’s site.
In the relatively recent past, employing negative SEO tactics may have even worked. However, search engines have been developed to specifically detect links that originate from suspicious websites and ignore them, so this is another tactic that has been killed off by the continued focus on users.
Yes, black hat SEO tactics used to work, and there’s every possibility that you even managed to generate some value from them, but those days are long gone.
The internet used to be a lawless landscape where near enough anything went, but with our increased reliance on digital information in our everyday lives, we have to follow the example of search engines and shift our focus to what is best for the user. Avoid black hat SEO at all costs. Please.
If your SEO knowledge is a little out of date and you’re not sure how to proceed, don’t worry. Our team of SEO specialists have had years of practice diagnosing SEO issues and providing actionable recommendations, so why not get in touch with us on 0845 485 4713 and make your website work harder for you?