If you’ve been involved in digital marketing, you know the struggle. Over the past decade or so, Google has constantly shifted its priorities for ranking website content and the techniques it uses to evaluate it for public consumption.
First, it was keyword optimization.
Then, they shifted toward favoring long-tail key phrases.
Where once they focused on content relevance, now that priority is evolving to a preference toward improving overall user experience. Since 2020, mobile first indexing is the name of the game. Not only that, but the algorithms used to evaluate content are in a constant state of flux. There’s an average of 500 – 600 algorithms changes every year, and the platform released seven significant updates in 2021 alone.
That’s enough to frustrate and confuse even the most seasoned marketer. It’s also easy to see why some marketers are tempted to take short cuts by deploying Black Hat SEO.
Black Hat vs White Hat Digital Marketing
Black Hat SEO is essentially any unscrupulous digital marketing practice that’s intended to get around the gatekeepers at Google and generate faster results. While it’s important to create and deploy an SEO strategy that gets results, it’s also important that you present an image of honesty and integrity if you want to sustain them.
When you use Black Hat SEO, you’re engaging in practices that are manipulative and deceitful. Rather than focusing on user experience and building authority, you’re looking for ways to trick search engines and win a higher place in the SERPs. While such practices may work in the short term, things like irrelevant backlinks and images, keyword stuffing, and other black hat practices will backfire when UX suffers. Many of these tactics directly violate Google Quality Guidelines.
White hat SEO is part art and part science. It builds your audience a little more slowly, but it’s done in a way that contributes to long-term brand loyalty and social proof.
When you deploy Black Hat SEO, you’re asking “What’s the fastest route to improving my site rank and drawing more traffic?”
White Hat SEO asks “How can I provide more value and improve user experience?”
You can lead traffic to your website, but it’s the quality of your content that keeps them coming back. White Hat SEO helps ensure that the quality is there, and that Google is able to see and rate that quality.
Is There Room for Gray Areas When it Comes to SEO?
In life, not everything is black and white. However, do those gray areas extend to SEO?
Yes and no.
Gray Hat SEO attempts to provide the value of SEO best practices while employing some black hat techniques to hack the results. Some iffy gray hat techniques include:
- Buying expired domains with a history of high authority or traffic
- Buying links or subscriber lists
- Creating a private blog network (PBN) to falsify backlinks
- Spinning or duplicating content
- Creating microsites
- Using hidden text
- Scraping or automating content
Now that you understand the good and the merely questionable a little better, let’s move on to black hat practices you should always avoid.
5 Black Hat Marketing Techniques to Avoid
1. Creating Low-Quality Content
In the digital age, content is king. What’s more, Google increasingly considers the quality of user experience as a determining factor in ranking web pages. This is something to keep in mind, especially when you’ll be competing with brands that are producing similar content.
How do web crawlers evaluate content for quality?
By checking keywords and phrases, by making sense of visual content like images and video, and through user activity like page views and time on page. They also look at your backlinks to determine if they lead to high-authority websites with content that’s relevant to yours. Google will also consider which websites and how many users reference your content.
Make sure to do your research for both demographics and keywords, link only to high-authority websites that are in a related industry or contain relevant subject matter, add descriptive alt tags to supporting images and video content, and create useful, engaging content.
2. Keyword Stuffing
This has been – and always will be – a bad practice. Fortunately, it’s less common than it used to be.
What is keyword stuffing? It’s the practice of artificially inserting a high number of the same keyword(s) into your content in an effort to force a high rank for that keyword. Another related practice is to add duplicate content from your own or another website.
Always keep your content 100 percent unique, unless there is a limited need for existing content, such as using a quote or testimonial. Rather than inserting keywords 100 times, use a 3 percent overall density, use keyword groupings or related terms, and focus on creating key phrases that drill down on the product or topic for more granular search results.
Cloaking is the practice of using fake content to fool web crawlers about content quality. The page presented to the search engine bots is different from your actual web content, which makes it rank higher by artificially created means. This diminishes user experience and trust when they arrive at your website and find content that doesn’t meet their expectations.
Rather than going to the trouble of creating a false front, just take the time to create high-quality, relevant content that’s properly SEO oriented. If you don’t have the time, knowledge, or talent to do it right, outsource to someone who does.
4. Buying Links, Lists, or Subscribers
One of the ways that Google evaluates your content is by the company you keep. Sustainable link building is the result of drawing high-authority websites that want to link to your blog or article. Fooling search engines, potential followers, and customers by purchasing subscriber lists, buying links from link farms, or using a blog network to forge false alliances will never work, at least not for long.
Reciprocity and strategic networking are key. Create such alliances and links by providing quality, authoritative content, reaching out to related brands as a guest blogger, and linking to such sites yourself.
5. Comment Spamming
Have you ever noticed nonsense accompanied by a link in the comments section of a blog or social media post? This is comment spamming, and it’s a plague. The purpose is to try to generate awareness by posting irrelevant content and providing a link to your page in any hot thread on social media whether it relates to your brand or not.
Don’t be that guy!
If you’re going to mention your brand at all, do so only on articles or posts that are directly related to your product, industry, or a specific content topic, and only provide a link if it’s requested.
While some black hat techniques might get you some results, those results will never be long-term or sustainable. What’s more, using such methods will destroy the single most important part of branding: the emotional bond and trust created through authenticity.
If you’re unsure about the best ways to connect with your audience, turn to the marketing specialists at Level343 for guidance. Our only job is creating effective brand and marketing strategies that get results. We’ll keep on top of evolving SEO best practices so you don’t have to.