illustration of a blog post: What is Black Hat SEO? (Plus Four Tactics You Should Avoid)
white rounded rectangle masking image below

SEO 8 min read

What is Black Hat SEO? (Plus Four Tactics You Should Avoid)

Ayesha Renyard photo

Ayesha Renyard

Content Writer @ Galactic Fed

Published 28 Apr 2021

As you probably know, SEO or search engine optimization is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic (unpaid) search engine results. In the Galactic Fed Blog’s SEO Series, you can find the ins and outs of improving SEO through specific techniques. 

With that said, there are “right” techniques and “wrong” techniques. We term those that are ethical and align with search engine guidelines white hat practices. Those that skirt the rules for faster results are called black hat SEO techniques.  

Why should you avoid black hat SEO?

If you can get faster results—and save time and resources—why avoid black hat SEO?! 

First, (faster) results are never guaranteed. And if you do see them, chances are they won’t last. Because once search engines identity that you’re using black hat SEO practices, they’ll penalize you. What’s a penalty in the SEO world? Your ranking will drop—or, worse—your website will be delisted completely. 

Yes, like most get-rich-quick schemes, they’re too good to be true. 

Since you’re reading this, we know you don’t want your rankings to plummet. Instead, you want them to skyrocket—right? So here are four common black hat SEO practices you should avoid to build and launch that stellar SEO strategy.

Black hat SEO tactic #1: keyword stuffing

Even if you’re an SEO beginner, you’ve probably still heard that keyword research, and incorporating target keywords into your content, helps your SEO. Why? Because it flags to search engine crawlers that your content is relevant to search queries involving those keywords. 

But it’s essential to not overdo it—to the point of keyword stuffing. 

The term “keyword stuffing” refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in search results. 

Often these keywords appear in a list or group or out of context—ie. not naturally. This leads to a negative user experience. And because a positive user experience is the number one priority of search engines, they’ll penalize you if they think you’re keyword stuffing. 

Bracelet keyword stuffing.

Source: Uplinkly Software

Let’s say we (Galactic Fed) wanted to target the keyword “growth marketing” on our website. I would advise against sentences like these: 

“We are a growth marketing agency that helps clients with their growth marketing. If you’re looking for growth marketing help, reach out to our team of growth marketing experts.” 

Sound forced? That’s because it is. And if you can recognize it, so can search engine crawlers. 

Black hat SEO tactic #2: cloaking 

Because keyword stuffing clearly impacts the user experience, people have uncovered other ways to try and trick search engine crawlers into thinking their webpage is the bee’s knees. 

One way is by delivering different content to human visitors and search engine crawlers. The IP address or User-Agent HTTP header gives this away. If the server recognizes that the visitor is a crawler, it will serve optimized content. (Woah, you could do that?)

Some people call it sorcery. Others call it cloaking—which, to be honest, still has some witchcraft connotations. But real people do it. Click the image below to watch a quick video from Google’s Matt Cutts to learn more about cloaking:  

A man with eyeglasses and a dark blue shirt standing on a light-blue background.

Source: Youtube

Here are a few examples of cloaking:

  • Displaying a page of HTML text to search engines while showing a page of images or Flash to human users. 
  • Inserting text or keywords into a page only when the User-Agent requesting the page is a search engine crawler.
  • Shrinking the font, or changing its color to match the background, to keyword stuff.
  • Creating doorway pages to rank high on SERPs and then sneakily rerouting the human users to another page. 

If you find yourself cackling like Dr. Evil—thinking you’ve outsmarted Google with a cloaking technique—think again. Google has search algorithms dedicated to identifying these kinds of activities. 

Black hat SEO tactic #3: paying for links

If you’re following our blog, you know that links are crucial for SEO. 

Internal links help demonstrate to search engine crawlers that your website offers a library of relevant, related content—boosting the user experience. High-quality backlinks (from external sources) prove that your website is credible, which builds domain authority.

But both take time. For more internal links, you need to create new content constantly. To score backlinks from authoritative sources, you need to showcase the value of your content and your brand’s credibility (or it’ll hurt their SEO). 

This is why people buy backlinks—to speed up the process. 

5 circles from website A to E showing a 'link farm'

Source: Delante

Where do they get them? Links farms, which are websites created for the sole purpose of increasing SEO rankings. 

Link farms may be advertised as services to build up your content. But be aware that having many unrelated, low-quality links will not help you rank higher in SERPs. 

And that’s precisely what link farms offer: backlinks from machine-generated websites full of unrelated links and low-quality content. Even if they advertise that the links are categorized, don’t get any Dr. Evil ideas—they’re still pretty easy for search engines to detect. 

Black hat SEO tactic #4: publishing thin content

We’ve talked about the importance of high-quality, relevant content many, many times on our blog. Why? It solves many of your SEO problems. If your content is unique, helpful, and relevant, users will love your content, other websites will link to it, and search engines will promote it. Win-win-win.

Creating top-notch content takes time and resources. Some may argue that any content is better than no content—and will look for shortcuts to get something out the door. What’s the outcome? Thin—or low-quality—content.

Google underwent a massive algorithm update in 2011 so its crawlers could spot thin content. Yet, it remains a commonly-used black hat practice today. 

Characteristics of thin content: 

  • Automatically-generated: Have you ever come across a website that sounds like a robot wrote it? Chances are it was. How was the user experience? Probably not the best.
  • Duplicated: Copy-and-pasting from other websites—even from those that rank high—won’t do you any favors. Search engines are looking for unique content to boost the user experience, so don’t just paraphrase. Take the time to create something new. 
  • Short-form: Although you can publish helpful content with a low word count, search engine algorithms favor long-form content (around 1500 words). It’s in your best interest to at least have 300-500 words on the page, so there’s more opportunity for search engines to understand what your content is all about. 

Tip: If you’re using WordPress, you can download the Yoast SEO plugin to review your content and make sure you’re publishing quality content. (Particularly, that you’re striking a balance between targeting keywords and keyword stuffing.)

Yoast SEO plugin content review results. Source: Yoast

Our two cents? When it comes to content creation, focus on quality over quantity. If that means pumping out less content, so be it. Your main priority should be building content that’s of value to your customers. To identify that, we recommend doing a content gap analysis

What’s the solution? White hat SEO practices

\ Here in the Galactic Fed Blog, we’ve already told you why our team will only use white hat practices. Quick recap: while they require more time, effort, and resources, search engines will rank you favorably for using them. In a dog-eat-dog marketing world, it’s refreshing to be rewarded for doing the right thing. 

\ But we get it—it takes time, effort, and resources. So let us take that work off your hands. Give us a shout! We’re happy to help.

white rounded rectangle masking image below
Ayesha Renyard photo

Ayesha Renyard

Content Writer @ Galactic Fed

Stay light years ahead

with monthly marketing updates