In the SEO industry, you’ll hear those that employ unethical practices being referred to as Black Hat; and those that follow ethical practices and Google’s guidelines as White Hat SEO.
Both Google and Bing feature webmaster guidelines that can be easily found online that spell out the many black hat tactics that these search engines disapprove of.
So what are some common black hat seo tactics?
Hidden text – Having white text against a white background so that the user cannot see it’s there, but search engines can read that text. This often involves the user of keyword stuffing, which I’ll describe next. Deliberately altering a website so that the content presented to search engines is different from that presented to the user is considered cloaking, another black hat seo practice.
Keyword stuffing – the practice of inserting a large number of your targeted keywords into the text on a given webpage, so much so that the content appears unnatural. It’s when a given page of text goes from easy to read and understand, to unnatural to read and hard to understand due to the same keywords being repeated over and over again. Search engines look to provide users with content that is helpful to them and that answers their questions – so web copy that lacks substance, and instead just mentions your keywords repeatedly without providing value to the reader, is not helping search engines meet their goal of providing the highest quality results to users, nor does it help users find the info they need.
Buying links – with links being one of the top two ranking factors in google’s algorithm, having a high quality, extensive backlink profile plays a major role in how well a website will rank in search results. However, you should beware of any business offering to buy you backlinks to your site, and you should never purchase links in general. Google has items in place to detect purchased links,and if they do find your site guilty of having purchased backlinks your site could be penalized as a result.
Is black hat SEO really that bad?
Yes. Using black hat seo tactics can get your website banned from search engines. As search engines get smarter and smarter at picking up on spammy and unethical SEO tactics, it becomes increasingly risky to be employing these practices. While you may achieve some limited, short term success in the form of a boost in rankings or traffic to your site, those results will be short lived as Google can go so far as to de-index you for these practices. That will devastate your rankings, web traffic,and potentially even your business itself. The only way to truly improve your web presence and drive increased leads, traffic, and rankings for your website, is to do it the white hat SEO way, which takes time but is well worth the results.
Signs Your Agency Is Practicing Black Hat SEO
Know the Red Flags to look for:
Reporting – do they send regular reports? What source is the data coming from? If the data source is unclear, then how can you be sure the information they are giving you is actually accurate? My tip is to look for agencies that use google analytics, because it is one of the most accurate data sources out there.
Transparency – are the transparent in the work they complete? Or do you feel in the dark as to what it is they are actually doing for your site? If you don’t know what’s being done to your site, remember that ignorance is not necessarily bliss. You might not care now while you’re results are great,but if you’re penalized by google in the future you’re going to have kicked yourself big time for not paying attention to the tactics being used on your site.
They’re Not Making Recommendations – if your seo agency just stays behind the scenes, doing who knows what and not regularly suggesting new ideas to update and improve your website, then the tactics they are employing may be questionable in nature. A white hat SEO agency will work with you as a partner to help ensure that together you achieve online success. A good sign is if they are making actionable suggestions for site improvements in a number of areas, including: creating new content that’s helpful to users, updating and submitting your sitemap so search engines can easily crawl and index your content, evaluating your website’s technical files, such as the robots.txt, to ensure they follow best practices; or disavowing spammy links that are doing more harm than good for your site. If your SEO agency is not providing regular recommendations to improve results, then it may be time to find one that does.