Since the very first search engine became popular, the coveted number one ranked listing is something everyone has fought for. Marketers figured out that if they were placed first in whatever search term a user typed into the search bar, they had a high chance of connecting up with the searcher and making the sale.
So, of course, marketers started manipulating it. They figured out what drove the ranking and put all their energy into that strategy. They created websites for themselves and for their clients that used these techniques. This is how black hat SEO was born.
Early on, people figured out that search engines rank based on keywords. So it only makes sense that the more keywords you have on a page, the better the page will rank. So people started creating individual pages devoted to specific keywords.
More is not better.
Have you ever read through a page where every other word is the keyword? If you’re looking up golf clubs and every other word is golf clubs even when golf clubs shouldn’t golf club in the appropriate golf club spot? Ugh! That’s not reader friendly. People don’t want that kind of source to trust. Google knows that, so a long time ago, keyword stuffing became black hat.
But that hasn’t stopped people from trying it. Or from very old sites that still have that strategy in place. You might not find it ranked well on Google. But if you’re trying to use that to market your business, you’re paying the price.
Link popularity has also been a long-running strategy used for ranking purposes. The idea is that if a site links back to you, it gives your site more authority. Especially if it was a powerful site with lots of clout.
So of course, that was exploited too. Highly ranked sites with domain authority figured this was a perfect way to make money. So they started selling paid links that would link back to your site, giving you a little “Google love”. Trouble is, Google found out about it, and banned the process.
Google still loves links. But it likes it when sites naturally link to one another based on authority. If you’re creating an article and link to a resource of high caliber, it wants to reward that process. But if it’s only done as a marketing technique, it will penalize the users.
How can you tell? Start with the number of links on a page. When this strategy is used, you’ll usually find dozens of links of random nature. The key is if it makes sense.
Hidden Text and Links
Similar to keyword stuffing, this is another sneaky black hat technique that was used quite frequently in the past. The idea was to get as many keywords onto a page. So many unscrupulous marketers would bury them into the page by creating a paragraph of keywords, then turning it the same color as the background. It wouldn’t show to human readers, but Google spiders would pick it up and rank it well.
While this worked at least in the short term, both Google and human visitors picked up on the strategy quickly. Because most of these pages didn’t give the end user the information they truly wanted. It didn’t meet a searcher’s expectations, so Google banned it in favor of finding higher quality results instead.
Have you ever clicked on a search result that looks perfect, only to be directed to a page that has no relevance? Google calls this a sneaky redirect. A marketer’s objective is to get ranked well for a search term in Google, while having the clicks redirected to a page it hopes will make them money. This is especially common in the mobile market. While a desktop might show one result, when you try to find it on your smartphone, it’s redirected to an entirely different URL.
Again, this process doesn’t satisfy the end user’s goals. It upsets them because they don’t get the results they expected to find. And that’s not Google’s goal. So when they discover a cloaking strategy, it’s banned. Another black hat SEO technique that shouldn’t be used.
Any of these black hat SEO techniques can give your site a bad reputation and make users turn away from using your site. And if these techniques are on your site when Google makes a major change in its algorithms, the penalty can be severe.
When Google issues upgrades – think Panda or Penguin – the penalty knocks you out of rankings, meaning it won’t list you in the search results no matter how well you do for a keyword.
It starts with spiders. The automatic algorithmic system crawls and finds all web pages it can that are using black hat techniques. Then as follow up, humans scour the web looking for any results the spiders may have missed. These black hat sites might work for a while, but in the end, they will be caught.
And once a penalty has been enforced, your site will not rank number one. Chances are, it won’t hit the first few pages of results. It might be delisted altogether.
Remember, Google is all about the user experience. If the end user loves your site, Google will love it too.