Because paid marketing is expensive, many businesses turn to SEO, thinking it will offer quick gains. Unfortunately, we often see how certain sites resort to questionable SEO tactics in an effort to get high rankings fast. Without even knowing that, some of these tactics fall into the realm of “Black Hat SEO”. While these SEO techniques may offer quick wins, they can lead to severe penalties, including a drop in rankings or even complete removal from search engine listings. In our article we will unveil the top 15 black hat SEO techniques that can wreak havoc on your site’s organic rankings. We will also explain why you should steer clear of them.
What is Black Hat SEO?
Before we dive into the bad SEO practices, it’s essential to understand what black hat SEO is. The term “Black Hat” originates from the old Western movies, where the bad guys wore black hats. In the context of SEO, black hat refers to the use of aggressive and unethical approaches to improve a website’s search engine ranking (hoping to boost the site’s organic traffic overnight). These tactics often violate search engine guidelines and provide a poor user experience.
Black Hat SEO is opposite to White Hat SEO, which involves ethical practices in line with search engine guidelines to improve rankings.
There is also Grey Hat SEO which falls somewhere in between, encompassing tactics that are not explicitly forbidden but could still be risky.
In our story we will focus on only those black hat SEO techniques that can spell disaster for your website.
1. Auto-generated Content
Auto-generated content is a technique employed to quickly populate a website with text. By using software or scripts, a bulk of content is produced with minimal effort. This content often lacks coherence and provides little to no value to the reader. The right density of relevant keywords simply aims at tricking search engine algorithms into ranking the page higher.
Consider a website that sells organic dog food. To attract traffic, an auto-generating software is used to create hundreds of blog posts. The result? Blog posts filled with keywords like “best organic dog food“, “natural dog food benefits” or “buy organic dog food online” arranged in a nonsensical manner that provides no real information on the subject.
While this tactic might initially boost the website’s visibility on search engines, the lack of valuable content could lead to a higher bounce rate. Over time, search engines recognize the ploy, and the website may suffer penalties and, as a result, drop dramatically in rankings.
What about AI-generated Content?
AI-generated content, when harnessed correctly, can be a boon for websites. Unlike auto-generated content, which often lacks value and coherence, AI can produce meaningful, well-structured text. For example, while writing this article, we wrote some of its sections with the help of two AI writers. So if you got this far in the article, the content must have been cohesive and comprehensive enough. To ensure that AI-written content is interesting and readable, we recommend applying the following measures:
A skilled editor will review and refine your AI-produced content. Plus, you want to ensure the AI-generated content aligns with the intended message and brand voice.
If you use AI, make sure the AI content caters to your reader’s interests or queries. Also, add your own expertise by providing insights, solutions, or new perspectives.
Instead of keyword stuffing, use keywords naturally within the text. Aim for a seamless blend of SEO and reader-centric content.
Unique and Fresh Content:
You also need to train AI. Here your AI writer will get diverse data into its system. With prompts, encourage AI to produce original content rather than rehashing existing online text.
In our opinion, using a hybrid approach of AI-generated content coupled with the above measures will help create a balance between efficiency and quality. By doing so, you will avoid falling into the temptation of creating content at scale with auto-generation tools. As such you will be more in synch with that search engines prefer when it comes to content.
Auto-Generated vs AI-Written Content
Let’s take a look at how auto-generated text is different from an AI-written piece.
Example 1: Auto-Generated Content
On our organic dog food website, an auto-generating software is used to populate the blog section. The generated post titled “10 Reasons to Choose Organic Dog Food” reads as follows:
“Best organic dog food, organic dog food top benefits, buy best organic dog food online, natural dog food benefits, organic natural dog food best price, buy organic dog food online cheap…”
The text is a mere repetition of keywords with no logical flow, information, or value provided to the reader. You can see that this content is machine-generated with the sole aim of housing keywords to manipulate search engine rankings.
Example 2: AI-Written Content
In contrast, if we use an AI writing tool is employed to create a blog post on the same topic, the tool can create something like this:
“Switching to organic dog food can be a game-changer for your furry friend’s health. Unlike conventional dog food, organic variants are free from artificial preservatives and harmful pesticides. By choosing organic, you’re ensuring a wholesome, nutritious diet for your pet. Explore our range of organic dog foods and discover the perfect meal plan for your beloved companion.”
You can see that the second piece is much more coherent, informative, and engaging. It invites readers to explore the website’s offerings while educating them on the benefits of organic dog food. The keywords used in the second piece are included in a more natural way.
2. Unethical Backlinks
Unethical backlinks, one of the most popular black hat techniques, can ruin a website’s reputation and search engine ranking. Unlike ethical backlinking, which is built on genuine relationships and quality content, unethical backlinks are acquired through dubious methods, such as purchasing links or through link farms.
Going back to our organic dog food website. To gain quick traction, the owner decides to buy a package of 1,000 backlinks from a shady online link broker. Post-purchase, the website is now linked to from a ton of unrelated and low-quality sites: from a blog about gambling to a forum discussing high fashion.
At first, the surge in backlinks causes a spike in traffic and the website climbs the search engine ranks. With time, Google and Bing will eventually identify the unnatural link pattern. The result is a stern penalty that sends the website down in rankings. Manual action may be applied and the site will potentially be removed from the search engines’ index, meaning it will be unfindables in organic search results.
While tempting as a shortcut to online visibility, the repercussions for unethical backlinking are severe, often causing long-term damage that’s hard to recover from.
3. Overloading Meta Keywords
This one is not necessarily a black hat SEO techniques per se, but it is still present on sites as either intentional or due to oversight. Meta keywords once held importance in SEO, serving as a signal to search engines about the content’s relevance. With time and all the evolution of search engines, this element lost its significance. So overloading your site’s pages with tons of meta keywords will not serve to any good.
Returning to our organic dog food website scenario: In an effort to rank for every possible related keyword, the owner crams the meta keywords field with over 100 terms, ranging from “organic dog food,” “natural dog treats,” “healthy dog diet,” to “affordable organic canine cuisine” and beyond.
This overzealous tactic not only proves fruitless in improving the site’s SEO but also risks being flagged as spam by search engines. Search engines focus on user-friendly content and natural keyword integration over outdated metadata stuffing.
4. Duplicating Content
Duplicating content is another ill-advised practice. Here is how it works: you mirror the same text across various pages on your site or copy it from other online sources. This tactic not only diminishes the user experience but can also trigger severe penalties from search engines. Remember, search engines prioritize unique, high-quality content.
Suppose that the owner of the same organic dog food website finds a well-written article on the benefits of organic dog food from a reputable pet nutrition blog. Tempted to share this information with his audience, he copies the text verbatim onto his blog, only changing the title.
Even if this technique may get that blog post to the top of organic rankings, it will be short lived. The search engines will detect the duplicate content and may penalize the site for failing to provide unique value.
Again, instead of taking shortcuts, creating unique, engaging, and informative content is the key to building a favorable online presence and, in doing so, improving search rankings.
Cloaking has different faces. We can sum it up as a black hat SEO tactic where the content presented to the search engine spider is different from that presented to the user’s browser. This is done to deceive search engines so that they show the page when it would not otherwise be displayed.
Consider a website selling age-restricted products. To bypass restrictions, the site owner pushes his developer to show a different page to search engine crawlers. When search engine bots visit, they see a page full of innocuous content and relevant keywords. But, when users visit the page, they see the age-restricted products for sale.
This deceitful tactic may lead to a temporary boost in page rankings. But once discovered by search engines, this cloaking tactic will be penalized to the point of being deindexed from the search engine’s organic results.
6. Misleading Headlines
Misleading headlines, a frowned upon SEO tactic, aim to lure in readers with enticing yet deceptive titles. The idea is to boost click-throughs in a dishonest way. The way it works is simple: these headlines promise something grand or controversial, but the content fails to deliver.
A headline reads, “10 Celebrities Who Went Bankrupt Overnight!” Yet, the article only discusses minor financial troubles some celebrities faced.
The sensationalism draws readers in, but the content’s lack of promised drama leads to disappointment, prompting swift exits.
This mismatch between headline and content can inflate bounce rates. High number of bounces will indicate to search engines that the page doesn’t offer valuable information. Over time, this can erode a website’s standing on search engine results pages, which will result in declining ranking positions.
7. Keyword Stuffing
Keyword stuffing is akin to forcing a square peg into a round hole. It’s the overuse or stuffing of keywords into web content with the sole aim to convince search engines into ranking the site higher. Today search engines use smart algorithms that can spot this outdated tactic in no time.
Let’s go back to our favorite site selling organic dog food. A keyword-stuffed paragraph might read:
“Buy our organic dog food, the best organic dog food for a healthy dog. Our organic dog food is vet-approved. Unlike other organic dog food, ours is top-rated. Switch to our organic dog food today.“
In this paragraph, the repetition of “organic dog food” comes off as unnatural and spammy. And search engines don’t like spammy sites.
8. Invisible Text
Invisible text is another bad SEO technique. It aims to mislead search engine bots by hiding keywords within a webpage. This tactic involves matching the color of the text to the background, rendering it unseen by visitors but still readable by search engines.
Assume a webpage selling organic teas. To rank higher for relevant keywords, the site owner crams a list of keywords like “best organic tea, cheap organic tea, organic tea benefits” at the bottom of the page and sets the text color to white on a white background:
<p style="color: white; background-color: white;"> best organic tea, cheap organic tea, organic tea benefits </p>
But search engines are programmed to index content that enhances user experience. Invisible text goes against this principle, making the website susceptible to penalties once discovered. This is another way to get a significant drop in rankings or even get removed from search index altogether.
9. Buying Links
Ok, link brokers will argue with us here. But you should know that buying links is a frowned upon practice in the SEO world. It’s like bribing your way up the search engine rankings. Google as well as the other search engines value authenticity and organic growth, and buying links undermines this principle. When you buy links, you’re not earning them through valuable content or relationships, which is what search engines prefer.
This technique is very much related to unethical backlinking. The difference is that unethical backlinking is happening with a clear intention to manupulate search engine results, while link buying may be done without known the possible repurcussions.
Let’s say you own a bakery and decide to buy links from a random blog, unrelated to food or baking. This blog then hyperlinks to your bakery’s website. This action doesn’t make sense to search engines and appears inauthentic.
Instead, genuine, earned links would come from food bloggers or customers who have enjoyed your baked goods and decided to share your bakery with their audiences.
10. Overusing Article Spinning
Article spinning tweaks existing content to create “new” material. This is usually done through software that substitutes synonyms or restructures sentences. For instance, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” might be spun as “The swift auburn fox leaps over the idle dog.“
You may believe that content spinning may appear as a time-saver, but the results are typically subpar, failing to engage readers or deliver fresh insights. It just reshuffles old information, often resulting in awkward phrasing or inaccuracies.
Consider an original article discussing SEO best practices. A spun version might awkwardly rephrase key points. That will lead to lost clarity or accuracy. That will result in less engagement from your reader.
Furthermore, search engines are able to identify spun content and then demote them. With too much spun content on a site, the site’s reputation will suffer. Then it’s all a tumbledown in rankings.
11. Unnatural Internal Linking
Internal linking is an important factor for search engines to discover content on a website. Unnatural internal linking happens when a website’s linking structure is manipulated excessively with the aim of boosting SEO. Search engines don’t like when this tactic is overused.
Returning back to the site that sells organic teas. Initially, it has a clean, user-friendly navigation with links to categories like Green Teas, Black Teas, and Herbal Teas. Over time, aiming to improve the site’s SEO, the site owner adds many links to every page, targeting various keyword phrases like “best organic green tea” or “top herbal teas for sleep.”
This creates a messy, hard-to-navigate structure. Plus, the over-optimized anchor texts look unnatural, which can trigger search engines to downgrade the site’s rankings.
12. Misusing Structured Data
Misusing structured data is another deceitful SEO tactic. Structured data, when used correctly, helps search engines understand site content. It boosts your website’s visibility, displaying it in an attractive way in organic search engine results (SERPs).
Unfortunately, some site owners decide to manipulate structured data to show misleading information on SERPs. This bad SEO technique can temporarily boost traffic but has long-term downsides.
Suppose you run an e-commerce site and you are tempted to show false high ratings or reviews on SERPs to attract more clicks.
Let’s say your product has an average rating of 3.5 stars, but you tamper with the structured data to display a 5-star rating on Google.
This misrepresentation can drive more traffic initially. Yet, when visitors realize the deception, trust erodes. Search engines will eventually catch up and figure out the same.
13. Negative SEO
Negative SEO, a malpractice that aims to tarnish a competitor’s search engine listings. It includes a range of dubious tactics.
One such tactic is spammy backlink creation towards a competitor’s site. This involves generating a lot of low-quality, irrelevant backlinks aiming to dilute the site’s credibility in the eyes of search engines.
Our organic tea site (company A) has an aggressive competitor (company B). So our site owner decides to invest in negative SEO. In other words, our Company A decides to tarnish Company B’s online reputation to gain a competitive edge. Company A orchestrates a slew of low-quality backlinks from irrelevant or blacklisted sites pointing towards Company B’s website. As a result, search engines might perceive Company B as a less trustworthy source, potentially demoting its ranking on the search results page.
This nefarious tactic can backfire. Google, for example, has robust systems to identify and penalize such unethical practices. If caught, Company A could face severe penalties, like a sharp drop in rankings or even a complete de-indexing from the search results.
14. Low-Quality User-Generated Content
User-generated content is a good way to have plenty of content on your site. It’s also a smart way to foster community and keep your pages fresh. However, without vigilant moderation, the quality of content can sharply decline. We have all seen how comments can easily turn into toxic threads.
Say, our blog encourages user comments. Initially, the community shares insights and experiences, adding value to the blog. Over time, without moderation, spam comments promoting unrelated products or services begin to overrun the discussion.
These irrelevant or spammy comments can damage our website’s image, turning away genuine visitors. Plus, search engines may consider this lasser-faire approach to comment moderation as spam.
15. Gateway Pages
Gateway or doorway pages mislead search engines. Here is how it works: such pages are thin on valuable content, serving only as a springboard to redirect users to a different page. Such pages are loaded with keywords, the only purpose being to rank high in organic search results. Once clicked through and visited, these pages funnel users to a different, often unrelated, page. This deceitful tactic harms user experience and risks search engine penalties.
A user searches for “vintage book stores near me”. They click on a promising organic link, but instead of finding information on vintage books, they land on a page littered with keywords and a single button. Clicking the button redirects them to an online clothing retail page. That’s a gateway page in full blossom.
By covering these 15 “popular” black hat SEO techniques, we don’t pretend to have an exhaustive list here. Our intent is to reinforce the idea that by violating search engine guidelines we can negatively impact user experience, which can translate into heavy penalties.
Instead of using such shady strategies, it’s always better to focus on building a robust SEO strategy centered around creating high-quality, valuable content, earning reputable backlinks, and providing an excellent user experience. The key to successful SEO lies in adopting ethical practices and playing by the rules.
Need someone to check if your site is using any of these above questionable tactics? Send us a note and we will check it quickly for you.
Disclaimer: Parts of this article were written with AI. The ideas and editing were all ours.