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SEO Basics: What is Black Hat SEO?

If you’ve been in the content game for any period of time, you’ve likely heard the term “black hat”. In reference to search engine optimization (SEO), it typically means content that has been created to game search engines instead of to help and educate users.

Black hat practices usually get caught and flagged by search engines, but not always right away. In order for you to ensure that your site ranks well and that you build a reputation as a quality resource, you should do your best to avoid these terrible black hat SEO tactics.

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1. Doorway pages

Doorway pages, sometimes called gateway pages, are when you create multiple URLs that go to the same (or extremely similar) content. For example, if you have the same product landing page for multiple cities and you’re trying to rank for each one.

The issue with this is that you’ll wind up showing in search results multiple times for the same query, which all take users to the same destination link. Essentially, you’re taking up more than one spot in SERPs to beat out your competitors even if that hurts users.

Google doesn’t look kindly on doorway pages because they dilute search results and create a poor user experience.

However, sometimes doorway pages are necessary. The key is to not have them crawled or indexed. You can still use your links in ads, emails, and as internal links on your website, but the best way to handle them is to set them to no index. You can do this using technical SEO, which will keep both your users and Google happy.

2. Keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing is when you stuff a piece of content with keywords like an overstuffed Thanksgiving turkey. It comes in a variety of forms, such as:

  • Using a single keyword too many times
  • Using multiple keywords too many times
  • Adding a paragraph at the bottom of your page oversaturated with keywords solely to rank
  • Using keywords that don’t make sense just to get them in your content
  • and more

Keyword stuffing makes reading a piece of content feel like it was written by an AI. While it may be somewhat entertaining, it’s not helpful, it doesn’t read well, and it’s clearly not meant for users. And, it will get you flagged for spam.

READ MORE: What is Keyword Stuffing and How to Avoid it

3. Keyword cannibalization

Not to be confused with keyword stuffing, keyword cannibalization is when you accidentally cannibalize your own keywords. This typically happens when you create multiple pages that rank for the same term. This can confuse Google, which will do its best to choose the single most relevant page. This means that instead of concentrating all of your views and clicks on a single, high-quality page, it’s spread all over the place, making it hard to track and analyze.

Plus, keyword cannibalization is often paired with keyword stuffing and doorway pages.

READ MORE: SEO Basics: What is Duplicate Content?

4. Cloaking

Cloaking is a particularly sneaky black hat SEO tactic whereby the content you display to a search engine differs from the content you present to a user. For example, if you were showing Google a typical HTML webpage and only showing users a page full of images on the same URL, it would be a form of cloaking.

Cloaking can also happen when you display invisible text on a page that search engines can index but users cannot see. Usually, invisible text contains keywords and it’s meant to trick search engines into thinking they’re included within the content presented to a user.

5. Link farms and paid links

If you’re looking to up your link building game, paid links are not the way to do it. In order for a link to provide you with legitimate benefits, it needs to be a follow link from a high-quality, established content producer. No matter how many links you get from a link farm, they’re unlikely to provide you with any true SEO boosts.

The same goes for paid links. If you write content, chances are you’ve received an email or LinkedIn message from some “link building expert” either asking you to pay for a link on their website or offering to pay you for a link placement on yours. I get at least one a week. And I have never taken up the “offer”.

Paid links are usually from low-quality sites trying to game Google. While they may claim to have impressive stats now, chances are, they’ll be caught and flagged in the near future. Then, your time and money will have been wasted.

Instead, work towards getting high-quality backlinks that will provide long-term benefits.

6. Low-quality content

There are many things that go into making a high-quality piece of content. From research and writing to editing and formatting, it all makes a difference.

As we’ve seen from algorithm updates over the years, Google favors good content written by good writers. This refers to content that:

  • Is written with a user in mind based on where they are in the content sales funnel
  • Is regularly reviewed and updated
  • Is formatted properly in a way that improves readability and user experience
  • Has been edited for clarity, typos, flow, style, accuracy, and more
  • Has been written or reviewed by someone who’s an expert in the language being used
  • Has been optimized for the country it’s written for

Poor content is written quickly, by writers who either aren’t professionals or who aren’t being given the time and budget to exercise their skills. It’s focused on bringing in traffic and doesn’t cater to the actual users who will read it.

READ MORE: How to Write a Blog Post for SEO

7. Sneaky schema

Schema is meant to help you show up in relevant rich snippets. There’s schema for all kinds of different content formats, like blog posts and articles, recipes, music, events, and more. Whenever you create a new piece of content, it’s important to use schema markup to tell Google what the content is so that it can be served to the right users when they search for the right queries.

Sneaky schema is when you use different schema than what your page is actually for, with the intention of tricking users, search engines, or both. For example, advertising a scam to win a free iPhone in the content of the schema markup for a review or recipe.

Just stick to using schema to describe the actual content on a page and you should be fine.

8. Unrelated redirects

You see a link that’s relevant to your query, so you click it, and then EGAD! It takes you to a page that has literally nothing to do with what you searched for. Sometimes this happens because a site owner wants to continue taking advantage of the traffic to a URL that’s no longer relevant.

For example, if a website had a link to a contest that received a lot of traffic, they may redirect that link to another page once the contest is over so that they can trick users into visiting another page on their site. Other, more spammy sites will try to hook you in with an ad about celebrity gossip and then redirect you to a page advertising a miracle weight loss facial mist that costs $99 a month and smells like mothballs.

It’s important to understand that redirects in and of themselves are not harmful. When used sparingly and for relevant links, they improve user experience while maintaining traffic and existing links. Just make sure that when you’re using them, it’s for the right purpose and that you take users to a related page.

Just do the right thing

Black hat SEO can be intimidating, especially since it can seem easy to unintentionally go against Google’s SEO guidelines. But the reality is that it’s hard to get yourself flagged as long as you focus on producing high-quality content. Sure, you might slip up once in a while, but as long as you make an effort to fix your mistake and the majority of your website employs white hat SEO practices, you should be fine.

In short, just do the right thing when it comes to your content and avoid anything that seems underhanded, spammy, or questionable.