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Who Wears a Black Hat on the Wild, Wild Web?

By Carl Weiss

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If you’ve been working the Web for any length of time, then you know the search engines frown upon what is known as “Black Hat” techniques. This technology has been used to exploit search engine algorithms since the first ones appeared.  The reason black hatting used to be so popular was because it could move your website onto Page 1 in a hurry. 

Before 2000, black hatting was practically a requirement, since the practice was so prevalent. However, during the past few years, search engine operators have designed their “spiders” to search and destroy anyone employing black hat techniques.  In fact, the past half dozen updates on Google have been designed specifically to crack down sites using these techniques.  This has resulted in a number of sites being either unlisted or even blacklisted.  The problem we have today is people still don't understand where the line in the sand has been drawn regarding black hat practices and technology. In this article we're going to show you what are considered black hat techniques so you can avoid them, and who’s still wearing a black hat on the Wild, Wild Web.  

The problem today is most people still don’t know where the line in the sand has been drawn when it comes to black hatting.  And the line keeps getting moved.  So to make it easy to understand what is considered black hat SEO, I’ve compiled the list below.

Keyword Stuffing relies on inserting repeated keywords within the text, hidden text, title or meta tags in order to generate increased relevance of a page. (By “hidden text” I’m referring to the technique of writing the text in the same color as the background so that no one, with the exception of the spiders, is able to read it.)
Spamdexing, like keyword stuffing, involves repeating unrelated phrases, to manipulate the relevance or prominent resources indexed in a manner inconsistent with the purpose of the indexing system.  Again, the idea here is to fool the search engines into rating some keywords higher by trickery. So if an SEO professional (I use professional loosely here) mention manipulating the search index in any way you know they are trying to trick the search engines.

Doorway Pages are web pages created specifically for spamdexing.  Also known as bridge pages or jump pages, their purpose is to redirect those who click on the page onto another website.  If you have ever clicked on a search engine listing only to be redirected to a porn or a spam site, then you have hit a doorway page.  Doorway pages are relatively easy to identify, since they’re designed for search engines and not for people.  They redirect the reader so quickly that it’s virtually impossible for a human being to even see the original page.

Link Farming does not involve the swine, cows of chickens, although the search engines tend to treat perpetrators of the technique as swine and slaughter anyone ranking using these techniques to trick the search engines.  Link farming creates numerous backlinks for a site by generating an increasing number of fake sites that link to your own.  Back in the late ’90s and into the first few years of this century, paid link farms proliferated like weeds online.  Since a large number of links indicate popularity to the search engines, these businesses did quite well until the search engine spiders became savvy enough to determine real links from the farmed kind.  Today, relying on fake links is one of the quickest ways to get unlisted.

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Cloaking doesn’t have anything to do with the TV series “Star Trek,” although it works for web sites much the same way it worked for the Klingon birds of prey.  Cloaking involves hiding the presence of Flash animations by displaying a text-only version for the express purpose of getting the search engine spiders to ignore the fact you’re employing Flash (by the way, Google’s spiders hate Flash.) In many cases the flash has nothing to do with the text that is displayed and hence is a trick to deceive the search engines.

Duplicate Content on Multiple Sites is an SEO no-no.  Many people try to game the system by creating clones of sites with different URLs in order to generate top ranking.  The problem is. Once the search engines catch onto to this tactic (and they always do), all of these sites will wind up unlisted.  It’s better to create unique content for each Landing Page (so they’re not carbon copies) in order to go after the SEO high ground.  They can have a similar skin, provided that the guts are different.  This pertains to articles, blogs, podcast, videos and other such content. Make sure your content is repurposed enough or the search blogs will label your content as duplicate and assume you are trying to trick them.

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Automated Content Generation is becoming ever more popular with website owners.  Everything from page generation to autoblogging is now the current rage.  The problem is, automated systems are still not sophisticated enough to take the place of a human being and the spiders can tell the difference.  In fact, for the most part, they regard the use of automated content generation as cheating.  On top of that, many of these systems just scour the web for other peoples content to create so called new content. This is plagiarism at the least and stealing at its worst. Search bots have gotten very good at spotting automated content. Therefore, if you ever hope to win the war for keyword dominance, this is not a technique I would recommend.

What happens if you get caught being a black hatter?

If you or anyone in your employ is caught using black hat SEO, the penalties can be severe.  Not only will your websites start disappearing from Page One, but depending upon the infraction, you may never be able to get back on top of the heap again.  Google especially, has a long memory. 

Case in point: We were hired by a client with two physical locations and corresponding websites to help them conquer the search engines.  What the client failed to mention was they had previously hired a so-called “SEO professional” to promote one of their two sites.  This supposed professional had used black hat techniques to get them onto Page One of Google.  This worked for about a month, then our client disappeared Google altogether. 
They hired us a few months later and failed to disclose this fact. After about four months of hard work, we succeeded in getting their first site onto Page One of  Google, Yahoo and Bing.  However, their second site was only placing on Page One for Bing and Yahoo.  After questioning the clients, they admitted they had indeed hired someone whom they knew used black hatting SEO techniques on Google.  So “poisoned” was their second site ranking, that it not only affected their main website, but it also puts the brakes on any other Landing Page attached to their physical address.  This is because Google Maps and Google Local linked any Landing Pages to their actual physical address. Since the prior site and associated physical address had previously conducted black hatting infractions, all of their associated URLs were penalized.  As a result, the only ways for them to generate Page One results were to physically relocate their office, or resort to pay-per-click ads on Google.

What Should You do to Get on Page One of the Search Engines? 

 My answer to this question: Give the search engines what they want. Search engines want to provide users with the best relevant results, and the best pages that match what someone is looking for. To achieve this, a business must be committed to producing high quality, unique, useful and relevant content. It must be publishing it on a regular basis. Regular at the very least means; daily for social posts, and weekly for blogs, videos, slide shares and podcasts. Nurture web partners in your industry that are willing to engage in link exchanges or unidirectional links. Foster social network followers to shares your posts, leave testimonials, and positive ratings of your product/service or company. Lastly, you need to encourage people to read, comment and share all of your unique content (i.e., your blogs, videos, podcasts, slide shares and white 
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papers etc.).  Of course, all of this content needs to be keyword relevant and optimized. If you commit to producing this level of content, you’ll receive a Page One ranking because you're giving people what they want and – coincidentally – that’s the same thing Google and the other search engines want.

You Don’t Need to Cheat Them to Beat Them

The reason I shared the previous case is to remind you that if you really want to start “working the web to win,” then you have to stop looking for the easy way out.  Instead of trying to cheat your way to the top, you need to make a long-term commitment to produce and publish high quality, relevant and unique content on a regular basis.  This does not mean that it all has to be unique or yours but it does have to be useful to your followers. Sure, it can take a several months to see the results, but it’s worth it.  Organic position created in this way has staying power. As an added inducement, when the search engines alter their algorithms you won’t be whipped around and forced to start from scratch.  Plus, you’ll never run the risk of being either unlisted or blackballed by the search engines.  Remember, the good guys always wear the white hats.

In this article, I discussed what search engines such as Google deem to be black hat techniques. I’ve shared an example of what can happen to companies that try and cheat the search engines, and also explained what search engines are using to determine page ranking. Using these legitimate techniques produce the rewards webmasters so ardently seek in the new world of Web 2.0.

If you found this article informative, share it with your friends, family and co-workers. If you would like to read other articles we have written on this subject, enter "black hat" in the search box and you will find more than a dozen articles to choose from.  If you have something to add, just leave a comment below. I look forward to reading your responses.

If you like this article, you can find more by typing “black hat” or "Internet security" in the search box at the top left of this blog.

Until next time. 

If you would like a free copy of our book, "Internet Marketing Tips for the 21st Century,"please fill in the form below and we will send you this free eBook. Your information is always keep private and never sold.

Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, a digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.   You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio.

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