“Black hat” refers to the villain of a novel, play or criminal in real life. The term dates back to the early 1900s when villains in Western shows and movies typically wore black hats. From the menacing guy at the end of “The Great Train Robbery” to the first season of “Westworld,” black hats have had this symbolism for over a century.
Somehow, the term found its way into computers and, eventually, search engine optimisation (SEO), with its meaning mostly intact. In this context, “black hat” refers to methods or practices that infringe on a search engines’ terms of service—notably Google’s. Get caught red-handed and your website will suffer all sorts of penalties, from ranking drops to deindexing.
In this blog we’ll delve deeper into black hat link building and its various practices. We’ll also discuss why your overall SEO strategy should steer clear of them no matter what. Let’s look closer.
How Black Hat Link Building Will Destroy Your SEO and Website
Black Hat Link Building: What Not To Do And Why
One fundamental rule in SEO is never, ever test Google’s patience. If we look at the graph we used earlier, this drop coincided with a major google update.
Terrifying, isn’t it?
Within a year of rolling out several updates (namely the infamous Panda and Penguin), domain visibility across the web took a nosedive.
If you don’t want this to become a reality for your website create a link building strategy and avoid the following black hat link building methods:
Sadly, some won’t mind getting backlinks from mismatched domains, as long as they’re still backlinks. These low-quality backlinks can do more harm than good. They can throw keyword campaigns into disarray because they succeed in irrelevant keywords but fail in more crucial ones.
Irrelevance isn’t the only thing that produces low-quality backlinks. SEO professionals advise against using:
These are just some examples of poor-quality link types.
Article spinning yields grossly inaccurate content, which can result in loads of trouble—not just on the SEO front. People won’t take you seriously, especially if the sentences barely make sense. Not only will readers not share it with their friends or followers, but Google will eventually find out and penalise your domain for it.
It isn’t just spinning that’ll land you in hot water. Google has a 167-page rulebook for content quality checking, and any violations of the stated rules are enough to flag a post as low quality, if not spammy. In a nutshell, below are several red flags.
These are just some of the main rules when it comes to content.
What’s a PBN, you ask?
It’s essentially a network of websites that post content with backlinks to a single primary domain. The usual setup involves buying many expired domains and repurposing them to publish content with backlinks. Before Google doubled down on most black hat practices, PBNs were among the most effective link building methods. Here’s an example of a PBN. Its telltale signs are only having a home page, write for us page, contact page and it mentions PBN hosting. It was made to post blogs on it.
So, what happened? Why is building a PBN a black hat technique now?
In 2011, The New York Times published a special report that uncovered the multibillion-dollar fashion brand’s PBN. Here’s an excerpt.
Going back to the matter of irrelevance earlier, what does a domain that purportedly posts content on nuclear engineering have to do with black dresses? What’s up with a website on properties for sale in Bulgaria posting content on cocktail dresses?
Google dislikes PBNs for the reason that they produce unnatural backlinks. For instance, a PBN website shares the same IP address as hundreds of others. Using SpyOnWeb.com look at how many links share an IP address with casino-focus.com. This is just 40 of 98.
For the record, that link has two IP addresses, each shared by less than a hundred other links. While not a problem per se (sharing IP addresses is common), Google may show content from only one of these websites. Worst-case scenario, Google may drop the ranking of the primary website, just as it did to JCPenney after the discovery.
Aside from IP addresses, here’s some other red flags:
Here’s the same page but when viewed on a browser.
Cloaking isn’t just a violation of Google’s guidelines but also the basic principles of SEO. Even if the user version has more informative and unique content than the search engine version, it doesn’t eliminate the fact that a website engaged in deception. In the end, SEO exists for a users’ benefit, not search engines.
Even white hat cloaking can’t safeguard anyone from trouble. Google stresses the term itself is a contradiction and that it won’t make any exceptions on that front.
On top of that, comment spam has been ineffective as a link building tactic for years. The nofollow tag, introduced in 2005, blocks comment spam by discrediting a link when Google ranks websites. While not necessarily vouching for the website’s dubiousness, the tag ensures commenters can’t abuse this black hat practice.
That same year, Google rolled out two attributes—User Generated Content (UGC) and sponsored—to check backlink quality further. UGC is useful for domains to allow guest posting and commenting.
For the record, a 301 redirect isn’t a black hat practice. It lets the search engine know that the website has moved to a new one, prompting it to transfer ranking data to the new site. It also forwards users who visit the old site to the new one. 301 redirects are an indispensable aspect of quality SEO.
However, 301 redirects are prone to abuse, which is where the black hat side comes in. By buying expired domains with backlinks from high-authority websites, website owners can set up the domains to backlink to the new target site. Due to the quality backlinks the expired domains have, the new website they’re being redirected to may benefit from increased rankings in SERPs.
Another way of abusing redirects is by hiding pages that are chock full of spam or have low-quality content. It’s like cloaking to an extent.
Do Link Building Right
Proper link building is neither easy nor quick. It takes time for the methods to complete, let alone take effect across the board.
Black hat link building may give businesses the edge it needs online. But if even big names get penalized after getting caught, small players will definitely be no exception. The updates Google has undergone over the decade have made black hat link building risky to the point that it isn’t worth doing anymore.
Play by the link building rules to prevent your SEO strategy from falling apart.
Contact us today if you want to do link building the right way.
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