5 Black Hat SEO Tactics to Avoid on Your WordPress Website
Will Morris, February 7, 2019
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is vital for any website owner, and there are numerous strategies you can implement to improve your rankings. However, it’s important to ensure that you’re using the right kinds of techniques. In fact, there are several that you’ll want to actively avoid.
These techniques, known as ‘black hat’ SEO, are designed to trick search engines into ranking content highly in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Although they are often effective at first, they can actually harm your site in the long run. Fortunately, most are easy to stay away from.
In this post, we’ll explain what black hat SEO techniques are, and why they can cause problems for your website and business. We’ll also introduce a number of commonly-used strategies, so you know exactly what to avoid. Let’s get started!
What Black Hat SEO Tactics Are
Put simply, SEO is the process of improving your website’s rankings in search engines like Google. The higher your content ranks in SERPs, the more likely it is to be noticed and clicked on.
There are many ways to improve your page rankings – such as through the use of relevant keywords. However, while most SEO strategies are both encouraged and effective, there are some methods that are not recommended (despite the fact that they’re commonly used).
Black hat SEO is the use of techniques that violate search engine terms of service. While they will often improve the ranking of your website in the short term, using black hat tactics can have serious consequences over the long run – and are generally considered unethical as well.
The term ‘black hat’ originates from old Western movies, where the bad characters were often depicted wearing black hats. The heroes in those films would wear white hats, so SEO strategies that are ethical and legal can be referred to as ‘white hat’ tactics.
Put simply, as long as the techniques you’re using fall within search engine guidelines, they can be considered white hat strategies. When you use these tactics, it may take a little longer to see results, largely due to the way search engine algorithms work. Black hat tactics can often be spotted by their promise of speedy results – claims that often seem (and are) ‘too good to be true’.
How Black Hat Tactics Can Affect Your Website
While quick and easy access to high-ranking positions may sound tempting, implementing black hat practices can leave a negative and lasting impression on your website. The effects can include a significant reduction in site traffic and lower conversion levels – meaning the speedy rise to the top isn’t really worth it.
Using black hat tactics can also negatively impact your site’s users. This kind of SEO is often used to promote pages that don’t provide much actual value, meaning searchers can be ‘tricked’ into thinking they’ll be visiting a quality source of information. When that turns out to be false, they’ll likely come away with a less-than-stellar impression of your site and business.
What’s more, the boosting of these low-quality pages means that valuable resources are pushed further down in the rankings, making them less accessible for users. While this doesn’t have a direct impact on your own site, it is considered unethical and makes search engines less usable for everyone.
In the worst-case scenario, if a search engine catches you resorting to black hat measures, your website could be blacklisted. This means you will no longer have a high ranking, and it could also result in your website being penalized or even banned.
5 Black Hat SEO Tactics to Avoid on Your WordPress Website
The use of black hat tactics is more common than you might expect, especially when you’re outsourcing SEO tasks. It’s important to make sure that everyone who works on your site knows what to avoid. With that in mind, here are five of the most common and problematic techniques you’ll want to be aware of.
1. Link Buying and Exchanges
All the major search engines have strictly condemned the buying and selling of links. In fact, Google states on its website that: “Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.”
‘Link buying’ refers to the practice of exchanging money for posts that contain one or more links back to your content. This also includes giving away free products and services in return for links. Google heavily penalizes both buyers and sellers of these links, by stripping the pages involved of their rankings or even banning them.
This is a commonly-used tactic, and many people are unaware that it’s a problem. If you’ve paid for links in the past (or participated in a link exchange), it’s best to remove your paid links immediately. Even if you can’t convince the websites in question to remove your links, you can use Google’s Disavow Links tool to let the search engine know they should be ignored.
2. Keyword Stuffing
By now, it’s common knowledge that keywords play a huge role in most SEO strategies. While keywords are a great way to boost your website’s rankings, less is definitely more. ‘Keyword stuffing’ is the term used to describe over-optimizing your content – or in other words, stuffing it with a huge number of keywords.
For example, when writing a blog post about the best hosting plans, the white hat way of adding keywords would be to use the phrase “hosting plan” only occasionally. The black hat SEO approach would be to repeatedly use this and similar keywords, whether it makes sense or not:
To use keywords the white hat way, you’ll want to include them only when they’re relevant. In addition, it’s important to work your keywords naturally into your content. It’s also smart to avoid including too many keywords in your meta descriptions, title tags, and so on. If you need help deciding how much is too much, SEO plugins can assist you with incorporating keywords naturally.
3. Hidden Text and Links
Hidden text refers to any text on your site that is visible to search engines, but not to human visitors. This tactic is typically used to hide extra keywords throughout a page’s content, in order to make it rank within SERPs for a range of queries.
Users of black hat SEO tactics create hidden text in a number of ways – setting font color to white, for instance:
Links can also be disguised by their attachment to a single letter or character, and coding can be used to make text appear off-screen. However, Google uses a sophisticated crawler to find this content and will penalize the rankings of sites that use these techniques.
Sometimes hidden text is acceptable, particularly for accessibility purposes. This is the case with alt text that’s attached to images and used to describe them for certain users. Google is able to read this text but doesn’t consider it to be purposefully hidden. In most other instances, however, disguised text and links are something to avoid completely.
4. Spam Comments
Just about everyone who has any kind of presence online has encountered spam comments before. In fact, over 40% of social media accounts are created by spammers. These are more than just annoying – they can also be an indication of black hat tactics at work.
For example, spam comments are often used to create backlinks for free. Backlinking itself isn’t considered a bad-faith tactic and can be a white hat way to improve your SEO. However, spammers leave lots of links to their content in the comment sections of other blogs. They do this with the intention of improving their rankings, whether or not the links are relevant.
Recent changes to the Google algorithm mean that backlinks achieved in this way have no effect on your SEO. This means these spam comments are useless. Still, even if you don’t engage with this method yourself, a buildup of spam on your site can make your business seem unprofessional and turn customers away. You can combat spam by turning on quality controls for your blog comments, and vetting them before they’re published.
Cloaking is perhaps one of the most common black hat techniques. It’s even used by SEO professionals, despite the dangers attached to it. The term ‘cloaking’ refers to creating two separate versions of a web page. One is designed for real users, and the other is specially built for search engines.
After these pages are set up, human visitors and search engine bots are directed to different locations. The content on the page intended for search engines is designed to secure an abnormally high ranking for certain targeted keywords. However, the page users see typically doesn’t reflect those keywords at all.
This tactic involves intentionally tricking your audience and can lead to huge penalties from Google. Therefore, you’ll want to ensure that those working on your website’s SEO strategies aren’t resorting to any kind of cloaking. It causes more harm than good and can lead to an overall reduction in rankings.
There are plenty of useful SEO tactics that offer an honest way to boost your rankings. Despite that fact, the use of black hat techniques is as frequent as ever. Implementing these unethical methods may help you achieve your goals in the short term. However, they’re also a quick way to get blacklisted by popular search engines – and disappoint your users.
In this post, we’ve looked at five black hat tactics you’ll want to avoid at all costs:
- Buying links in order to manipulate rankings.
- Stuffing your content with irrelevant keywords.
- Using color and code to hide text.
- Spamming blog comments to create backlinks.
- Implementing cloaking to trick both search engines and users.
Do you have any further questions about these (or any other) black hat SEO tactics? Let us know in the comments section below!
Image credit: Pexels.