Search engine optimization (SEO) for higher ranking is divided into what are called black hat and white hat techniques. White hat techniques are those that are considered legitimate in the eyes of the search engines. On the other hand, black hat methods, while usually technically legal, are not. However, since they are something most webmasters should avoid, anyone promoting a website needs to understand exactly these black hat techniques are as to avoid getting caught up in them and to optimize their site in the best way possible.
Identifying black hat SEO
There are a lot of ways to promote websites, and each can be classified as either black hat, white hat or gray hat (those techniques in between). At times, it can be difficult to classify the methods used. It is best to simply consider if what is being done adds value to the web by providing users with quality content. Therefore, writing an article that people can use and using it to link to a site from an article directory is clearly white hat while creating computer generated content and spamming it throughout the internet is not.
SEO methods can also move between white and black hat in the way they are used. For example, while leaving a thoughtful comment on a blog with a backlink is legitimate, using software tools to spam generic comments to many sites is black hat.
Black hat SEO techniques
There are numerous black hat SEO techniques, and they are constantly changing as the search engines catch on and change the way they rank sites. In simpler times, just using popular meta keywords was enough to bring in more traffic (due to misuse, these keywords do not count for anything with most search engines at present), but things are more complicated now. Some popular black hat SEO techniques include:
- Doorway and cloaked pages: This involves creating pages that the spiders the search engines send out to index the web will see but not the human visitors. These pages will contain certain keywords and other features to make a site look more related to a particular search than it really is.
- Invisible text: By making text the same color (or nearly the same color to better fool the search engines) as the background, keywords can be inserted into the site that the webmaster might otherwise not be able to include.
- Keyword stuffing: While this will likely make a site less readable, simply stuffing keywords into the text is very common. However, it can backfire since it may be relatively easy for search engines to notice.
- Link software and link farms: Software that can be used in different ways to try to build links, and there are a good number of link farms of sites that link to each other in various ways. These links are almost always very low quality.
Those are just a small sampling of the different blackhat SEO techniques available. A search of sites related to these techniques will turn up a lot of tricks people use and software to help them in the processes. As the search engine algorithms change (often specifically designed to thwart such tricks), so do the methods used.
The case against blackhat SEO
While blackhat SEO can sometimes deliver quick results much easier than more approved methods, it comes at a risk. If discovered (search engines are always looking for ways to detect such links and incorporate them into algorithm updates), search engines will often remove sites that use such methods from their results page and natural traffic will suddenly drop to zero. There is also the danger of losing advertising and other monetization accounts. From an ethical standpoint, such methods spam the internet with low quality content. This can be highly annoying to both the creators of more legitimate content and the users.
Shades of gray
Like so many things, there are a lot of SEO practices that fall into a grayer area. For example, while link buying is frowned on by the search engines, it can be a good way to build links and may even add value for users if done properly. Different types of software can either be used to automate some of the more menial parts of SEO while still remaining white hat, or they can be abused to create a lot of junk. How far one goes with these techniques will depend on the individual. However, those looking to the long term will always keep adding value to the visitor in mind whenever doing SEO.
Webmasters who are utilizing SEO outsourcing need to be careful to ensure the services they are utilizing do not use black hat techniques. Being unaware of what was happening will not be worth anything with the search engines if the site gets hit in the rankings for using black hat. Beware of services that promise the world quickly. Good SEO almost always takes time. Be careful to check and see exactly what the outsourcing service does and ask to see reporting of exactly what has been done every month.
Good, long-term SEO uses a variety of techniques. By keeping in mind the goal of the search engines is to provide users with the content they are looking for, a sustainable business model can be built that avoids black hat SEO.