When discussing hackers, you might have heard of Black Hat and White Hat hackers. The White Hat side represents those who operate within the law and, for example, assist authorities or companies in testing their security for vulnerabilities. Conversely, the Black Hat faction engages in criminal or unlawful activities.
In the world of search engine optimization (SEO), a similar categorization exists, though Black Hat SEO seldom involves breaking the law; it primarily violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, which is also unprofitable. SEMRush’s article reminisces about SEO tricks from about a decade ago when it was still possible to succeed in search engine rankings without much regard for the user experience. During that era, Black Hat practices were more common. Many people saw SEO as manipulating search engine algorithms rather than providing valuable content to users, as it is perceived today.
Today, thanks to Google’s algorithm updates, SEO places a much greater emphasis on user experience, and spammy content is easier to detect. These algorithm updates aimed to eliminate spammy content and provide better quality search results for users. Engaging in these questionable SEO practices may not land you in jail, but it can result in a significant drop in search rankings if Google detects a violation. Here are a few old SEO techniques to avoid if you want to maintain an upward trajectory in search rankings:
In this regard, quality trumps quantity. It’s evident that excessively cramming a specific keyword into a page’s content negatively affects user experience, which, in turn, impacts search rankings negatively. Google also monitors keyword density, which, according to Hubspot’s article, should be around 1-2%, a range that maintains good taste.
Here are some examples of what Google interprets as keyword stuffing:
- Lists of phone numbers that provide little added value
- Lists of cities in an attempt to rank for those locations
- Repeated use of the same keywords or phrases unnaturally often
- Text cloaking and hiding
The aim here is to hide a text paragraph containing many keywords within the page’s content. This can be done by making the text the same color as the background, rendering it invisible to the viewer. After recent algorithm updates, Google has become more adept at identifying such deceptive attempts, and the consequence may be a drop in search rankings.
Buying External Links
One of Google’s ways of evaluating content quality is by counting how many external links lead to a website, indicating how many times other sites have referenced it. A substantial number of external links suggest to Google that the content is of sufficient quality for other users to reference. The best way to earn backlinks to your site is through other users referencing your content naturally. An unrecommended method is to buy them.
Purchasing backlinks is the quickest way to accumulate them, but it’s also the riskiest approach in terms of search ranking. According to Google, buying backlinks is unethical and against its Webmaster Guidelines. The use of purchased backlinks against these guidelines can lead to a drop in search results. However, not all paid external links violate Google’s rules; paid links used for marketing purposes should include information in the <a> tag indicating that they were acquired for marketing purposes.
Link Farming and PBN (Private Blog Network)
In SEMRush’s article, link farming or PBN is described as a group of one or more websites with numerous interconnecting links. The underlying idea is the same as purchasing backlinks: to create as many external links as possible to a specific page.
Usually, the content on these link farm sites is of poor quality, and they are characterized by a large number of links. Links often contain the keyword for which better search ranking is desired. Google quickly identifies such link farms, so using them should be avoided if you don’t want to jeopardize your search ranking.
According to Google, misleading redirects involve directing a page’s user to a different address than the one indexed by Google’s bot. This can result in Google showing a legitimate page to the search engine while redirecting the user to a spammy site. Misleading redirects are also prohibited in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and the consequence can be a lower search ranking.
There are ways to attempt to harm a competitor’s search rankings. One method is to direct a large number of links to a competitor’s site and wait for Google to penalize them. This can be done with the help of a bot, and it’s not always the work of a malicious competitor. Fortunately, Google is quite adept at recognizing such tactics and typically ignores them. You can check your own backlinks, for example, on Ahrefs’ website. If you suspect or know that such activity has occurred on your site, familiarize yourself with Google’s spam reporting guidelines.