September 16, 2021

Black Hat SEO Facts

I always laugh when I hear SEOs talk about so called “black hat” techniques. It’s amazing what some people consider “black hat” and “spammy” and what others consider “white hat” and perfectly fine. When it comes down to it there are tons of black hat type tricks out there, but they’re not the ones you’re thinking of. I had one of these style conversations earlier, so I figured I’d rant for a little bit about what is and isn’t black hat SEO.

  1. You can’t be a great SEO and only wear a white hat. Part of what makes SEOs good at what we do is our constant desire to tinker and test things. Occasionally, testing stuff involves crossing the line and seeing how much we can get away with. The big difference though is that good, ethical SEOs don’t do this type of tinkering and testing with client accounts. We create small test sites (that may or may not be monetized or contain affiliate links) to do our tinkering on. It’s only by knowing what works and what doesn’t can we truly offer best in class advice to clients while still maintaining our in-depth knowledge of the search landscape.
  2. Black Hats don’t talk about their techniques. There’s a whole industry cropping up in SEO blogging – SEOs who travel the country speaking about SEO and blogging about it, but who don’t actually have a personal stake in the game. Sure, they may take on some clients or have had clients in the past, but they don’t have any personal gains or losses on their own sites at stake. The black hat SEO tricks these people talk about aren’t really black hat – by the time they get blogged about they’re old hat.

    Let me give an example. Last week there was a blog post talking about how you could get do-follow links from Twitter by creating your own application using their OAuth and a fake Twitter appilcation. Basically it let you get a nice link with whatever text you wanted at the bottom of every tweet. The day after this blog post got mentioned in the SEO blogs Twitter slapped a rel=nofollow tag on those links. That’s the difference between real black hat SEOs and people who just blog about SEO. Real black hats use the tricks to their advantage without feeling the desire to share them on a blog. Many of us were using that technique long before it was announced. In fact, a few of us had even forgotten about the tactic because it didn’t really work that well. Most Twitter profiles didn’t pass enough link juice for it to be worthwhile, and we figured it wouldn’t be long before Twitter got out their link condoms.

    The same holds true for the stuff like hidden keywords, text way off the scrollable part of a page, noscripts, cloaking, etc. These things aren’t black hat, they’re old hat. Sure a lot of people are still using them, but not many actual SEOs. Google has long learned to protect against this stuff and we’ve long stopped testing it. Only idiots still do this stuff.

  3. The black hat mentality isn’t just about search. The black hat mentality is about doing whatever you can to drive revenue. That could mean getting temporary rankings in Google or stuffing cookies to gain extra affiliate program revenues. The goal of a black hat isn’t to rank well, it’s to sell well. In fact, most black hat SEOs know they’re going to get banned for what they do – and that’s fine. The goal is to get the ranking (even for 1 day) and then sign those people up for affiliate programs or mailing lists (where we can continue to market to them.) Which brings me to my next point
  4. Many black hat techniques aren’t applicable to legit businesses. Since black hats go into their project knowing they’re going to get banned, they don’t care what they do. The goal is to drive as much short term sales as possible and move on to something else. Minimum work, maximum payout. That’s not the model your brick and mortar business is in, so applying these techniques is akin to shooting yourself in the leg at a nightclub during football season. It’s not something you want to do.
  5. Most SEOs don’t understand black hat vs white hat.At least once a month I talk to somebody who brags about having some “secret black hat seo success formula” that turns out to be nothing more than an actual best practice or good recommendation. They bring up things like alt and title tags, or using noscript tags to show text versions of javascript content. These are things most good SEOs suggest to do anyway. Of course, you also get the ones who say stuff like “use the keyword in the first sentence, last word of first paragraph, first word of 3rd paragraph, and 4th word from the end.” These people are just idiots. So is anybody who talks about keyword density.
  6. Most black hats use their own tools. Sure, there’s a ton of tools out there that claim they’re for black hat SEO. You’ll see things like SEOnuke and Xrumer out there, but they’re not as effective as you’d think. Since most black hats don’t discuss their methods, they certainly don’t make tools for other black hats to use. In my experiments, I’ve always made my own custom tools to do what I want – or I’ve abused other tools out there in ways they weren’t meant to be used. Sure, you can buy stuff like Bookmark Demon and AutoPligg, but these tools really aren’t worth any money. The sites they submit to offer little to no value in links.
  7. Black hat SEO isn’t just about search engines. Huh? How can it be SEO if it doesn’t involve search engines? That’s because black hat isn’t just SEO, it’s about making money. In many cases the black hat can be more successful by spamming Twitter or Myspace than he can by trying to rank high on search engines. Sending tweets and bulletins to idiots who’ve auto re-followed you takes a lot less work and is often times more profitable than trying to game the search engines.

I know this sounds like a rant, but I hope it helps people understand the world of black hat SEO as compared to what people think of it as. There’s really no true distinction between the color of any SEO’s hat – I like to think that we all wear a shade of gray. There certainly are some black hat techniques out there in use, but I wouldn’t recommend doing them for any clients or actual businesses that want to sustain long term viability on the web. I would, however, recommend grabbing a few domain names and testing your own hunches and theories. While some of them may be “black hat” or unethical, they can certainly be valuable in helping you understand how the search engines work and think.

When it comes to your business though, you should probably worry more about what your customers think and what they find useful. If you let that principle guide you, you really can’t go wrong – no matter what color hat you’re wearing.

About Ryan Jones

Ryan Jones is an SEO from Detroit. By day he works as a manager of SEO & Analytics at SapientNitro where his team performs SEO for Fortune500 clients. By night he's either playing hockey or attempting to take over the world with his own websites - which he would have already succeeded in doing had it not been for those meddling kids and their dog. The views expressed here have not been paid for and belong only to Ryan, not any of his employers or clients. Follow Ryan on Twitter at: @RyanJones, add him on Google+ or visit his personal website: www.RyanMJones.com