Black Hat SEO refers to the use of certain SEO techniques that are often called unethical but are often perfectly legal and no less ethical than other means of aggressive marketing tactics. These techniques often violate the webmaster guidelines set out by search engines, thus they differ from White Hat SEO tactics which aim to perfectly adhere to search engine preferences.
Examples of Black Hat SEO
- Spam content & spam link-building
- Negative SEO (linking spam to your competitor, so Google thinks they are engaging in Black Hat SEO)
- Cloaking and hidden content – showing search engine crawlers one thing, and normal visitors another thing, to make the search engine give you credit for content that you may be embarrassed to display to your users due to low quality or lack of relevance
- Hacking – to insert links on the hacked site for example, or to take a competitor offline (via DDoS attacks, or password cracking) for long enough for them to lose their position in search rankings
Test of Black Hat vs. White Hat
The test of White Hat vs Black Hat SEO is often described by Google as: Would you be comfortable explaining to Google everything you’ve done? If not, due to fear of penalisation, you’re probably not doing White Hat SEO. Often there may be a middleground where tactics cannot be considered fully White Hat nor Black Hat – this grey area is referred to as Grey Hat SEO.
Risks of Black Hat SEO
Caution – Black Hat SEO is risky business, don’t do it unless you’re prepared to get your site banned from appearing in search results upon being found out. It’s only really suitable for ‘churn and burn’ business models, where people are frequently setting up new sites knowing that each site is likely to have a short lifespan during which it should make as much money as possible. Likewise, Black Hat SEO is certainly not suitable for a brand that relies on a particular well established, well marketed domain name such as ‘hotels.com’ for example – if that site were penalised and they became ‘hotels.info’ it would do their business an irreparable level of damage.