There is a shady place on the Internet. Hidden in between the tributes to One Direction and pictures of cute cats lies a secret world devoted to making money off the backs of the uninitiated. It is an unscrupulous place, filled with hatred and greed. This place is the realm of the witches of the web, the realm of Black Hat SEO.
Five or ten years BI (Before Internet) bad marketers were easy to spot. It was simple back then, if someone did not deliver the results then they were obviously a bad egg and should not be dealt with. Such marketers soon went out of business as no results meant no money; however, all that soon changed.
To sum up Black Hat SEO in a single sentence it is putting on the face that legitimate marketing is being done when it will be detrimental in the long run. Black Hat SEO is the art, the con art, of tricking Google temporarily, taking money for it, and then disappearing before the client realises it.
Calling it crafty implies some level of craft and design where there is none. Instead following Black Hat rules are just that, a set of shoddy rules designed to trick and deceive. It is a pixelated plague, a digital disease - the ultimate creative cancer.
When there are a hundred things to do in order to get SEO right, there are over a thousand ways of getting it wrong. Black Hat marketers are regularly found rocking back and forth in the corners of their offices as Google releases a new update. Penguin and Panda, once animals they adored have become the bearers of bad news. Like the horses of the Apocalypse their coming means judgement for all.
It is a very strange mental image.
That all being said, and melodrama aside, Black Hat SEO can be relatively easy to spot for White Hatters. Sometimes a website can be rescued, revitalised, and given life once more. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and, more often than not, the site is DOA - Dead On Actualisation. The problem may be easy to spot but it is far often too late.
There are a few standard methods Black Hatters try and trick Google with. Most commonly, and the method we come across most often, is placing dodgy backlinks on trashy search directory sites. This damages a website’s SEO profile significantly and saturates the amount of credibility that Google gives a website. It is also, unfortunately, the hardest method to rectify as it involves manually removing those links from the toxic site. If this does not work then a last resort is using Webmaster Tools to disavow links, although the effectiveness of doing so is open to debate. From experience, this takes an awfully long time as it involves creating long lists of tabulated links and disavowing them in Webmaster. Even once this is done, Google will still not necessarily accredit a website. It is, how shall we say, a pain in the White Hat behind.
Other methods are far easier to spot if you take the time to look for them and far easier to rectify them. Google has since clamped down on these methods and yet, for some reason, they still exist as Black Hat techniques.
Whether it is keyword stuffing, cloaking, spamming, or just general cutting corners to create an unnatural page, the Black hat demons of detriment are all over the web. Dealing with them can be hard.
Let’s look at an example.
In this example we will be looking at Website X, a company specialising in monographing stationery with the letter ‘X’. They hired Black SEO Limited to create them a website. Unfortunately for them, BS Ltd was far from legitimate.
BS Ltd specialises in Black Hat SEO techniques. They design Website X a site that looks good on paper, promising them rankings that seem to be delivered. Once Website X sees that they are #2 in Google for their main keyword, ‘letter X monographing’, they hand over £2,000 and call it a day.
Over the next few weeks Website X are keeping an eye on their search results. Week two comes around and they are still #2 but by week three they are #9. Naturally enough they are worried about the drop, call up BS Ltd and question them. BS Ltd assures them that they will be up top again in no time. Website X are dubious, but agree to sit it out.
Week three turns into week four and #9 turns into #21, they find that they have dropped a whole two pages in Google. Frantic they call up BS Ltd, who assures them that they will fix everything and that by Monday they will be in the top ten again.
Week five turns around and come Monday morning Website X looks at Google anticipating a great rise. They are shocked to find that they are not on page one…or two, three, four etc. In fact Website X is not even in the top 100 search results. Furious they call up BS Ltd to find that they have changed their name, have no memory of the account, and that their CEO has moved to Tijuana.
The tragic thing about the above story is that it is one regularly retold about Black Hat SEO companies world wide.
Exposing Black Hat SEO is an easy thing to do. Every search specialist I know is aware of Black Hat SEO and the dangerous following it has. It is a practice fuelled by a hedonistic belief that money matters more than doing a good job and, it has to be said, a notion which needs to be dealt with by search executives everywhere. From an industry point of view we need to be at the forefront of SEO education in order to ensure that Black Hat SEO is not resorted to out of a desperation for results. This is done through keeping on top of the trends, knowing about what Google is doing, and ensuring that clients are also aware of the methods that are going on. They need to know about keyword stuffing, link farming, spamming, and other such practices.
From a client point of view, if you are looking for SEO or search experts and are trying to figure out how to pick the right company to go with, there are a few rules that can be followed to ensure that you are not conned out of your money. More importantly these are rules to ensure that you are not conned out of your time.
1. If it seems too good to be true it almost certainly is – no one can promise first place in a search as Google is such a cruel master. It cannot be predicted. We turn up with flowers and it wants chocolates, we turn up with chocolates and it wants a three-course meal. As search experts, our job is to stay ahead of the curve and predict what Google wants before Google wants it. Any company who does not stay ahead of the curve, who had ideas from 1999 as to best practice, are not worth going with.
2. Ask for examples of work – looking at a past catalogue allows you to see if clients they had five months ago are still doing well in Google rankings. If not then they may have implemented Black Hat methods.
Following those two pieces of advice should bring the White Hat SEO experts forward and push the Black Hat SEO experts back.
White Hat SEO is the opposite of Black. It is the good form, the magic we can do in order to snuff Black Hat SEO out and actually promote clients. White Hat should keep a client high up and is something to be proud of. Hopefully, through enough search experts practicing White Hat SEO we can ensure the quality of Google search. We win because we see results, clients win because they get their value for money, Google wins because they get a higher quality of website in their search results, and finally, Tijuana wins because it gets a high standard of tourist. Everyone is happy.