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Eight Black Hat SEO Techniques That Are Killing Your Rankings If you have invested in SEO, but have achieved only questionable results, chances are that you are making some of these SEO mistakes.

By James Reynolds

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The vast array of search engine optimization (SEO) techniques are typically arranged under two umbrellas: black hat and white hat. The terms are inspired by the old Western films; the black hats worn by the bad guys, the white hats worn by the good guys.

It then follows that black hat SEO involves techniques that are thought to be tricks and cheats, whereas white hat is clean, honest SEO- the kind useful to humans and much preferred by search engines. There used to be more black hat SEO going on than there is today; when Google was in its relative infancy, there were many possible tricks to affect Google ranking factors, no matter how good or bad the content of that webpage was, or how relevant it was to the Google user. However, Google prides itself in returning the best, most relevant and useable search results, so inevitably it has developed many updates over the years that seek out these cheats. In fact, Google updates its search algorithms 500 to 600 times a year in order to do this, with occasional major updates that may completely turn rankings upside down such as Google Panda and Google Penguin. So now, it is common to talk about SEO in white hat and black hat terms. The white hat SEO techniques are good for future-proof SEO results. Meanwhile, black hat should be avoided at all costs as these strategies are the ones that Google and other search engines are determined to root out.

Related: 5 Things Most People Forget About Local SEO

In order to stay on the right side of search (and obtain positive results in the process), avoid the following 8 black hat SEO techniques:

1. Paid Links In simple terms, paid links are any links back to your website that have been purchased for the purpose of looking good to a search engine. The idea behind the opportunity to buy backlinks is that if lots of websites link to yours, then you must have an authority site. However, these low-quality links are bought in volume through link farms made up of hundreds of connected websites, and the links are almost always irrelevant and spammy. Google will heavily penalize anyone caught violating their guidelines against such link schemes. Instead of putting your site at risk, I recommend concentrating on linking to and encouraging links back from high-quality sites that are relevant to your audience.

2. Spam Comments Chances are that you will have seen this tactic in action. Spam comments refer to any comment on a webpage that is irrelevant and that presents an unrelated link elsewhere. This tactic is seen as a free way to get links back to your own site. Often, they are not even placed by a human, but by bots created to automatically sprinkle them across the web. Avoid allowing your own site to become a victim to these techniques by filtering comments vigorously, and obviously, don't partake in the activity yourself.

3. Duplicate Content Or Spun Content It refers to any content copied from elsewhere on the web. Meanwhile, spinning content refers to the cunning practice of taking one piece of content and rewriting it (often using using specialist software) to come up with multiple versions of the original. Apart from the ethical questions raised over littering the web with rehashed and useless content, this black hat SEO tactic makes it difficult for search engines to figure out which page is original and relevant to the given search query. The result: traffic loss, ranking loss and decreased visibility for all pages showing identical content, other than the page which Google determine is most authoritative (which may not be the original). Ensure that all content on your site is unique, high-quality and will offer something of value to your audience. This not only boosts your SEO, but also improves your site's user experience.

4. Keyword Stuffing This practice involves repeatedly inserting a word or phrase into text so that it is more likely picked up by search engines. This used to be common practice in SEO, but where keywords are overused, the text nearly always sounds unnatural and is irritating to the user. For optimum keyword density, always provide clear, useful, natural-sounding text, and use semantically related phrases to avoid repetition. Google can better understand your site when you have better quality content like this and thus will be able to put your site in front of your target audience.

Related: 8 Advanced Webmaster Tools You Should Be Using for Better SEO

5. Cloaking It is the practice of tricking a search engine into thinking something different from the actual content appears on your site, in order to get a higher visitor rate. One set of content (such as a page of HTML text) is written for Googlebot to trawl through and rank, yet entirely different content (such as a page of images) is presented to the Google user. Be honest with search engines or expect to be penalized as this technique is a direct violation of Google's webmaster guidelines.

6. Invisible Text Another clear violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines, this, quite simply, covers any practice of deliberately hiding text, including keywords and links. It could be achieved by tricks such as writing text on the same color background or hiding it behind images. This hidden text, which mostly includes excessive keywords, is therefore invisible to the website visitor, but not to the search engines. Instead of trying to manipulate rankings through this deceptive technique, the more advantageous move is to continuously make all content in your site as useful, as relevant and as accessible as it can be to both search spiders and humans.

7. Social Network Spam Social network spam is either posting huge numbers of unrelated and irrelevant links across groups, pages and comments on social networks, or sending these links directly to users. Instead of bombarding followers and connections with irrelevant content, it's best to use social networks positively to engage and exchange with those who show a genuine interest in your content and services.

8. Doorway Pages Another trick used in black hat SEO to fool a search engine user into clicking through on a result by presenting a keyword-optimized page to the search engine, but then automatically redirecting them from this result to an entirely different page. The user then either sees multiple results that only lead to one destination, or ends up in a page that can be totaly unrelated to their original search. As this results in a poor experience for the search engine user, the use of doorway pages is another tactic high on Google's hit list.

Helping Google find, understand and rank your site SEO is such a highly dynamic, fast-changing field. As Google continues to outsmart its practitioners, there will inevitably be new tactics created in retaliation. Be assured, however, that Google and other search engines are committed to returning the most relevant and useful results for their users, and will continue to penalize those who seek to undermine this with lower ranking (and perhaps, in the most serious cases, complete deindexing).

Related: 6 Things Innovative Search Engine Marketers are Doing Right Now

James Reynolds

Founder, SEO Sherpa

James Reynolds is fanatical about all things search, social, and content on the web. James is the founder of SEO Sherpa, an organic search engine marketing agency servicing enterprise clients like Pretty Little Thing, Farfetch, HSBC, Standard Chartered, Nissan, Guinness World Records, and Bulletproof.

SEO Sherpa is the 2023 Global Search Awards Best Large SEO agency, and a three-time winner of the Best Large SEO Agency winner at the MENA Search Awards. In 2019, James was awarded the title of MENA Search Personality of the Year for his outstanding contribution to the search engine marketing industry.

James regularly shares content via his SEO blog, Twitter (@FollowJames), and LinkedIn and is a contributor to several leading publications, including Entrepreneur. James hosts the Click Jam inbound marketing event and mentors startup companies in his free time.

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