Understandably, you want your clients to rank well in SERPs. But according to Search Engine Journal, 57% of North American businesses still lack an SEO strategy! By developing a plan of action for your customers, you can help them (and your agency) get ahead.
The problem is that not every vendor will have your best interests at heart. Despite everything we know about SEO best practices, there are still those who try to get away with insidious tactics.
Their goal? To manipulate both your agency and Google into believing they’re there to help. Unfortunately, these providers won’t support your clients’ SEO aspirations. They may even hurt their ability to compete in search engines.
What we’re describing here is none other than black hat SEO. But how do we define black hat SEO? Why is it so bad? And what can you do to avoid it? We’ll answer these questions for you in today’s post so you’ll feel empowered when choosing or evaluating your SEO fulfillment partner.
What is Black Hat SEO?
Let’s first answer the question, “what is black hat SEO?” It’s essentially defined as anything that goes against Google’s best practices for search engine optimization and that has a goal of manipulating search rankings in some way.
That may seem like a broad definition, but black hat SEO can cover a multitude of sins. Overall, it’s unethical; the name of the game is to cheat your way to rankings you don’t deserve by tricking search engines through a variety of techniques.
Common Examples of Black Hat SEO Techniques
So what are some of those techniques? Examples of black hat SEO techniques can include (but aren’t limited to)...
- Keyword Stuffing: Inserting irrelevant or a high volume of keywords into visible or hidden content on a webpage in an effort to get the page ranking on those keywords in SERPs
- Cloaking: Showing different content on the same page to search engines and to real visitors to rank on irrelevant terms or to hide spammy intent
- Manipulative Redirects: Misusing redirect actions to siphon visitors or crawlers onto different pages than intended to boost page rank or hide the purpose of the page
- Duplicate or Spun Content: Publishing plagiarized, duplicated, or computer-generated content (either from other sources or elsewhere on the same site) to deceive search engines or steal from competitors
- Link Farms and Paid Links: Placing backlinks on low-quality or irrelevant websites or paying for link placement without disclosure to manipulate page rank
- Deceptive Structured Data: Including inaccurate information in structured data or rich snippets to unfairly inflate brand reputation or to deceive users
- Negative SEO Attacks: Engaging in underhanded tactics to lower a competitor’s rank via Google penalties (e.g., toxic link placement, hacking, positive link removal, fake reviews, etc.)
In all of these examples of black hat SEO, providers will attempt to exploit loopholes or oversights in Google’s ranking system to further their goals.
Why is Black Hat SEO Bad?
Now you know what is black hat SEO and what it looks like. But why are these methods bad? After all, you may not like that Google has absolute power over which sites are displayed and clicked most often. That doesn’t seem very fair.
What many people fail to realize is that it isn’t just about “getting back” at Google. That might feel good in the moment – and it might even yield temporary results. But it will come back to bite you in the end.
For one thing, you’ll risk Google penalties if you use black hat SEO techniques. This can count against a site in rankings determinations. If the tactics are egregious enough, Google could potentially remove the site from SERPs completely.
Even if you manage to avoid penalties from Google, you’re not going to serve actual web users. When an agency uses black hat SEO to get ahead, they really aren’t considering the user experience. No one wants to visit a website that’s full of useless content or that looks spammy. Anyone who comes to the site will leave almost immediately, which means the client will miss out on sales and damage their reputation in the process.
Search engine optimization is all about building a strong web presence over time. While black hat techniques might seem like a short cut, they’ll actually ensure you end up behind everyone else.
5 Warning Signs of a Black Hat SEO Provider
Even if you know the answer to the “what is black hat SEO?” question, you might not always know upfront that a provider is engaging in manipulative methods. You know how to spot keyword stuffing or doorway pages, but do you know when to steer clear before a shady vendor ever starts doing work for your client’s site?
We know it isn’t easy to tell for certain until it’s too late. But if you watch for these signs and trust your gut, you’ll be able to avoid the worst offenders and choose the right SEO reseller program to grow your agency.
- They make promises they can’t keep. Black hat SEO providers like to make outlandish guarantees about the results they can produce. Whether they swear they can get you to position 1 on an ultra-competitive keyword or they’re confident you’ll get to the first page in less than a month, steer clear. They can’t control what Google does and the best SEO takes time to show results. Don’t be enticed by their sweet talk.
- Their website looks “off.” Granted, there are plenty of SEO agencies that have subpar websites. Not all of them will use black hat techniques. But if the site provides a poor user experience and you can’t immediately recognize the value they provide, listen to your intuition. A good SEO partner will apply the techniques they use for clients to their own strategy (and will make sure those techniques won’t get them penalized!).
- You acquire hundreds of backlinks quickly. A lot of black hat SEO vendors will rely on spammy backlinking in an effort to boost page rank. It’s a pretty outdated practice, especially because Google has gotten better at recognizing these tactics for what they are. Placing backlinks is one of the easiest things to do, so it’s likely a black hat provider will start with that (rather than valuable website improvements). If you’ve signed up with a vendor and you’re seeing a huge spike in backlinks, look closer and see whether you can get out before it’s too late.
- They won’t provide testimonials or reviews. You already know that online reviews can be powerful. Before you sign up with any SEO reseller program, be sure to check out the agency’s reviews on a variety of platforms. Most agencies will be happy to provide you with a link to their review pages or even personal testimonials. If the vendor seems hesitant to share these resources with you, don’t believe their excuses. There’s a reason why their reviews are turned off or they don’t want you to find them.
- Their methods are cloaked in secrecy. A good SEO fulfillment partner will usually be happy to explain their methodology to you. Education is a huge part of any business relationship and your vendors should want to help you expand your knowledge. While they may not have time to explain everything, they should be more than willing to talk about the techniques they use when developing campaigns. If they aren’t, consider this a big red flag. It shows they know what they’re doing is wrong.
When you know how to recognize the warning signs of a black hat provider, you can protect your clients and yourself against Google’s wrath.
Understanding White Hat SEO Techniques and Gray Hat SEO
In the white hat vs black hat SEO debate, the color coordination is pretty straightforward. Black hat means the dark side of SEO, while white hat refers to techniques that are on the up-and-up.
White hat SEO techniques typically follow all of Google’s best practices. This is actually more challenging than it may seem, as it can be difficult to adhere to every single one of these recommendations 100% of the time. Reputable SEO agencies will follow white hat tactics as closely as they can whenever possible.
There are actually different shades here, as there’s also something known as gray hat SEO. Gray hat SEO is basically the middle ground between white hat and black hat. It’s certainly riskier than strictly white hat SEO. It’s technically exploitative and doesn’t follow all of Google’s best practices.
However, these techniques aren’t quite as egregious as what you’ll find with black hat. Black hat often uses obvious tactics that fly in the face of Google recommendations. Gray hat is slightly more subtle, using techniques like link trading, directory link placement, paid reviews, or utilizing expired domains to manipulate rankings.
Gray hat is still considered to be bad form, but it’s probably more common than black hat SEO. Those who use these tactics likely think of themselves as bending the rules, rather than breaking them. While we still don’t recommend you use gray hat SEO techniques, they likely come with a slightly lower risk of penalty.
When You Wear Many Hats, Choose Your SEO Provider Wisely
One of the most challenging aspects of SEO is that it’s always changing. What worked brilliantly five years ago may not even be part of your strategy today. And when Google throws a curveball at us, we may have to pivot and embrace the unknown.
Those of us with good intentions can usually make small adjustments and get our campaigns back on course. But if you’re tempted by shortcuts and try to game the system, you’ll lose out in the end.
Everyone’s always trying to get ahead. That’s the name of the game with SEO. But the way you go about it matters in the end.
If you use manipulative tactics (or your fulfillment partner does), you might see more immediate returns. Eventually, though, you’ll get caught – and you’ll often be in worse shape than when you started.
Knowing the differences between white hat vs black hat SEO, as well as how to spot a reputable SEO reseller program, can make all the difference for both your agency and your clients.