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What is Black Hat SEO?

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Black Hat SEO

Search engine optimization or SEO is known as one of the most powerful marketing strategies. Showing up highly in major search engine result pages ensures your website receives a significant amount of targeted high-quality traffic. Because of its popularity, more and more “search engine optimization experts” are coming out of the wood work and the divisive term, black hat SEO is being flung around more than ever before.

First, what is search engine optimization? 

There are a lot of different definitions for SEO but in short, it’s the process of optimizing a website for various signals that major search engines look for that will improve search engine positioning.

Next, what does black hat mean? 

Black hat is a term that was first derived from the mid-1800’s and can be attributed to the wild west villains. If you were a black hat, you were an outlaw. Over the past century, the term has been used in many ways.

In the computer world, black hat hackers usually have extensive knowledge about breaking into computer networks and bypassing security protocols while white hat hackers choose to use their capabilities for good rather than evil.

What is a black hat SEO?

When it comes to search engine optimization, the term black hat seems to deviate from its true meaning and is slug around as a slur to demean anyone who might intentionally violate search engine guidelines. But is a violation of specific guidelines really black hat?

In order to be a black hat by definition, malice must be present. Malice is defined as the intention or desire to do evil or ill will. Does disregarding Google’s Webmaster Guidelines mean the SEO practitioner has a desire to do evil?

Let’s take a peek at a few of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines:

If you take a look at Google Webmaster Guidelines you’ll notice they are broken down into three categories; General Guidelines, Quality Guidelines, and Specific Guidelines.

Basic quality guideline principals:

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
  • Don’t deceive your users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.

Now that we know what Google’s basic principals are, let’s look at their examples of tactics to avoid:

  • Automatically generated content
  • Participating in link schemes
  • Creating pages with little or no original content
  • Cloaking
  • Sneaky redirects
  • Hidden text or links
  • Doorway pages
  • Scraped content
  • Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
  • Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
  • Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware
  • Abusing rich snippets markup
  • Sending automated queries to Google

If a search engine optimization practitioner chooses to cut corners and disregard specific guidelines like participation in link schemes, does that automatically make them black hat? If we use the literal definition of black hat malice must be present.

What a common reader or even an experienced SEO might not catch is there’s a difference in the level of intention behind each of the specific guidelines.

For an example: creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other malware show obvious malice unlike creating pages with little or original content which is lazy and ineffective.

Other obvious black hat violations include sneaky redirects and cloaking.

The next time you hear someone throwing around black hat SEO be sure to understand and think about whether or not there’s malicious intent to quality whether or not the tactics are simply lazy, or in fact black hat SEO.

Thanks for reading, feel free to post your thoughts in the comment section below!

Sean Hakes is the Founder & CEO of Altitude SEO in Denver, Colorado. He’s a seasoned industry veteran with 17 years of professional experience in digital marketing and technical SEO.