Black hat seo is to online marketing as public nudity is to aspiring celebrities. It is the fastest way to get noticed and to destroy credibility. Black hat seo are techniques of increasing a site’s page rank that violate the guidelines set by Google and other search engines in their Terms of Service (TOS). Using another metaphor, it is the underground world of search engine marketing.
Referenced from the trademark attire of cowboy outlaws, black hat seo strategies are not illegal but unethical. It is a form of cheating: from amateurish comment spamming to professional cloaking to large-scale investments like the link farm strategy used by JC Penny during the 2010 holiday shopping season. (The retail giant, penalized by Google, fired its seo company and insisted that the move was unauthorized.)
Cloaking, for example, cheats by presenting to Google a page which is heavily optimized to get high rankings while presenting to users a clean and user-friendly page. This practice is against Google policies but is done by many companies including jewelry chain Michael Hill.
Business is never fair, online business even so. But there is a thick, clear, and can’t-be-missed line dividing legitimate though tricky seo services (called White Hat) and the dark arts of search engine marketing. It is not just about ethics, there are consequences that may defeat your business goals especially if you are a starter.
1. Google’s Penalties are Getting Steeper
German carmaker BMW is one of the most high-profile companies penalized by Google for using a black hat technique. It used doorway pages – highly optimized pages with no relevant content to the company except to draw users to its website. Google found out and removed the site from the search index.
Penalties can range from total ban to lowering the pageranks of a violator. There are three ways in which Google will find out:
- Their own team will discover the fraud.
- Competitors will report the violator to Google.
- A third party monitor – such as the mainstream media – will report to Google. Such was the case of JC Penny whose violations were discovered and reported by New York Times.
2. Google has wizened up to fight black hat seo
If you have heard of the recent turmoil caused by changes in the Google search algorithm called Google Panda (now in its 20th update) and a data refresh called Google Penguin, then you know that majority of those who suffered were users of blackhat seo such as websites who used duplicate contents or who used exact match domains (EMD). It is getting harder and harder to cheat on the Google bot now than before. We know of several small companies who went bankrupt because of these changes; they were dependent on such practices as keyword stuffing and link farming to beef up their rankings. Google Panda filters low-quality pages and sites.
3. Customers will work against you.
Online business is about nurturing a customer base. If customers are tricked because of such black hat seo strategies, they will doubt your authenticity and credibility. That is disastrous not only because you lose a customer base but these people will talk about you in forums and comments sections. Your disenchanted customers will work against you.
In life as in business, more so in online businesses, taking a shortcut is always a bad move. And black hat seo is nothing but a lazy attempt at using short cuts.
RBarnido is a freelance writer and a strong advocate of business relocation from physical to virtual world in order to reduce carbon footprints. He serves as content director and marketing consultant of at least thirty online businesses especially in the area of seo services.