Do Old Black Hat SEO Techniques Still Work in 2020?

Avoid Black Hat SEO

Step away from that cliff edge unless you want to fall into the deindexed abyss. Black Hat SEO techniques and practices can hurt not only your site's traffic but also your business's credibility. Don't do it - really, don't.

Although outright banning and removal from search engine results are pretty rare, if you play fast and loose with Black Hat SEO, your website is likely to be penalized with lower search engine rank position (SERP).

Why use Black Hat Techniques

I have news. It's hard to rank number one in Google for popular key phrases. I'll give you a moment to steady yourself after that earth-shattering revelation.

It didn't use to be like this.

Let's step back in time (no Kylie, not now) to when I was a wide-eyed, baby web designer, almost twenty years ago now. It really was all fields back then…

If you came to me in the early 2000s and said you wanted to get to the top for, say, the key phrase "Bed and Breakfast Suffolk", it would have been a snap to achieve.

Just a sprinkling of keywords in the body text, some more in the headings and meta tags. Then simply sit back and watch your B&B website soar to number 1 in Ask Jeeves and Yahoo. Talk about webmaster hero in a half shell. What do you mean we weren't?

SEO was still in its infancy and the domain Google.com had not long been registered (1997 to be precise). There were far fewer websites competing for the top slots and even fewer professional web designers about.

By 2005 things started to get a bit more competitive with more and more websites popping up, so a sneakier sort of optimisation called Black Hat SEO came into play.

What's with the Hats?

Let's get to the nitty-gritty. The point of SEO is to boost traffic to a website or page.

I've written more about SEO in this article Your Website Must be Awesome in 2020. Why? Google Says SEO.

When it comes to hats and SEO, you'll be pleased to know you have a colour choice.

  • White Hat SEO (also known as ethical SEO)

    The SEO techniques and strategies associated with White Hat SEO are aimed at real live humans and not search engines.

    It's all about great content, excellent design and first-class user experience.

  • Grey Hat SEO

    This is a tricky one to define as the tactics employed under this SEO umbrella have yet to be confirmed as “good” or “bad”. In fact, it's a bit of a grey area.

    If you choose to experiment with some of the riskier types of SEO, such as buying old, expired domains to improve backlinks, it may pay off but equally all your effort may eventually come back to bite you where it hurts – in the SERP.

  • Black Hat SEO

    Meet the aggressive gung-ho cousin of Black and White Hat.

    Don't get too close.

    Forget the rules and guideline, Black Hat is only interested in the search engine and couldn't give a flying fig about the user experience.  It's all about instant results and quick fixes.

Top 5 Black Hat SEO Practices to Avoid

Invisible Text

This is how it works. You write a block of text stuffed with keywords and phrases. Next, you highlight this text and change the text colour to match the web page background. That could be white text on a white background or black text on a black background. Bingo, the text is invisible to your visitors but not the search engines.

This was considered very poor SEO even twenty years ago. It's sneaky and basic in the extreme but incredibly I still have clients asking if I've heard of this technique.

It's a massive no-no.

Keyword Cramming/Stuffing

An example of keyword cramming:

Welcome to PlumberBirmingham.biz. I am a plumber in Birmingham and offer the best plumber services for customers in Birmingham. Are you looking for a professional plumber in Birmingham? I can solve your plumbing problems. Just call your local Birmingham plumber on Birmingham 322611

You get the picture. These couple of paragraphs have been written solely for the search engine and can't you just tell.

Ten years ago, this type of website content may have performed well in the search engines. Back then you could really game the system, but the search engines are way too sophisticated to fall for this simple trick today.

Text crammed with keywords makes for tedious reading and often contain little useful information. This type of Black Hat SEO is best avoided.

Now I'm not saying but there's not a place for keywords on the page anymore. On the contrary, keywords and key phrases still have some SEO value when used correctly but the key is to write naturally and have your audience as your prime concern.

Cloaking

This Black Hat optimisation entails human users and search engines (i.e. spiders and bots) being shown different content to secure higher ranking. It's all about deception.

In a nutshell, cloaking aims to fool search engines into thinking that a website/page is about one (usually innocent) thing when, in fact, it's about another (usually nefarious) thing.

For example, I visit sunnyholibop.com and all I see is a load of explicit images when I was expecting to book a holiday. Not a great user experience. When Googlebot visits the same site, it's served a lovely clean html page with some appropriate text. The website's ranking is therefore based on the clean version.

Hands up those who think it's a good idea to try and trick Google? Hmm, there's always one and it's their website's ranking that will plummet like a stone.

Duplicate Content

It's been a long day and the last thing you want to do is to write a blog entry. You stare at the blank screen and that mocking, blinking cursor with growing despair. After twenty minutes you are prepared to go rogue. You're a loose cannon - all bets are off.

Heaven knows it's tempting to cobble together all of your content from other websites, but don't. You'll be wasting your precious time doing something that will reduce traffic to your site and damage your website's credibility.

No-one will know if I steal content from other websites. Right?

Most online text and images are protected by the same copyright laws as offline. So, if you take the content from another website and pass it off as your own, it's the same as copying someone's novel and putting your name to it.

Hang on. There are millions of websites. No-one's going to find out if I pinch this piece of text, are they?

Well, you only have to take a snippet of text, wrap it in inverted commas and pop it into a Google search. Hey-presto! Up pops all the sites using that piece of text. Same with photos. Google's reverse image search will reveal those images being used without permission.

If a website owner discovers that content had been lifted from their site, they can report the matter to Google. This may result in pages or possibly the entire offending website being removed.

Even if the copied content slips under the radar of the copyright owner, it can still negatively impact your website. This is because the search engines recognise previously published material. This will be taken into account when allocating page rank and guess what? it's not good news.

Websites with duplicate content risk being penalised with lower ranking because Google doesn't want to return results that contain the same old text and photos.

Imagine if you were searching for a car review and the top 5 listings all had the same text. It would be pretty frustrating. Google wants to avoid this so only interesting, relevant and UNIQUE content is welcome on its page one.

How often have you seen the Google comment "In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries". Those "omitted entries" include websites with duplicate content.

Build Google's trust in your website by creating good quality, well-written articles and posts. It will pay dividends.

If you don't feel confident in taking on the task, outsource it to a professional. But choose carefully. A poorly written article is worse than no article at all. Google's Panda Update in 2011 was specifically designed to weed out sites with thin, poor quality content.

Make sure that the topics are relevant and the content is useful, engaging and interesting. In 2019 it's all about longform, so aim for at least 1,200 words and make every word count. I know, I know. Easier said than done.

Here are some quick tips for adding content to your website "Your Website Needs Content"

Don't be tempted to use an online article rewriter tool. It usually results in some nasty, spammy sounding prose.

This is how the above sentence is re-worked using one of these tools.

"Dont be tempted to use a writing rewrite man tool. It always leads to some nasty, spammy sounding prose."

I don't know about you, but I'm off to track down this "rewrite man tool".

Link Farms

Once upon a time in the far-off land of noughties SEO, it was all about links. The aim of the game was to amass as many links to and from random websites as possible, regardless of quality, content or relevancy.

A link was considered a vote of confidence and so lots of inward and outward bound links helped increase a website's PageRank. Better PageRank often meant better ranking in the search engines

Link farms started emerging. These were websites that only existed to boost the link popularity of other websites through the power of (oh, I so want to say Greyskull) reciprocal links.

These link farms used to get top ranking and often appeared right at the top of the search results. But that party didn't last long and now the search engines exclude these sites from their search results.

There is still a place for relevant and high-quality link exchange but only where there is a clear connection between the websites. So, for example, it would be reasonable to ask a makeup blogger to add a link to your organic make-up page. That is logical and of benefit to visitors.

White Hat SEO Best Practice

It's not worth ever getting involved in Black Hat SEO practices. If Google doesn't catch you this month, it may well catch you next month. Don't take the risk.

Here are my top tips for White Hat SEO in 2020

  • As you may have gathered, the overarching White Hat SEO recommendation is to generate great content for your visitors. This includes longform articles/blog posts, podcasts and videos. The bottom line is that it's all about the user experience. If you always keep this to the forefront of your mind, you won't go far wrong.
  • Find your own particular niche. This may mean not going head to head with the competition but blazing your own trail.
  • If you have a website already, give it a good spring clean and get rid of any out-of-date pages.
  • Voice search is now here and by 2020 it could make up 50% of all searches. Think about structuring your pages around voice searches and the sort of questions that may be asked. How do you get your site ready for voice search?
  • Secure your site with an SSL certificate
  • Ensure you have a mobile-friendly,  fast loading website.

And finally, in case you were wondering

The terms White Hat and Black Hat are thought to originate from the old cowboy movies, where the good guy wore the white hat and the baddie opted for black. So now you know...