Five black hat SEO tricks that are damaging your website’s Google ranking

Are you guilty of trying to cut corners to rank on search engines? Discover the five black hat SEO tricks that are damaging your website’s Google ranking – and what to do instead.

It’s true, not every business needs a website. Those of you who do operate a site for your business though, have probably wondered how to get more of the right types of visitor. After all, a website can be an excellent platform for selling products and services.

Fortunately there are plenty of techniques for boosting your website’s traffic with relevant visitors, increasing your chances of making a sale. 

The problem is, some actions actually damage how well a website performs in search. Even worse, many people use these techniques without realising the harm they might be doing. One of the worst offenders? Black hat SEO.

Hang on, what is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. Search engines like Google operate by trying to provide the best quality answers to the question being asked. If it didn’t, we’d all get sick of it pretty quickly and it wouldn’t be nearly as popular! As such, it values accurate information, presented clearly, from a reputable source. 

SEO is the process of making adjustments to a website in order to improve where it appears in suitable search engine results. The aim is to attract high quality traffic to a good quality site

How does it work?

Google uses bots which crawl each website to understand what it’s about, and how reliable it is as a source of information. The search engine then uses that data to create an index. 

Each time you search for something online, a mathematical formula called an algorithm reads through the index, and scores each site in order of what it thinks is the best match for your search. Whilst the precise algorithm is a closely guarded secret, Google do allude to the types of things they look for in a website. 

Organic SEO uses these guidelines to refine a website’s design or content to help the Google bots match the site to relevant searches. It’s a win for everyone when that happens:

  • The user gets the information, product, or service they wanted.
  • Google provides a useful service.
  • The website gets a visitor who is actually interested in what’s on offer, increasing the chances of successfully converting them into a customer.

PPC is a bit different. This stands for Pay-Per-Click and, unlike organic SEO which is free, you literally pay every time someone clicks on your ad. Those results you see at the very top of Google which have ‘Ad’ next to them? They’re PPC.

The pricing structure is a bit like a blind auction, where you’re bidding in the hope of getting the best spot (but finding the balance so that you don’t end up paying too much for it).

What is black hat SEO?

Whereas organic SEO works with the search engine guidelines, black hat tactics try to exploit them. They can generate a lot of traffic to the site, but that’s often short lived. Plus, lots of traffic doesn’t mean you’ve got the right sort of visitors – ones that are genuinely interested in your products and services, and want to buy from you. 

Search engines take a stern approach to any website which damages the quality of their search results by trying to manipulate loopholes in their terms of service.

The site’s position in the search results will drop, or it could even be removed from the index completely. That’s the internet version of being cast out into the wilderness. 

Sadly, some SEO agencies do operate on the basis of ‘churn and burn’, throwing bad tactics at a site to cause a spike in its ranking, before the search engine chops it back down. It makes them money, but it’s a disaster for their customers. (You can read how to find an SEO company you can trust here.)

Black hat tricks to avoid on your website

What SEO professionals call shady practices range from unintentional mistakes to downright fighting-dirty. 

1) Keyword stuffing

Like the name suggests, keyword stuffing literally means stuffing as many keywords into the website copy as possible. A keyword is the word or phrase in your website content which helps the search engine understand what the page is about. 

Good SEO will use these carefully in order to secure visits from the audience it wants to attract. Black hat SEO will load a page with keywords, to that point that the text seems unnatural and clunky, or even appears as a list of random words. 

The white hat fix: Don’t overdo the keyword density within your content. They need to be present to get picked up but keep it natural, and always relevant.

2) Doorway pages

Doorways, or doorway pages are the unnecessary pages of a website which add no value to the user, but perform well in search (until Google spots them!). 

A good example of this is having an individual page for each city or region covered by your services, which are effectively clones of each other, and fail to add any additional useful information.

The white hat fix: Location pages are okay, but there’s usually no need to overdo it. Always make sure the content is unique, such as services offered in that region, or practical details such as opening times.

3) Cloaking

This is where the search engine sees one page of information, but the user is redirected to a very different page of content. It’s used to trick the search engine into sending traffic to a page that is unlikely to rank by itself.

It might seem like a good way to get more people in the door but it’s more likely to frustrate them, and Google loathes it.

The white hat fix: Avoid this like the plague! 

4) Backlinks

Backlinks are a good way to build authority for a website, as long as they’re used properly. It refers to the practice of linking back to your own website from another. Listing your website on lots of directories, or even buying lots of backlinks, might feel like a terrific way to signpost visitors your way, and in some cases that’s true. 

Usually though, those types of site also link to lots of other totally unrelated websites, so the association is more likely to be damaging to your ranking. Plus, suddenly having lots of backlinks to your site appearing within a short period of time will signal to Google that something dodgy is going on.  

The white hat fix: Backlinks can help a site, but taking a blanket approach won’t do your website any favours.  

5) PBNs (personal blog networks)

Personal blog networks are a series of interconnected websites which backlink to one main site within the group. They’re used to try and trick search engines and web users into thinking that the main site has more authority and authenticity than it really does.

It’s fine for a group of websites to be interlinked, as long as each site truly is a separate entity which has its own value. The black hat version of this usually means that the network is thrown together as quickly as possible, often duplicating content. 

The white hat fix: If you operate multiple websites make sure that they are unique, and each serve a purpose in their own right.

Other safe ways of attracting visitors to your website

Good SEO is a dependable way of improving your website’s performance over a period of time, though there are other options to explore too. 

Build up a customer database and stay in contact with them through news, promotions or discounts. It will keep you on their radar, and can also encourage word-of-mouth recommendations. 

Setting up social media channels for your business will take the online conversation to where your customers are. The content you share should be interesting and informative, rather than entirely promotional, but linking back to your site from time to time will tell people where to find you! 

Learn how to avoid black hat techniques while building your SEO with our DIY SEO Kit here.

Elizabeth Hughes is a content writer for Team Organic, an agency specialising in safe digital marketing techniques.  

Photo by Mateus Campos Felip