What is Black HAT SEO?

In every industry, there is a right way and a wrong way to get the job done. SEO is no different. A house built with improper building methods will look nice on day one, but over time problems will begin to manifest themselves. The same holds true for search engine optimization tactics.

There are a lot of ways to get results, some of which are fast and easy for SEO companies. In the past, a site could begin outranking competitors simply because it had more of the desired keywords written on the page. As the old saying goes, it only takes one person to ruin it for everyone. Once SEOs realized they could “keyword stuff” a page to rank higher, the battle began.

Google is reactive, not proactive in its efforts. So, when search results began delivering sites with hundreds or thousands of keywords uselessly filling the pages, they reacted. After updating their algorithm, Google began devaluing sites with an unnatural abundance of keywords. Ultimately, it “penalized” the sites for trying to circumvent the rules.

So, what are the rules of Google?

As with the algorithm, the rules have changed throughout the years to combat those who exploited loopholes in Google’s effort to bring relevant content to users. At its core, Google wants to serve its users with the most relevant and quality content applicable to their search query. Their algorithm is designed to assess the relevance of the sites they have indexed and deliver them to searchers when appropriate. For a complete breakdown of the rules, check out the Google Webmasters Guidelines and reference the video below.

With an understanding of the rules, it should be fairly obvious that Black Hat SEO is any tactic that violates the Webmaster Guidelines. Black hat SEO tactics work and they often work fast. However, much like the aforementioned poor building methods, over time problems will begin to arise; possibly in the form of penalties. There’s no definitive number of violations that will result in a penalty or any way to know exactly what penalty was levied once penalized.

To complicate matters further, there are two types of penalties.

Manual Penalty

A manual penalty is exactly what the name implies; a penalty that has been doled out by a human being at Google. This means that a member of the webspam team has been alerted, possibly by a competitor, that a site knowingly violated Webmaster Guidelines. The resulting penalty can affect one or all pages of a site, triggering a loss in ranking or even deindexing.

Algorithmic Penalty

An algorithmic penalty means that a site’s search ranking position falls due to updates of Google’s algorithm. The Panda and Penguin filters are the most common updates/refreshes that cause sites a problem. The focus of the Panda update is content and relevance, whereas Penguin targets link spam and blog networks. Contrary to manual penalties, there is no human interaction.

More about penalties

Regardless of how a site is penalized, rebounding from the punishment is costly and time-consuming. In extreme instances, a fresh URL may even be a better, and cheaper, alternative than trying to get a penalty lifted.

It simply isn’t worth the risk of lost revenue and squandered marketing budget to pursue Black Hat SEO tactics. All traction from SEO campaigns is lost, the budget has to be diverted from marketing to penalty recovery, or a new website will need to be built. The short-term benefits to black hat tactics are appealing but risky. The reward from building a solid SEO campaign, on the other hand, can pay dividends through increased brand recognition, lead generation, and return on marketing dollars spent.