Some Black Hat Techniques (for SEO) Needn’t Be So ‘Black’!

In July this year, Gary Illyes, Webmaster Analyst at Google dropped a bomb on the SEO world. He said: “We’re going to go back to the kind of ranking algorithm we had ten or so years ago. This is probably going to shock a lot of people because it’s inclusive of what we’ve called Black Hat tactics”.

Well, we have to read between the lines. You are still advised to use White Hat SEO. However, some tactics that were considered as vintage ‘Black Hat’ techniques before are not penalised by Google algorithm now. What are they – we will discuss later.

What is Black Hat SEO?

According to Wordstream, “Black hat SEO refers to a set of practices that are used to increase a site’s or page’s rank in search engines through means that violate the search engines’ terms of service”. So essentially, Black Hat techniques are unethical ways of optimising websites and mainly used by computer hackers, virus creators and those who carry out illegal actions on the computer.

Through Black Hat SEO,  you may see an increase in site traffic initially. But in due course, your site may be badly affected and you see a rapid drop in site’s ranking and traffic. There is even the fear of your site being banned or completely de-indexed from Google and other search engines; and you have to start all over again from scratch.

So in general, Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines have denounced Black Hat tactics and strategies. 

What techniques come under Black Hat SEO?

In late March 2016, the researchers at the Imperva Defense Center investigated a sophisticated SEO campaign  that was successful in upping the rankings of certain websites consistently. The finding was interesting – among other techniques, they used extensive Black Hat techniques like SQL injection, comment spam and exploitation of thousands of third-party applications and websites.

Google and other search engines constantly update their algorithms so that such websites are penalised. Below we have listed some key Black Hat techniques that should be avoided:

  • Content Automation
  • Doorway Pages
  • Hidden Links
  • Negative SEO
  • Keywords Stuffing
  • Sneaky Redirects
  • Cloaking
  • Paid Links
  • Blog Spamming
  • Comments Spamming
  • Guest Posting
  • Duplicate Content
  • Link Manipulation
  • Auto Generated Queries to Google
  • Duplicate Domains and Sub-Domains
  • Web Pages with malicious content.

The Big Question:  Can You Ethically Use Black Hat Techniques for SEO?

We can, however, work around some of the Black Hat techniques mentioned above to make them ethical. Let’s see how that can be done.

IP delivery: You can create specific localised content to offer to a country specific IP address.

Redirect 301: All out-dated content can have a 301 redirect to a new webpage or your homepage.

Micro sites: Use popular short-term keywords to create micro sites. These sites can be abandoned later on.

Cloaking: Heavy flash animations can be hidden from Google and you can simple display the text-only version for easy accessibility and search-ability.

Keyword stuffing: In SEO, keyword stuffing is unethical but you can do this ethically. The process is known as folksonomy, wherein your user does the tagging. It also includes social classification and social indexing where more meta data is created with more and more keywords acceptable to search engines.

Hidden text or CSS pagination: Another ethical way to use Black Hat SEO is to create CSS-based websites with JQuery effects, such as CSS pagination – which help to display few content portions and hide a large text portion in layers.

Scraping: You can create similar or mirror websites of your website.

Page jacking: Though duplicate content is a strict “NO” in SEO, a popular Black Hat technique in an ethical way is to offer your website content under a creative Commons License with attribution.

False headlines: If newspapers can do it, why not Black Hat SEO? You can use deceptive headlines in your website content to grab attention and increase traffic. But do not overdo it.

Blog links and Blog spam: Create a network of legitimate blogs with backlinks to your site. These should be quality blogs. For blog spamming, install a WordPress blog without Akismet spam protection and add few posts to it. Now when spamming of comments start, parse the comments and publish only those which have keywords related to your site. Rest, you delete it.

Brand jacking: Positive reviews work but do you know even bad reviews or false reviews work fine for your website’s performance? Create a page for bad reviews of particular products or services and let consumers voice their concerns.

Automation of Tweets:  Twitter automation is not wrong but should not be done in excess. You can automate repeating and rescheduling of tweets and RSS feeds for your website and blog.

Doorway Pages: It is wrong to create a page with lots of keywords so as to make visitors enter the page and then automatically redirect them to a separate page. Rather, create a page with relevant and rich content. The doorway pages can be interesting pages that redirect to the main landing pages.

Paid links: It is unethical to pay to get links published in articles, blogs or advertisements that rank high on search engines. But when you buy links or sell paid links, the ethical practice is to include “nofollow” on the links. The links then appear just like proper ads to users and search engines.

Conclusion

Black Hat techniques are like the Sirens in Greek mythology – deadly attractive. They give your site immediate gains for some time but soon, Google and other search engines penalise your site and push it down the rankings to obscurity.

So the safest bet is to have patience and work on the SEO of your website gradually through White Hat techniques. You may also use tweaked Black Hat techniques as mentioned above. 

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Google is Becoming More Visual on Mobile

On Sep 15, Google announced through Google+ that it has introduced ‘new, more visual mobile search results at your service.’ Look at the screenshot below.

google-key-2

For any given search query, the results appear as thumbnails on the right of the search results page on the mobile screen. Google has been testing this feature for some time; we have often seen that more than half of the search results on mobile have thumbnails.

This means that websites should ensure they have good thumbnails that Google can display for different queries related to their products and services. This is an important to-do action item from SEO perspective. From all such innovations, we see that Google is tending towards a more visual search results page.

 

Google Will Penalize Your Website If It Has Interstitials

Google has reiterated its resolve to discourage websites with pop-up and interstitial ads.

Per a recent blog post, from January 10, 2017, such websites will be penalized and their rankings will come down in SERPs (or Search Engine Result Pages).

This is what Google says: Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller… This can frustrate users because they are unable to easily access the content that they were expecting when they tapped on the search result.

Here are some examples of techniques that make content less accessible to a user:

  • Showing a popup that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.
  • Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
  • Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.

By contrast, here are some examples of techniques that, used responsibly, would not be affected by the new signal:

  • Interstitials that appear to be in response to a legal obligation, such as for cookie usage or for age verification.
  • Login dialogs on sites where content is not publicly indexable. For example, this would include private content such as email or unindexable content that is behind a paywall.
  • Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible. For example, the app install banners provided by Safari and Chrome are examples of banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space.

Of course, there are exceptions like the interstitials that ask a user to install a mobile app. This is necessary and Google is not going to penalize it.

However, remember, this new signal to identify pop-up or interstitial ads is just one of hundreds of signals that are used in ranking. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a page may still rank highly if it has relevant content.