Search engine optimisation (SEO) tactics that are considered unethical and dishonest are considered “black-hat”, as opposed to ethical and honest tactics which are considered “white-hat”. Obviously, black-hat SEO techniques are frowned upon by search engines, clients and digital marketers who seek to deter practitioners from engaging in them.
The reasons someone might engage in black-hat SEO techniques are not difficult to understand, they want quick results by using dishonest methods. In more primitive versions of search engine algorithms black-hat techniques were definitely a viable way for businesses to get a quick rankings boost without building it sincerely.
Nowadays, black-hat methods are not only unethical but mostly ineffectual. Search engines like Google have come a long way over the years and are extremely good and picking out and punishing websites that engage in black-hat tactics.
Most of the time black-hat techniques are performed unwittingly by amateur SEO practitioners who don’t fully understand where the line is drawn. A marketer who sincerely wants to target a set of keywords may end up engaging in ‘keyword stuffing’ even though it was not their intention.
For these reasons it’s essential that new SEO practitioners learn what the common black-hat tactics are so that they can avoid them entirely. Even accidental uses of black-hat techniques can result in penalties that can take a long time for a search engine to forgive and redact.
Google in particular has gotten quite good at spotting black-hat techniques and punishing the sites that use them. Because Google is the biggest search engine, being penalised or banned on that platform is effectively an assassination of your SEO work.
Let’s take a brief look at two of the most notorious black-hat SEO techniques.
Keyword stuffing is when a website uses a keyword over and over again in an unnatural and forced way to increase the page’s relevancy for the keyword phrase. This is sometimes done accidentally when the keyword is the subject matter of a piece of content.
For example, if the keyword was “cat food” then written content that targeted that phrase would need to have a diverse range of synonyms in order not to be guilty of keyword stuffing. While it won’t always result in a penalty, this method doesn’t help SEO at all.
This tactic was very popular in earlier versions of search engine algorithms that ranked pages on the prevalence of keywords and not the sincerity of their use. Although functionally identical to keyword stuffing, cloaking is distinct in that it tries to hide keyword in plain site by filling the page with the phrase and colouring the text to camouflage with the background.
Most users would never see these hidden keywords, but search engines would index them when it crawled the page.