While black hat SEO is not illegal, it does violate webmaster guidelines set out by search engines. In other words, it’s still against the rules. This means if you engage in black hat SEO, you must be willing to get hit with a nasty penalty as punishment. Getting a penalty from search engines will cause your website to drop down in the search results or worse, it could be removed completely. This means your website will gain less traffic and ultimately, fewer customers.
Search engines have gotten better and better at spotting black hat SEO techniques. Nowadays getting caught for practicing black hat SEO is pretty much unavoidable. Black hat SEO does not solve for the searcher nor does it solve for the search engine. While you may see short-term gains from black hat SEO over time search engines will pick up on your black hat ways damaging your presence in search.
The Blurred Lines of Grey Hat SEO
You won’t find grey hat SEO in the middle of a Robin Thicke song, but you will find it somewhere in the middle of black and white hat SEO. If there’s an SEO tactic you find hard to categorize as black or white hat SEO, then it’s probably a grey hat technique.
What is Grey Hat SEO?
Grey hat SEO consists of slightly shady SEO tactics. While they are not against search engines prohibited practices, they are slightly unethical and could be banned in the future.
Grey hat SEO threads close to the line of black hat SEO. Grey hat tactics are normally not listed in webmaster guidelines as prohibited practices but they are a little dubious. Many grey hat practices have become black hat practices over time, once search engines found out about them.
How To Avoid Black Hat SEO
There’s no doubt black hat SEO is a risky business that’s not worth engaging in. Here are best practices to avoid black hat SEO:
- Treat the searcher and search engines the same way. Avoid “cloaking” or tricking search engine crawlers by redirecting them to another page. You should always focus your efforts on solving for the searcher and create a great user experience from search engine to site.
- Write only good quality original content that avoids keyword stuffing. Never scrape, duplicate or reword content that belongs to others. Google’s content guidelines and our content creation kit may be helpful.
- Abide by the rules when adding structured data to your website. Ensure any schema markup you add is accurate and not misleading to users.
- Never buy or sell links and remember, it’s not just money that’s considered a black hat exchange. Providing free products in exchange for links is also prohibited. If you are unsure if an exchange might be unethical lean on the FTC endorsement guidelines and consult this detailed blog post about paid links from Google.
- Avoid setting up a private blog network for the purpose of getting links. Differentiate your website and content so people link to you naturally rather than fake it till you make it. That never ends well.
- Stay up to date on webmaster guidelines so you can avoid black hat tactics prohibited by search engines. Here are the webmaster guidelines for Google, Yahoo and Yandex.
Don’t make your next search “how do I get rid of a Google penalty?” If you need to question whether something is black hat or not, it probably is. A white hat SEO strategy is a much better approach to search engine optimization. In the long run, it will pay dividends and you can sleep at night knowing you’ll never see a dip in your rankings due to a nasty penalty. So for the love of search engines, never do black hat SEO. After all, they are the ones that keeping us SEOs in the business.