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Stop experimenting black hat tactics – Long term user centric SEO strategy is the key

by Pratik Dholakiya on October 16, 2012

stop black hat seo
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The temptation for overnight results in search engine optimization (SEO) is always present, but the risks are simply too high.

Short-term SEO gains almost always involve “Black Hat” optimization techniques. These approaches violate the rules set out by the search engines and result in penalties when detected. Even appropriate “White Hat” methods that provide short-term results do not provide the same kind of return on investment (ROI) as a good long-term SEO strategy.

Many web marketing teams may witness how certain Black Hat methods do provide short-term gains for sites that use them. In certain industries, for example, like gambling and pharma, these techniques tend to predominate.

Seeing websites that are successful in achieving overnight results often ends up tempting others to follow the same path. However, this is a mistake.

Bad all around

Black Hat SEO hurts both the users of search engines and web marketers in the end. The search engine results pages (SERPs) dominated by these techniques are almost useless to people searching the web. The results are spam and they look like spam.

Google Panda and PenguinFor SEO teams that may find these overnight results tempting, they need to think carefully about the possible consequences. If you get caught, and inevitably you will get caught, then the website may never be able to recover in the search rankings game.

Some common methods used for overnight results include:

1. Using hidden text – Do not try to stuff pages with keywords that are not visible to users. Search engine algorithms can easily spot text that is the same color as the background, but do not try any other more “fancy” ways of hiding text either.

2. Buying links – Backlinks are probably the most important element in gaining high search engine rankings. Many sites try to solve the problem of obtaining incoming links by purchasing them directly or through text link advertising companies. While it may seem safe, search engines have ways of detecting the use of solicited text links.

3. Swapping links – Most SEO people know that this technique does not work anymore, but there are still some that try it especially when they become frustrated with their link-building efforts.

4. Using duplicate content – A practice that is still very common is to copy high-ranking content from other pages. In some cases, you can see how sites are still successful using this method, but their success usually does not last for very long. Note that duplicate content is not the same as content curation, a practice believed to help build thought leadership and add value to users.

5. Doorway pages – These are hidden pages that the user often does not see, but that are in place to fool search engine bots that spider websites. Typically, doorway pages contain many keywords and search phrases, but with little information helpful to visitors.

6. Article spinning – Many sites attempt to create the impression that they are posting fresh content by “spinning” articles. What this means is that the site uses the same article, but switches words with other words of the same meaning. They also change the order of sentences and paragraphs.

7. Creating your own linking sites – Many Black Hat marketers will create multiple “dummy” websites that all link to a specific target website with the idea of improving the latter site’s search engine rankings.

8. Spam blogs or SPLOGS  – Another technique that creates multiple “fake” blogs with the sole purpose of promoting the actual targeted blog.

9. Purchasing expired domains – Some Black Hat marketers search for expired domains with the intent of creating links back to their main website.

10. Using robots to create links – Software robots known as spambots can automatically look for forums and blogs and post links back to a targeted website.

11. Social media spam – The growing importance of social media for search rankings is breeding a new type of Black Hat SEO. What this often involves is creating numerous profile pages on leading social media websites. These dummy profiles all link back to the same website. Using robots to post updates and comments is another common practice.

12. EMD (Exact Match Domains) – Used to work, but now with the recent EMD update rolled out by Google, exact match domains of poor quality, will most likely get hit too.

Now, many people may wonder how the search engines can detect paid link building especially since the links do not contain any information that identifies them as paid. These paid links tend to look the same as any other text link.

However, the search engines do have methods of determining whether your links are part of a solicited effort. For example, the recent Google Panda and Penguin updates check factors like link diversity to detect spam-like link profiles.

The idea is that if a website is receiving incoming links naturally, then these links will tend to look random. For example, they should not all be from pages with high PageRank, should not be all dofollow or nofollow, should not be on the exact match anchor text etc. In a natural environment, many links may come from sites that do not have relevant content.

Conversely, links that originate from link-building campaigns tend to look a little too perfect and structured. The links will all come from pages that meet all the perceived search engine algorithm requirements.

What happens when you take risks?

results of bad SEOWhen you go all out for overnight results, you may or may not be successful. However, the success comes with unacceptable risks.

While your site may benefit in the short-term, it could suffer from permanent damage in the end. Indeed, you may not even experience shorter-term results because the SEO environment is constantly changing. What worked last week, may not work now anymore.

In the worst-case scenario, the search engines may blacklist a page or even an entire website because of forbidden practices. In such a situation, the website owners may have no alternative but to scrap the entire site and to start over from scratch.

Use a long-term strategy for lasting success

Long-term search engine optimization strategy works because it minimizes risk and concentrates on strategies that increase ROI in the end. While this approach requires patience and hard work, it has a higher payoff than Black Hat SEO without the risks of blacklisting or other negative consequences.

White Hat, long-term strategy includes:

Page optimization – Creating pages that appeal to search engines and visitors alike. These pages should use testing to find the best placement of elements, color combinations, speed and other factors. Pages should be optimize for navigation, usability and conversion rates. In addition and with the advent of the increasing use of “mobile devices”, you should also start to optimize your site for smartphones and the likes. Here’s Google’s official guidelines about mobile SEO.

Create good content regularly – Keep producing content that users can find nowhere else on the web. Update at a greater pace than your competitors.

Use social media – Be active in social media without spamming. Do not directly solicit while on social networking sites. Instead, become an active and helpful participant. Post content that your online community will find helpful. Social media is really the game-changer today and no SEO campaign can afford to ignore this area.

Analytics – Use tracking software and applications to fine tune your SEO efforts with data analysis.

In conclusion, think from long term optimization perspective, short-term strategies work for short time only. Focusing on building websites that your user would like should be the important part of your strategy when you plan to offer something to the audience of your target. In the other words, create a website and content that is for your users and not for the search engines. Convince your users by providing what they need and search engines will do the rest.

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Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder and VP of Marketing of E2M, OnlyDesign, and Moveo. Pratik has been featured on sites like Forbes, Moz, SEW, SEJ, KISSmetrics, Entrepreneur, ContentMarketingInstitute and FastCompany to name a few. He's passionate about fitness, entrepreneurship, start-ups, and all things digital marketing. Hit him up on Twitter @DholakiyaPratik to chat on any of these topics.

Pratik has written 5 articles at iBlogzone.com

1 Robert Koenig October 16, 2012 at 11:43 pm

Quality over quantity, right? Some of those black hat techniques come back and bite you.

2 Pratik Dholakiya October 18, 2012 at 12:51 pm

That’s correct. Quality has been struggling to win the game against Quantity and the time has come :)

Appreciate your comment Robert.

3 Danny October 17, 2012 at 5:41 am

Very well written post, Pratik..

It’s quite amazing how the whole thing has finally snowballed, regarding the punishment of non acceptable SEO methods….

I do wonder about the effect on some of the sites that may have gotten deep into many of the above(bad SEO) practices, over a prolonged period…

The EMD surprised me, only in that I noticed some quality sites got hit, along with the “one pagers” sitting up atop the Google search results…..
Even one site I visit often, seemed to have been hit, as it Homepage(not inner pages) went MIA……

Good point about having site “Mobile friendly”…. There are many website designs(skins, themes) that are already mobile responsive…

Apart from Social(which I really need to get into more)….I think content relevance also figures into the equation quite high….

Oh, and I keep hearing how important site loading speed is(and I agree) and this is another area in which I have my work cut out to fix(currently can become quite convoluted )…

As the current batch of ” quick fix ” methods are not working or not available with some web hosting companies..(they do not accept the use of codes being offered/applied)…

4 Pratik Dholakiya October 18, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Hi Danny,

I’m glad you liked the post and your thorough comment is much appreciated.

We can say that if we don’t want to learn ourselves, then Google’s algorithm updates are teaching us :)

All they want us to do is, give high priority to the users rather than to the search engines.

Let me know if I can help you in anyway for the things you’re still about to go through. I’d love to do that.

Sincerely, Pratik

5 Aditya October 17, 2012 at 9:22 am

Black hat Has never given results for long but still are in demand by some optimizers.Instead they should focus on building quality links which will give them quality backlinks for long.And Spinning articles is one of the techniques commonly used.

6 Pratik Dholakiya October 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I agree Aditya,

Duplicating things has made the situation worst, Google Panda is for that only and to reduce spam links from the web, Google launched Penguin.

I appreciate your comment though.

7 Juan October 17, 2012 at 3:47 pm

i never know about black hat strategy, but after read this post, i undertand the meaning of black hat. Thanks. I really glad i’m not doing any of black hat. Majority entry post by me are from me 100%.. :)

8 Pratik Dholakiya October 18, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Great, glad to hear you’re using 100% white hat strategy. Keep up the good work :)

9 Hassaan Khan October 17, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Quality of the content and Social media always work. I agree..

10 Pratik Dholakiya October 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm

That’s perfect. Thanks for stopping by and commenting Hassan. I appreciate it.

11 Anton Koekemoer October 18, 2012 at 7:02 am

Hi Patrik,

Great post – even better advice. As I believe (and have been for a long time) that black or even Grey hat tactics may help in the interim but can and often times comes back to bite you from behind in the long run, especially with Google releasing updates on their search algorithm on a such a regular schedule.

12 Pratik Dholakiya October 18, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I agree with your thoughts Anton,

It’s better to do good work to stay safe rather taking big risks. I have seen many businesses broken down in the recent updates.

I appreciate your comment Anton. Cheers!

13 Jenny October 18, 2012 at 7:07 am

Hey Pratik, the post was quite enlightening. I always knew that Black Hat tactics were a no-no for any business but I wasn’t aware of all the bad effects it has on your business if the trick backfires. I kept wondering why doesn’t Google improve the quality of searches, hardly did I know that there are people working harder than Google to clutter the search results.

14 Pratik Dholakiya October 20, 2012 at 7:53 am

That’s right Jenny,

I hope you’ve got a little help from this post to get the understanding of bad effects about black hat tactics that were working earlier.

15 Naina October 18, 2012 at 10:28 am

Experimenting the black hat techniques have no relevance in the SEO world instead one needs to experiment white hat SEO to get long lasting results.Doing things the Google way can lead anyone to the top.And those who does black hat techniques for faster results but often land in no place.

16 Pratik Dholakiya October 18, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Absolutely right Naina,

Achieving results in speedy way often ends up in a penalty, no matter when.

Thanks for your comment.

17 Naina October 19, 2012 at 8:45 am

And then they start playing the blame game…..Don’t know what they all are upto.

18 Apparent Lifestyle October 18, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Such a wonderful compilation of proven success strategies.
I would like to bring to the attention that one strategy you have used but not listed is quality content.
Quality content in that it is detailed, long enough, descriptive and informative. Developing such content requires preparation, not just posting because you have to post but because you have something important to share with your readers.
I think laziness or just a hurry to reach the top makes bloggers to go after black hat tricks. Thanks to Google for being a fair ref.

19 Pratik Dholakiya October 20, 2012 at 7:56 am

Yes, quality content is the must thing nowadays. It was easy beating the competition without content before the panda update but since then things have been totally changed.

20 Nic October 18, 2012 at 4:54 pm

While I agree with you, most spammer do gets away with blackhat seo.
They created dozens or even hundreds of spammy sites, but unfortunately google can’t catch them all (or most of them).

21 Pratik Dholakiya October 20, 2012 at 7:57 am

You’re right. There’re still tons of websites that spams the web and are still enjoying top spot. Hopefully Google will find those some day.

22 Ralf Gretson October 18, 2012 at 6:36 pm

I totally agree with your point of view. Actually, there were signs from a long time ago that the sites with quality content will survive, while the ones with spun content will slowly disappear from the search engines. Personally, I will try to focus more on writing unique and useful articles, while leaving the black hat techniques behind.

23 Pratik Dholakiya October 20, 2012 at 8:00 am

Yes Ralf, by the time panda announced, experts started saying to go after quality and user rich content to have better future presence on the web.

You’re on the right track to have unique and useful content. Let me know if I can be of any help.

24 Kasper Rugholm October 19, 2012 at 9:57 am

Hi Patrik.
Great post. Do you have any strategies on how to get started using social media in your SEO. I find it a little hard to get started.

25 Pratik Dholakiya October 20, 2012 at 8:04 am

Hi Kasper,

Glad you liked the post.

Of course I do have the strategy to use social media in SEO. I just wanted to know that have you tried anything this before? I would love to hear what you tried and then share the steps you shall take.

26 Kasper October 20, 2012 at 8:29 am

Hi Pratik.
I am afraid that my experience with using social media is more or less equal to zero. To me it has become something of a mountain that I have trouble getting started with. Previously I was also in doubt about the effect of social media compared to the time I had to use on it. However I have come to realize that the social media is more or less a must if you want to “succeed” as a blogger. I’ll appreciate any advice you can give me.

27 Ipsita Sahoo October 19, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Pratik, its always true. Google is changing its search algo very frequently. So you never know when your post will be punished if promoted using black hat techniques.

28 Pratik Dholakiya October 20, 2012 at 8:06 am

Absolutely right. Even except black hat techniques you will need to take care of things like anchor text over optimization, unnatural links, anchor text diversification etc to ensure that you’re on the safe side when you’re optimizing your website.

29 H. Hahn October 20, 2012 at 11:14 am

Great list. I too noticed that EMDs are done…out of the rankings (except for old domains with a lot of content).

30 Hendry October 20, 2012 at 11:18 am

Hi Pratik,

I strongly agree with you.
Blackhat is just for a moment of pleasure, and never last long. Google will certainly hit the site using blackhat method.

The best way is to write quality content for visitors. If your content is really useful to them, your content will be shared by many people in the forums, blogs, or social media. And of course this is the “natural link” that Google loves. And will boost your blog’s SERP in Google. This is the best way and last for a long time for sure.

31 Andrew October 20, 2012 at 10:26 pm

Black hat techniques are obviously a bad habit. If there are any that still work, Google will soon find ways to punish their use, as they always have.

I definitely agree that legitimate, long term SEO is the key to getting and STAYING on the first page.

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