Black Hat SEO – Mortal Sins to Avoid in SEO

video-45MARK: Hi, I’m Mark Steinbrueck, and this is Kurt Steinbrueck. We’re with OurChurch.com, and on this video we’re going to talk about black hat SEO, or search engine optimization, and what the mortal sins to avoid in SEO.

This seems pretty scary, Kurt. (laughs) Very scary.

KURT: Black hat, what is black hat SEO? Well, the term “black hat,” just so you know, is really a reference to the old TV Westerns where the bad guy would always wear a black hat, and a white hat for the good guy. So that’s what it’s referring to, people breaking the rules and all this kind of stuff, to try to get ahead in the search engines.

Generally speaking, there’s usually nothing morally wrong with what’s going on. If you’re hacking people’s sites, okay, that’s an issue. But usually it’s more of a risk-reward type thing. The real risk here is that these are things that the search engines have said, “Look, if you do these things, we’re basically going to treat you like you’re trying to manipulate us, and we’re just going to either penalize you or kick you out.” So imagine your site no longer in Google, and what that will do to your site. That’s the risk that you’re taking with these things.

Personally, I think they’re things to avoid. The trick is that they’re also things that tend to work, and that’s really the seduction of it, right? If it didn’t work, then nobody would even try to do it. But they do work, and so people are lured into doing it because you can usually get quicker results, better results sometimes. It’s just, if they find you, you lose everything. That’s the risk that you take.

It’s kind of like if you cheat on a test. If you can get it away with it and you have all the answers, you got 100 on the test. That’s great. Take the morals out of it. (laughs) But if the teacher comes by and sees you with your little sheet, then you failed the test, you got a zero, and probably –

MARK: Kicked out of school.

KURT: Yeah. Got in trouble with your parents, all that kind of stuff. So that’s really what we’re talking about. We’re going to look at some of the specific things with black hat. It’s not everything, but it’s just something to give you an idea of some of the major things to look out for. The first one is:

Keyword Stuffing

What this is, usually it happens when somebody realizes that they can rank better in the search engines because they used keywords on their site, and then they just went overboard. They took it too far. So either they’ve just created a block of text that just had every keyword they could think of, and they stuck it on the bottom of their page, or maybe they used one keyword but they kept adding more and more and more and more.

Sometimes it’s even a gradual thing. You started out and you’re like, “Well, I’m not doing too well for this keyword, so I’m going to add it in on my page,” and then, “I’m still not doing as well, so I’m going to add it a few more times,” and then after a few times of doing that, all of a sudden you realize, “I’ve got this one keyword on here 50 times,” and it’s not natural at all. It doesn’t make any sense.

So when you’re just shoving all these keywords in, that’s something that the search engines look for, and they can certainly penalize you for it. Another thing is what’s called:

Cloaking

What cloaking is, is basically any time that you show the search engines different content than what you’re showing users. This can be done in a couple of different ways. One way is there’s HTML little coding tricks where you can actually determine if the person viewing your site is a Google bot or a person, like a real person or is it a search engine robot, and deliver different content. So you’re showing the search engines one thing, you’re showing the people another thing.

Sometimes this is done for semi-legitimate reasons. Maybe you want to show people something that looks like graphics, and the search engines can’t read that, so you’re like “I’ll just show the search engines all this real content, but the people I want to show graphics.” Search engines still don’t like it, even if you think that there’s a legitimate reason to do it.

Sometimes it’s a very illegitimate reason, and we’ve had people who showed content to the search engines that was maybe about automotive stuff, and then the people go and click on the link and it’s a gambling site or something. It’s just completely different. So whether it seems legitimate or not, you really want to be showing the search engines the same content that you’re showing people. That’s what they want you to do, and that’s how you should do it.

There’s two other ways that people cloak I want to mention, because these are actually more common. One is to try to hide text by making it the same color as the background. So you’re like, “Okay, I don’t really want to show people this really optimized text that has all my keywords in it, so I’m going to make it so they can’t see it because it’s the same color as the background, but the search engines will still be able to read it.” Well, search engines can read colors too, so they know when you’re doing that.

The other thing is to hide it behind images and things like that, so you put the text in there, then you use some little coding trick so that an image is displayed on top of it. That’s another thing. They can usually detect that as well. But just don’t try to hide content. Don’t try to cloak things like that. That’s bad news.

Another thing that happens is:

Buying Links

Buying links is a pretty popular thing to do for a black hat thing, because links are really very important in SEO. When we first started out with search engines, everyone was kind of trading links, because they found that that could help. Then the search engines said, “We’re not going to count those anymore.”

So then people started buying links. This is something that the search engines really started to crack down on. There are ways to do it, because there are legitimate reasons to buy links, but if you don’t follow the methods and the standards that the search engines give, then they’ll see it as you’re trying to manipulate their rankings.

Basically they say mark the links by identifying them as a paid link. Just having something sponsored or whatever on it. And then also adding a nofollow tag. So if you do those, then they’re fine with it, because you’re being open with them. You’re saying, “Look, I bought these links, but I’m not trying to mess with your rankings at all. I want this because I wanted that link there.” They’re fine with that. But if you start to do it without those things, then they’re going to look at it as you’re trying to manipulate things and they can punish you. They can also punish the site that’s selling you those links.

MARK: Yeah, that’s the interesting thing, is they’ll target both the selling site as well as the buying site and penalize both of you.

KURT: Yeah, so it’s dangerous for both. And buying links is really:

Just one of many Linking Schemes.

That’s the next thing. It’s kind of an all-inclusive concept, but there’s just a lot of link schemes out there, things that people try to come up with to get links that are not legitimately gotten. They’re not really people saying, “Hey, I love this content on this site so I’m going to link to it,” it’s just other ways of getting links.

Sometimes it’s spammy blog comments. We see that a lot. I have a couple of blogs, and I’m constantly deleting those. Sometimes people will create forum profiles, not to actually do anything on the forum; they just create the profile and put a link on there.

There are things called link pyramids where they create all these spammy links and they go through all these different sites that link to each other and link to each other, and they end up with a couple of sites at the bottom that then link to your site. The idea is that somehow the search engines won’t look far enough down the pyramid to realize that all these spammy links are really just directed at your site. They can figure that out.

So there’s just a lot of things like that that you have to watch out for. A lot of times, the people that are offering these things are not very forthcoming about that, so when you’re talking to someone about a link opportunity, if you will, a lot of times if you start hearing things like, “Hey, we’ve put these things in place to protect you or to buffer you from the link building strategies that we’re doing,” that should tell you that what they’re doing is something that could get you in trouble.

MARK: Yeah, that’s a red flag.

KURT: Yeah. If you’re doing legitimate link building, you don’t have to buffer. You don’t have to protect yourself. You want the search engines to know those links are coming from you.

MARK: Yeah. I think it brings up a good point that if an organization that does SEO for you is engaging in the black hat SEO practices, they don’t have anything to worry about. It’s all going to come back on you, the website owner, or the website itself. So if your website were to get caught and banned or penalized, it’s not going to have any effect on the company that’s performing that. And you may or may not have known that they were engaging in these kind of practices, so it’s very important for you to try to listen, as Kurt said, very carefully to the practices that they do.

Really, when it comes down to it, those kind of practices, those black hat techniques, will only work in the short-term, because Google and Yahoo and Bing have thousands of people that are paid to go out and manually look at websites that are doing these kind of things, that are hiding text or engaging other kind of black hat practices. So they are very good at doing what they do, very good at finding people or websites that are engaging in these kind of practices, and so it is a very short-term gain that you will get, and as a result you could have some very long-term problems.

KURT: Yeah, absolutely. There were some recent updates when Google was going against a lot of these things, there were a lot of companies that lost everything. And one other link scheme that I want to mention, just because it’s been pretty popular lately, is something called private blog networks, which are basically a network of thousands of blogs that you can buy into, and you then submit your own content, if you will, that can have some of your links on it.

The blogs are not really intended for users. They try to tell you to put in legitimate content and everything, but generally speaking, it’s usually a lot of spammy stuff that just has links. But it’s something that the search engines have very specifically said “Don’t do this.” They’ve actually taken down several of the private blog networks. They have infiltrated them and figured out what they all are and just wiped them out.

MARK: Wow.

KURT: So it’s something to avoid.

MARK: Yeah. So as a summary, black hat SEO, the mortal sins to avoid:

  • keyword stuffing,
  • cloaking,
  • buying links, and
  • just overall link schemes are things that you want to avoid.

As Kurt mentioned before, these are just a few of the many different things, black hat techniques that people engage in to try to gain the system that you should try to avoid.

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Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as .

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