Google has been largely winning the war against black hat SEO, but that doesn’t mean that the techniques have disappeared — or, in some cases, even become entirely ineffective. Some black hat SEO techniques reside in a gray enough area that conventional marketers are still using some of them today. Other black hat techniques are still being kept alive by still achieving marginal success.
Paid linking and link exchanging both fall under Google’s “link schemes” category. Following Google’s PageRank algorithm changes, links are really only valuable if they are sent from websites that have some level of authority themselves. This has made paid linking and link exchanging more challenging, but hasn’t killed the trend entirely. Part of the problem is that many people don’t realize what constitutes a “link scheme.”
One obvious example: paying someone $20 to link to your website. Another obvious example: signing up for a link exchange site, in which every website sends links to the others. But there are some less obvious examples that may also violate guidelines:
- Asking someone to post “For more insurance news, check the ABC Insurance Blog!” on their site. This constitutes a text advertisement that can be mistaken for content.
- Writing a guest post and linking the words “designing your own Halloween costume” to a blog post on your site; it can be considered distribution. This is one reason why press releases have recently fallen out of favor.
- Linking to your sites through other sites in your footers or templates with anchor text. “Copyright XYZZY Web” is fine; “Get websites designed by XYZZY Web” is not.
Keyword stuffing hasn’t gone away — it’s just evolved. Not only are marketers still producing thin content with high keyword saturation, but they are also focusing on niche keywords that may or may not actually have anything to do with their content. Unlike link exchanging and link purchasing, this strategy doesn’t actually work. But it can still garner a Google penalty. Even marketers who do not believe they are using this SEO technique could be doing so inadvertently. Review Google’s own example of irrelevant keywords:
We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at email@example.com.
Note that Google doesn’t only mean “irrelevant” as unrelated to the content, which is a common misconception. They aren’t just talking about including “hot air balloons” in your cigar copy — though that is frowned upon too. They’re also talking about using unnecessary keywords. The keyword ‘custom cigar humidor’ does, in fact, relate to the copy. But it’s not necessary.
The web is still absolutely rife with this type of copy. Altering the keywords won’t necessarily mean that a website does not face a Google penalty. Many marketers attempt to make the above more palatable to search engines by changing the keywords just slightly.
We sell unique custom cigar humidors. Our custom-made cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom handmade gift cigar humidor, please contact our cigar humidor specialists at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s no reason to believe that the second example is any more acceptable to Google than the first example, though there are a variety of reasons to believe it may be more effective. Of course, it’s also virtually unreadable.
This is an infamous churn and burn technique. A black hat marketer will create large volumes of fake sites with either spun content or content that they have pulled from other sources on the web. These sites have only one goal: to promote the site that they are advertising. And they are also in violation of Google’s standards, even if they’ve lawfully purchased the content that they are posting. But these campaigns can be very successful short-term, and that’s often all that the marketer is looking for.
Note that sites focused on content aggregation are also considered scraped content if they are not adding any value to the reader. That includes image, video and music sharing services. Sites such as Imgur, Pinterest, YouTube and Reddit would be excluded from being considered “scraped content” because they also offer value through social media and contenting.
There’s a rather interesting loophole that some black hat marketers seek to exploit. We know that links on high authority sites will build authority. But those links don’t necessarily have to be posted by the site itself. Somewhere along the line, marketers realized that they could post links in comments on articles and that it would still register as originating from that domain. Google now expressly looks for this type of activity; it’s not very effective. But some marketers may see it as a sheer numbers game.
Comment spam is one of the main strategies that has given rise to negative SEO. It’s so easy for Google to block against that it is actually too effective of a dampener; competitors can use the strategy to make their competition look bad. Webmasters can protect themselves against receiving comment spam, but it’s difficult to protect themselves against spam linking to them being posted elsewhere.
User spam is related to this. Marketers may seek to spam a website that allows user submissions. Google will penalize sites for this as well, and it happens quite often — especially on message boards.It remains a popular technique because it’s cheap and because it garners traffic in a few ways. It isn’t just a search engine optimization technique; when done properly, it also draws in traffic from wherever the content was submitted.
Once a website has been determined to use black hat SEO techniques, a Google penalty will usually be levied. We know from high profile cases that these penalties will often range anywhere between six months to a year and will push sites down in search engine rankings. Some repeat offenders will be banned from the search engine results page entirely. Penalties are not lifted unless the offender ceases their black hat activities.
It really isn’t a question of whether a person will be caught using black hat techniques — it’s a question of when. Google will inevitably catch up with any website; they see everything. And when they take down one website, they can take down any related websites. So why do people still use black hat SEO techniques?
Often, it’s because longevity isn’t a key part of their strategy. They may be marketers that are specifically geared towards a high customer turnover; they promise their customers the world and they achieve it, but only when they’re getting paid. But more commonly the users of black hat SEO techniques are just trying to make money. They launch sites, monetize them and — when caught — just ditch them and start again. A Google penalty doesn’t mean it’s over for these individuals, it just means a new game has begun.