Wondering why your website isn’t showing up on Google? It could be because of black hat SEO. Black hat SEO is the unethical side of search engine optimization. It’s any set of techniques that are used in place of a user’s experience and their trust in search engines.

Black hat SEO strategies are used to trick search engines, giving websites visibility for irrelevant keywords and phrases. Put another way, black hat SEO is willfully using bad techniques to game search engine results pages (SERPs) and trick users into clicking on your website rather than a competitor’s.

Black hat SEO often has serious negative consequences for your website, including the possibility of getting banned from Google and other search engines. A good SEO strategy should always put your audience’s experience first, without sacrificing relevance and content authority. Keep reading to learn more about what black hat SEO is and how you can avoid it.

What Exactly Is Black Hat SEO?

Black hat SEO is any unethical SEO technique that attempts to trick search engines or users into thinking a website is more complete, trustworthy, or relevant than it actually is. Black hat SEO sometimes succeeds in the short term if Google doesn’t recognize what you’re doing. However, in most cases, it leads to long-term penalties.

Here are several common examples of black hat SEO techniques:

  • Linking to and from low-quality websites merely to generate backlink volume
  • Adding hidden text to webpages
  • Redirecting users to a different page as soon as they land on a page they clicked on
  • Creating misleading or irrelevant content in an attempt to capture traffic from large search terms
  • Creating lots of irrelevant manual citations in an attempt to get associated with local businesses

If this is only causing confusion as to which kinds of SEO techniques are beneficial and which are harmful, have no fear. The SPOT method helps you identify the signs of black hat SEO, so you can stop using them or prevent them from affecting your website. 

How to Identify Black Hat SEO

The SPOT method is the best way to identify signs of black hat SEO on your website. Here’s what the acronym stands for: 

  • Spammy links: Are the links you’re earning or creating from poor-quality sites? The more backlinks you see from suspicious, difficult-to-understand, or malicious sites, the greater the likelihood that you’re experiencing black hat SEO.

  • Pages stuffed with keywords: Are your webpages or those created by a freelancer leveraging keyword stuffing? The sign of an overused keyword is if it comprises more than two percent of a webpage’s total written content. 

  • Obvious lack of useful content: Are you discovering hidden links or a lack of useful content on certain pages? These are clear signs of black hat SEO. Willfully ignoring proper content marketing practices and manipulating information to take advantage of high-volume search terms is an unethical strategy. 

  • Traffic changes out of nowhere: Are you seeing a sudden, drastic change in traffic that can’t be attributed to a properly written article, strong backlink, or PR campaign? This is another classic sign of black hat SEO, most likely driven by a webpage or series of links that are irrelevant to your business niche.

Now that you’re familiar with some of the most common signs of black hat SEO, let’s look at four of them in detail. Knowing why black hat SEO techniques are so harmful to your site rankings will help you put a stop to them anywhere you uncover them. 

4 Common Types of Black Hat SEO

1. Duplicate or Highly Similar Content

Duplicate content is perhaps the most widespread black hat SEO strategy. Some people use this technique without even realizing it’s detrimental. Duplicate content is using the content from one page on another page or several pages, after changing only the H1, a few words, or even no content at all. 

By using the same content over and over, people will take notice and eventually not visit your site anymore. Google will note this too and either not rank your site, or downrank individual URLs, because your site is no longer fresh and trustworthy.

If you’re seeing articles that are almost word-for-word across multiple pages, it must be changed immediately. If you were copying and pasting content in an attempt to save time (often for different locations of a physical business), know that unfortunately, this will only hurt your SEO efforts. 

Avoid getting penalized for this black hat technique by rewriting your content and making sure each page on your site offers as much unique info as possible. If it’s been a while since you’ve reviewed the impact of your content, too, you should run a full SEO content audit.

If you have a few pages that are topically similar, but not copied and pasted across multiple URLs, you’re not in danger of a penalty. The only time you need to worry is if you have dozens or hundreds of pages that are almost exactly the same.

2. Gateway Pages

According to Ahrefs

A gateway page – also known as a doorway page – is a web page designed to rank for particular search queries without offering useful information or answering the user’s search query. Instead, the page will redirect the visitor to a different page.

Gateway pages, sometimes called doorway pages, are created with lots of content and keywords responsible for high search volume, only to funnel users away from what they thought they clicked on.

Gateway pages aren’t helpful to readers, because they exist solely to make money or divert people from one business to another. They’re a perfect example of an unethical link-building strategy. 

If you’ve been using a gateway page, don’t panic. Instead, look at each page on your website and see if it’s helpful to readers. If not, change it! Each page on your site should have useful information, whether it’s written content, videos, contact information, company history, or product details. 

3. Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is another obvious sign you’re dealing with black hat SEO tactics. There’s no reason to stuff keywords into your page content. It will always end up hurting your SEO rather than helping it.

The process of keyword stuffing is including a target term as more than two percent of your content, but this bad technique can be abused even further. If you have a few sentences on a page or a single paragraph that has four or more or more keywords, you’re most certainly keyword stuffing. 

If you’re seeing a lot of keywords on a page, it’s not helpful to readers, nor is it helpful to search engines. If you’ve used keywords too often in your content, simply replace the excess instances of your target term with a synonym and see if the content still flows. You can also rewrite sentences to take a different angle, so your readers aren’t seeing the same words all of the time. 

4. Spammy Links

If you (or your SEO company) are focused on building a very high quantity of links but from low-quality sources (and typically via automation), then you could be at risk of engaging in black hat SEO. 

For example, if you are gaining links by hiring someone on Fiverr to build 100 links for $5, then you’re building spammy links. Typically these links will be created via automated means, such as automated blog comments. We recommend steering clear of these types of link-building efforts. 

The Bottom Line

Black hat SEO is the attempt to trick search engines and boost your website’s ranking without putting in the hard work of creating helpful, original content. It’s a dangerous strategy that can lead to serious consequences for your website, including being banned from all major search engines. 

Here’s a review of the key points in this blog post:

  • Black hat SEO is any process or action designed to trick search engines and humans into thinking a website is more topically authoritative or relevant than it actually is. Unethical SEO practitioners use a variety of techniques to game search engine algorithms and rank websites higher than they should rank for a given term.

  • You can know black hat SEO is being used based on several tell-tale signs. Such indicators include an unexplainable rise in traffic, hundreds of links from strange websites, and similar content on dozens of pages. 

  • One sign of black hat SEO is duplicate content. This is when content from one page is copied and pasted to dozens or hundreds of others, after only changing a few words per page. 

  • Another sign of bad SEO is gateway pages. These are URLs that have little to no original content of their own and instead redirect users to a different page or website. 

  • Still another sign of black hat SEO is keyword stuffing. This is when someone uses the same term too many times in an attempt to rank higher than other sites for the same term, thereby capturing more traffic.

  • An additional sign of bad SEO is building spammy links. Instead of focusing on building a high volume of links from low-quality websites, focus instead on gaining links from higher-quality, high-authority websites.  

Need Help Improving Your Website’s SEO? 

At Main Street ROI, we offer one-time SEO projects to audit and tune up your website, as well as monthly SEO management services including ongoing auditing, technical fixes, content development, link building, consulting, and reporting. Click here to request a quote for SEO services.