Black-hat search engine optimization may be broadly defined as any technique designed to increase a website’s ranking in the search engines that violates its terms of service. By contrast, white-hat SEO refers to tried-and-tested techniques that are approved of by Google and other search engines. Additionally, you may also encounter the term ‘grey-hat’ when talking about certain SEO techniques that fall somewhere between the two.

Google makes it clear what it wants webmasters to do when it comes to optimizing their websites and content for the search engines, and its Webmaster Guidelines clearly define which tactics you should use and which ones you should avoid. The world’s second-largest search engine, Microsoft Bing, has a very similar set of rules and guidelines. Failing to meet the standards laid out by the search engines can get your website penalized or even removed from the indexes entirely. Since the search engine results pages typically account for the vast majority of any website’s first-time traffic, it shouldn’t be difficult to see why you don’t want to end up getting banned.

Ultimately, black-hat SEO tactics exist to deceive both the search engines and website visitors in such a way that their exposure in the former is artificially increased. They have long been, and remain to be, the bane of the Internet. They are unethical methods used by unscrupulous webmasters (or spammers, more accurately), and in some cases they are illegal outright. However, as bad as black-hat SEO is, that is not to say that some strategies don’t still work. After all, the search engine crawlers are still far easier to manipulate than people themselves.

Common Black-Hat SEO Strategies

There are just as many black-hat SEO techniques as there are honest ones, but let’s take a look at some of the most prolific and how they are affecting the Internet today:

  • Using unrelated keywords or overusing the keywords you are targeting. Many black-hat search engine marketers deliberately target unrelated keywords that get a lot of hits. Keyword spamming is no longer an effective way to manipulate the search results, and recent Google algorithm updates have crushed many websites that were guilty of it.
  • Placing hidden text or links containing keywords that only the search engine crawlers can see is one of the oldest black-hat techniques, but it hasn’t been effective for years. The search engine crawlers are far smarter than they used to be in exposing such methods.
  • Similarly, cloaking methods that present the search engine crawlers with different content from that which human visitors see has long been a common tactic used by spammers. Again, these methods tend to be exposed very quickly.
  • Stealing content before it has time to index and publishing it on another website instead is a common tactic that spammers and content thieves use. However, while it may be temporarily effective, this illegal tactic inevitably ends up being exposed by both the search engines and the original content owner.
  • Blog comment spamming is a common link-building strategy whereby automated programs post irrelevant spam comments on blogs containing links to spam websites, typically those in the gambling, online pharmaceutical or pornography industries.
  • Link-buying is one of the most common strategies that impatient online marketers use to quickly build up an external link profile for their websites. However, the result inevitably involves getting lots of links on poor-quality, unrelated websites, and Google is getting better every year at removing offenders from the search results.
  • Parasite hosting typically involves hacking into a high-ranking website and using its attention to drive traffic to a completely unrelated page. This page may be hosted on a website without the owner’s knowledge. Another blatantly illegal SEO method, parasite hosting can still be surprisingly effective, albeit for a short time.
  • Domain squatting or cybersquatting refers to buying a valuable domain name to market a typically unrelated website. For example, cyber squatters may deliberately register a domain that is a commonly misspelled version of a real one in the hope of deceiving users into visiting something completely different.

Should You Use Black-Hat SEO Techniques?

While some black-hat SEO techniques can still be alarmingly effective, they are utterly counterproductive in the longer term, not to mention unethical, and often illegal. Even if you are only thinking about your website’s exposure in the search results, regardless of the cost, you have to ask yourself whether you can really afford to risk having your website de-indexed. In conclusion, stay well clear of such online marketing tactics if you want to have any hope of your business becoming a respected and successful in the longer term.