Not entirely, no, but it’s definitely in the hospital. Black hat SEO has been a staple of rapid-fire optimization of websites for years, almost since the first search engines were set up and definitely since Google, the largest search engine rose in power on the internet. There is a whole plethora of search engine tactics that follow through with black hat principles and all of them rely on a mix of manipulating the search algorithms into giving them high rankings so that large amounts of human readers can be lead to a website.
These tactics have worked well for years, but now they’re taking a heavy beating from Google’s latest algorithm updates such as Penguin, its cousin Panda and others. This has led many to view black hat as dead. Let’s take a closer look to see if there’s some truth to this or not.
What is Black Hat SEO?
Black hat encompasses many different tactics, all designed to manipulate the search spiders and some more useful until recently than others. The following are some famous tactics that were eliminated or badly hindered by several recent Google changes.
Hidden Content: Basically, this consisted of a page full of keyword stuffed content that was an awful, unreadable mess but designed to attract keyword hungry search spiders in an effort to rank a page highly. However, the keyword filled content that the search spiders from Google saw was not the same as the actual content seen by human readers; this was normally something much more reader friendly and in line with the black hatters offers of a sale or something else, often something banned by Google.
Duplicate Content: Google gives preference to original content in all of its search rankings. However, original, interesting content takes effort and lots of work to produce, so as far as some black hatters were concerned, why bother? Instead, they would produce slightly modified versions of someone else’s content and reap the SEO rewards for as long as they could. Often, the content wouldn’t be altered from its original in any way, just pasted directly.
Interlinking: Google loves a good link profile, and sites that link to other sites give the impression of greater popularity than a site that hasn’t been linked to by anyone. In an effort to imitate this without bothering to build link worthy popularity, many site owners would create a series of thinly produced websites that were often abysmally low on overall content quality and interlink them in order to fake a popular looking link profile for their URLs.
All three of these once very common SEO practices have become much less common now and they were hit heavily by general changes to Google and more specifically by recent search algorithm updates like Panda, Penguin and others.
The Black Hat Penguin Went After
However, Penguin, the latest algorithm change from Google, specifically addressed several even more common and even more difficult to define strategies for black hat SEO.
Keyword Stuffed Content: Many online marketers promoted their sites in the search rankings on the (formerly correct) assumption that the more keywords the merrier, since Google’s bots targeted their reading and indexing based on the keywords they found. This led to a black hat SEO approach in which content was written more with search bots in mind instead of readability to human beings. The result was a mess of content so stuffed with repetitive words that it just sounded bizarre and reading it was tiresome.
The focus of keyword stuffed content wasn’t so much information quality as it was getting ranked, a big no no to Google’s human searcher focused plans.
Link Spam: As we’ve already mentioned, Google loves a strong link profile and for a long time this simply meant backlinks to your own websites’ content from as many external pages as possible, regardless of the backlinks’ nature or the quality of the linking sites. Thus, a common black hat tactic was to spam comments, link farms and low quality content farm websites with backlinks to a given URL. The concern wasn’t so much about linking back from other quality, niche relevant sites as it was simply getting those backlinks up.
Exact Match Anchor text: This was a subset of link spam in which webmasters would make sure that all backlinks to their website from all these numerous low quality sites or blog comments they had spammed with URLs were hyperlinked with the same single keyword or small group of keywords that exactly matched the chief word for which they wanted their own site to rank on Google. For example, if a website was called floraldesigns.com and its main keyword –stuffed through all its content– was floral designs, then this is the word that was used to create the cover text for as most or all backlinks to that site.
These were the three main targets of Google Penguin and all three were pervasively common prior to this new algorithm updates first appearance in April of 2012. However, in the months that followed, many sites that practiced them to some degree or another have been systematically deranked or even eliminated from the search index under specific keyword categories.
This signified yet another major blow to black hat SEO because unlike the earlier above-mentioned optimization tactics, these three were still very common and formed a staple of many black hatters successful campaigns.
Now, let’s look at what Google Really wants and where the future of SEO lies.
Google Penguin and the other Algorithm Updates are not Penalties
The first thing to understand is that Google’s Penguin update is not really any sort of penalty; neither are the other algorithm changes that have emerged. Penalties are specific actions taken to penalize several or more websites for specific actions under specific circumstances. In this case, what we’re seeing is a wholesale change to the Google algorithm that’s designed to continue for the long term as of now, as part of a general improvement in search quality; Why?
Well, because Google is just working in the best interests of its search users and in turn its own financial bottom line by trying to improve the delivery of search to the best of its abilities as the world’s dominant search engine. The company knows that it’s the principal form of navigating the immensity of the internet for its 1.5 billion regular users, and that competition in the form of other search engines and the newly arrived social networks own content sharing systems is just around the corner. These are very serious reasons for a drastic need to constantly make search results as high quality, useful and relevant as possible.
Penguin, Panda and the other algorithm changes are part of a continuing plan to make search algorithms more intelligent and far more capable of rooting out the best possible content on the vest web of the internet’s total information load for a searchers needs.
In this immense scheme of things, any group of websites that tries to manipulate the search index for their own benefit through black hat SEO is simply unimportant.
So, Is Black Hat SEO dead then?
By now the answer should be obvious. Black hat SEO isn’t yet completely dead, but it’s almost there. The tactics that have always been practiced up to now are quickly losing their effectiveness, at least as far as Google is concerned. The continuing shift to improved search under more intelligent AI based, more semantic algorithms will only make tricking the search engines harder than it has ever been before.
Ultimately, as is already happening, a lot of black hatters are simply switching to creating more honestly optimized content instead of dealing with the constant stress of waiting for the Google knife to fall at any moment on their websites and cut them out of the higher level search rankings.
Of course, as anyone who’s involved in the business of scamming any system knows; the “dark side” is nothing if not deeply innovative, and who knows if all sorts of new tactics for search manipulation don’t crop up in the months or years to come.
Written by Marty Reardon. Edited by Aritra Roy.
Marty Reardon has been writing about self storage for Next Door Self Storage for some time now. When he’s not overly consumed with writing or working, he can be found traveling with his wife and children whenever possible.