What is Black Hat SEO

September 7, 2022

It was in the early 2000s that marketers first began to see the potential of search engine optimisation. With the launch of Google in 1998 and its software that could crawl through websites and categorise them based on their keywords, it became clear that the internet’s newest and fastest-growing search engine could be powerful for businesses. It wasn’t long before the idea of ‘Black Hat SEO’ began to emerge. As a summary task, I should try to use very precise language in order to explain the topic better. Google was not the first search engine to be popular. However, the subject of uncertainty and rapid change was especially interesting to the IT communications people who first used Google’s advertising services. The idea was not just that your site would show up in search results, but that it would be displayed as close to the top as possible, as most people would only click on the first few links. As people gradually gained more understanding about how to use SEO to their advantage, ‘Black Hat’ techniques became more disruptive, ranging from causing visible damage to web pages to actually getting sites blacklisted. These days, practices have cleaned up. However, it is generally agreed that Black Hat SEO is still something that some companies, exposure to hesitant or not, will attempt in pursuit of the top rank.

What is Black Hat SEO?

Black hat SEO refers to a set of practices that are used to increase a site or page’s rank in search engines through means that violate the search engines’ terms of service. The term “black hat” originated in Western movies to distinguish the “bad guys” from the “good guys,” who wore white hats (see white hat SEO). Nowadays, it is commonly used to describe computer hackers, virus creators, and those who perform unethical actions on the internet. In the context of search engine optimization, it is a very risky practice and can lead to your website being penalized or banned from search engines, which means a substantial decrease in website traffic. And we all know that means less income for you and your business. Some of the most common black hat SEO techniques include keyword stuffing, invisible text, adding unrelated keywords to the page content or page swapping (changing the webpage entirely after it has been ranked by search engines). Another method used is creating “doorway” pages created just for search engines or other “cookie cutter” approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content. There are also methods such as “cloaking” which is when a server is programmed to return different content to Google than it returns to regular users, which is a big no-no. Lastly, we have “link farms” which are a group of webpages that all link to every other page in the group; this is done to try and increase the PageRank or popularity of a webpage. Such link pages are useless to users and are often filled with off-subject links.

Why is Black Hat SEO risky?

Why is black hat SEO risky? Black hat SEO is considered a disreputable practice because it can have serious consequences for a website. Search engines may permanently ban a website from the search results if they are caught using black hat SEO. This can be catastrophic for a business, as the majority of traffic to their site is likely to come from search engine results. Without the guarantee of a good listing on a search engine, consumers will have to already know the web address of the site in order to visit. Most legitimate companies will eventually be forced out of existence if they can’t rely on a good position in the search engine results. Even if they are not banned, those using black hat techniques can find that they are in a constant battle to maintain their website’s rating. This is because many search engines are continuously updating their rules and practices to catch out and penalize black hat SEO writers. Websites that are not keeping up with the very latest acceptable optimization practices risk plummeting down the search results. This means black hat users are forced to be constantly changing and adapting their techniques, which can be time consuming and expensive. By comparison, white hat SEO aims to make a website more user friendly and the content easier to understand for everyone who visits, not just the search engine robots. This is a much more sustainable approach to improving a website’s long term performance; by postposing the needs of the search engine to the visitors themselves, websites are much more likely to produce useful, relevant content for their customers and hold on to a good search engine ranking.

Black Hat SEO Techniques

Keyword stuffing is a technique that involves unnaturally large quantities of keywords. For example, a web page about “coffee” that uses the word “coffee” 20 times in one sentence might be using keyword stuffing. Keywords might be visible in the page copy, in the alt text of an image or in a meta tag, like a description or keyword tag. This practice is not only ineffective, it may lead to a search engine penalty. Hidden text and hidden links are another common black hat technique. Web site design must account for those who might not be using a traditional web browser, such as people with visual disabilities who use speech synthesizers. As a result, web designers occasionally hide elements from the user’s view using various methods. Black hat SEOs will often hide links to their other web properties, disguised as ordinary text or small graphics on the page. To the user, it will seem as though nothing is there at all while in reality the web server is still sending that content. Cloaking is a much more severe black hat strategy. When a user visits a web page, the server has to send the information for that page to the user’s browser. This “page request” from the browser will contain information about what kind of browser and operating system the user is running, in order to facilitate communication between the server and the user’s browser. In a black hat cloaking arrangement, the server returns a different version of a web page to the search engine.

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is a search engine optimization (SEO) technique, considered webspam, in which a web page is loaded with keywords in the meta tags or in the content of a web page. Keyword stuffing may lead to a website being banned or penalized on major search engines, either for a certain keyword or overall. The repetition of words in meta tags may be considered spamming. Because of the bad behavior of spammers, the term “keyword stuffing” has become detached in the RGB card specification because the text is for “the software using or interpreting this text”. The definition there says “keyword stuffing” is repeated keywords so that the total count is more than 60 occurrences in a “standard” window in any instance of the attribute pixel data. However, keywords are just one of many ways to optimize web pages. Keyword stuffing may be more easily accomplished through a search engine spider than other forms of search engine optimization. The common technique is to load the meta tag with keywords about the web page or your company, inserting a comment that is packed with keywords, and hiding keyword text by making the text the same color as the background, rendering the keyword invisible to a human reader but not to a spider, etc. The excessive use of keywords can set back and result in an unintended low rank now. It is essential for a web page to be optimized, but over-optimizing can lead to a fall-off in search engine performance.

Hidden Text and Links

Hidden text and links are another common black hat SEO technique. Website visitors are unable to see hidden text and links because they are typically programmed to display off-screen. However, search engine spiders are capable of detecting this type of hidden information. One popular way of implementing hidden text and links is to change the opacity of a particular piece of content. If a user changes the settings of their machine to use a custom style sheet, any attempt at changing opacity simply fails and the text is shown on the page. However, the opacity setting tricks the search engine spider into thinking that the text is shown on the web page. Therefore, a website designer could potentially create a custom style sheet and manipulate the settings of their website so that the text does not appear to be hidden. The style sheet would be designed such that it changes the opacity settings in a suitable manner, ensuring that the text is visible to search engine spiders. This technique only works effectively with Internet Explorer. Also, when a website designer uses this method, they must be careful not to accidentally present the text in the same color as the background, or the site may potentially be accused of ‘cloaking’. This technique is known as ‘cloaking’, where the web page delivered to the search engine spider is different from that delivered to the end user. This is another prohibited black hat SEO practice. Cloaking is always regarded as a very serious black hat SEO technique and should never be utilized but always be guarded against.


The internet didn’t always look the way it does now. Excite, Lycos, AOL, and Yahoo were the ways that people found web pages in the early days of the internet. Google came around and changed the game with its PageRank algorithm by providing more accurate search results. The algorithm counted the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of the website’s importance. Google has upped its search result precision game with 10 more major search algorithm changes since 2000 and a constant stream of smaller changes. Black hat SEOs have tried to stay one step ahead of these updates with increasingly complex and sneaky tricks. One such trick is cloaking. This involves the use of deceptive techniques to fool the Googlebot into thinking that the hacker’s page is very relevant. The hacker then tries to make Google index his spam-laden page and not the genuine content page. Cloaking is strictly forbidden according to Google Webmaster Guidelines. In fact, in the most severe cases, Google can decide to remove the hacker’s website entirely from the index. This could mean the virtual death of the site, for all search purposes. However, it is important to also consider that penalties in relation to cloaking require a human reviewer and discussions of whether a site or page should be penalized are undertaken by real people at Google. On this point, Google advises that if black hat SEO techniques are discovered, the most reliable long-term strategy is to perform a Google cloaking clean up and on-going search engine optimization. By adopting ethical search engine optimization strategies and keeping up-to-date with the latest search engine guidelines, the web site will be fully visible to the public, providing consistent and long-term search engine rankings. By following this route, the site can benefit from being indexed effectively and climb to the top on more conventional grounds, avoiding being blacklisted.

Link Manipulation

Link manipulation is one of the most common black hat SEO techniques. Google algorithm gives a significant weight to the hyperlink in terms of search engine ranking. Therefore, websites are placed that is considered as a trustworthy by the search engines. The link manipulation consists of providing to the search engine spiders with a site which is highly constructed and optimized, but when the user clicks on the link to go to the suggested page, he or she is redirected to completely a different page which has nothing to do with the search. One of the techniques of link manipulation that spotted frequently is called as “meta refresh”. Meta refresh is an obsolete HTML tag that is used to refresh a webpage. It forces the web page to automatically load the new page after a set time period. By setting the time for 0 second, the meta refresh then becomes a way to redirect a visitor to a new page. An example for meta refresh use in link manipulation is it appears a valid page to the search engine spiders. However for the user, it would immediately point to somewhere else. Also, there is a way to hide the link manipulations from the knowledgeable webmaster or website owner. That is, a small piece of JavaScript code can be used to detect whether the web request comes from a search engine spider or a genuine user. If the request comes from a search engine spider user agent, the request is redirected to a spammy page using redirect 301 command. If the web request is from a human being, the code performs normally and directs the user to the proper page. As a conclusion, it shows that link manipulation not only includes fooling the search engine spiders and also cheat the genuine human user as well. This method could succeed in short term. Yet, since all the activities in any website can be monitored by the webmaster any time, it increases the risk and lead to severe consequences once detected.

Tools for Analyzing Black Hat SEO

MozBar is a free extension that can be downloaded and installed to be used with a desktop Firefox or Chrome browser. The information that is provided will help to quickly expose the good, the bad, and the opportunity with the instant metrics. These metrics and features include page and domain authority, the type of filters or tools, and the social link data. It provides two types of link checking with both direct and indirect. Spam Score is a score that Moz has to measure the possibility of any website being penalized or banned by the search engines and flags any sites that are potential risks in any kind of spam detection service. It is dependent on the total number of spam flags that have been found to the total number of pages that are crawled and can be anywhere on the scale from 0 to 17. Page authority shows the likelihood of this single page to be found in a search engine whereas the domain authority is a score from 0 to 100 that has been developed by Moz that forecasts how well a website will rank on the search engine result pages. This score can then be used to compare websites or to track the ‘ranking strength’ of a website over time. Finally, Moz Pro is an all-in-one SEO tracking and research tool that provides SEOs with data on their rankings on the search engine. There are different pricing and plans for the package. For example, the standard plan includes three active research profiles, a 12-month keyword ranking history, and 24-hour support. Also, they include research tools such as the MozBar, Followerwonk, and Open Site Explorer for the maximum amount of SEO excellence to help leverage the marketing. By spending $99 for a month, we can get the standard plan and enjoy the powerful products. For analyzing the Black Hat technique on our blog, the free 30-day trial of Moz Pro is sufficient enough. There are over 11 billion keywords in the Moz database as well as a large link index of over 165 billion links. With a web app tool, it’s an easier experience too as it will preview the webpage as Google sees it so that we’re able to find and delete the Black Hat technique code. Also, the data visualization helps take out the guesswork. By a clear and easier to understand less of a deep report, users will find themselves having a better resolution of the Black Hat technique so that moves can be made to fix the problem. It also has a friendly and overloaded free support for life where there are all full of successful webmasters, search marketers, and business owners who are ready to help one another with the knowledge of SEO. Not only the Moz staff, the advice and suggestion from the communities forum are trustworthy as well. The idea is to use the “intelligence of many” so that no one will repeat the solution again. By and large, there are always better choices than getting banned or manipulated in the search engines. However, understanding the Black Hat technique and using the tools from Moz or any other professionals will provide the chances to recover or improve the website in an ethical way while avoiding those Black Hat users.

MozBar Login

The MozBar extension is a free browser extension that allows you to view the page and domain elements for any website. Page elements include things like page title, meta description, meta keywords, headers, and the body of the text. Domain elements include things like domain authority and the number of links on the page. This tool is useful in analyzing whether the SEO data matches the actual page content. For example, if a page is filled with keywords that do not seem to be substantiated by the main content of the page, it is an indication of black hat SEO. The MozBar extension assigns a value from 0 to 100 to all websites according to their domain authority, which refers to how well a website will perform in search engine results. 100 is the highest value (i.e., most likely to be displayed in search results) while 0 is the lowest (i.e., least likely to be displayed in search results). If you click on the “More Info” link, it will take you to a page with a detailed explanation of what the domain authority score for that website means. The explanation includes a number of superficial links, called “click depth”. These are not to be confused with the hidden text and links discussed in section 2. This is because these links are generated by the MozBar extension to demonstrate the click depth scores. However, in looking at black hat SEO, it is important to keep in mind that MozBar’s link highlighting functions can be extremely powerful tools for identifying hidden links that are designed to manipulate search result rankings.

Spam Score

Google’s head of webspam, Matt Cutts, created Spam Score to help search marketers and webmasters analyze their links. It is a scale that helps to measure the relative risk that a website may be penalized by Google’s Penguin algorithm. Websites are given a Spam Score between 0.0 (low risk) and 17.0 (high risk). This is significant as Spam Score looks at several different types of data that are known to be highly correlated with the kinds of penalties that the Google Penguin algorithm applies for against websites and their organic search rankings. For instance, it assesses the percentage of sites with ‘spam flags’ that link to a particular site, the ratio of ‘nofollow’ to ‘dofollow’ links that point to a particular site, the website’s ‘trust’ and ‘citation’ flow from Majestic, an external link quality score and the number of external links that the website has. By noting the many different things that go into a single Spam Score, it is possible to identify and fix possible problems that are flagged within the Spam Score system. For example, the SEO can look out for removing spammy links with too many ‘nofollow’ attributes by seeking out better quality link sources that apply as ‘dofollow’ links on the website. All in all, Spam Score is a vital and highly informative tool for outlining strong and weak links to any website over its scale, therefore helping search marketers identify and rectify any potential problematic links before they suffer a penalty under the modern Google Penguin algorithm.

Page Authority

The term “Page Authority” refers to a score ranging from 0 to 100 that search engines assign to certain pages. The higher the score, the greater the chances are that the page will rank up high in the search results. This concept basically revolves around the idea of “link juice”, a term used to refer to the value that is passed from one site to another when a hyperlinked web page is clicked. Links on a page pass their respective link juice – greater number of links equates to less link juice going to each individual link. This link juice is what is believed to have a direct impact on the authority of web pages that are linked. Pages with a higher link juice compared to the other web pages in the domain will have a higher Page Authority and have better search ranking ability. However, the reality is that Black Hat SEO manipulates all these assumptions and not only violates the search engines’ guidelines but also the integrity of the internet. Such practices include paid links, link farms or automated programs or services that acquire links. Google warns that these practices will lead to penalties and in reality, websites that attempt to use manipulative techniques will face a downward spiral in ranking and traffic, wasting the effort and money that goes behind the scene. Given that one would want to identify if a page is being affected by Black Hat SEO, Moz provides a link research tool that is designed to find all links to any domain. By doing so, website owners can research on valuable link opportunities and move on from weak ones that may actually lead to search engine penalties. Meanwhile, a competitive analysis root domain tool allows a user to analyze link profile for up to three competitors. This will come in handy especially when one want to understand how link profiles differ from the competitors and what type of domains and links are in play. All these tools help in providing real, actionable link building insights to inform not only link development but also web marketing strategies.

Moz Pro

Another way to identify black hat SEO practices is to use Moz Pro, which is a paid SEO software created by Moz. It provides the same features as the MozBar Extension – for analyzing on-page elements and SERP elements, like title and description elements – but the additional controls and options allow you to conduct a deep crawl on your site, or on your competitor’s site. Deep crawl is a term used to describe a complete process of analyzing all links, keywords, and other elements on a webpage to identify areas of weaknesses. Although the MozBar Extension provides some basic analytical tools for free, the full set of features and full report are only available under the Moz Pro subscription. With the ability to perform complete analysis and so many different options for viewing, Moz Pro is an essential tool for any SEO specialist and that’s why it’s used to uncover black hat SEO practices, such as keyword stuffing and poor quality backlinks, that could give a Google penalty. A great feature of Moz Pro is the “Crawl Diagnostics” tool. This provides a complete list of every link, keyword, and meta tag that’s found on your site and assigns an importance level for each issue found, and shows you where on the site each issue exists. When conducting a site-wide crawl, links such as telephone numbers, and errors such as missing alt text or URL names that are too long, are also included in the report. This makes Moz Pro an exceptionally useful tool for not only identifying malicious black hat practices, but also for analyzing and fixing legitimate issues that may be negatively impacting a webpage. Also, due to the frequency of updates and maintenance of the service, Moz Pro is a great resource for continuously monitoring your site and preventing black hat SEO from taking its toll.

Consequences and Prevention

The consequences of practicing black hat SEO can be extremely severe. If a search engine finds out that a website is using unethical means to increase its page ranking, the engine can penalize or even remove that website from its index. A search engine penalty can take many forms. For example, an older site might experience a sudden drop in its page ranking. In some cases, a site may be completely removed from the search engine index altogether, making it virtually invisible to search engine users. This can have a massive impact on the number of visitors the site receives. Another possible penalty is known as a de-index, where a site is removed from a search engine’s entire database. A de-index is the most serious type of penalty and can be the most harmful to a black hat SEO practitioner. The consequences of a search engine penalty can be devastating to a business – especially if the site in question is the business’s main source of revenue. This is why it is so important to steer clear of unethical SEO practices and develop a strong understanding of what constitutes proper SEO technique. One of the most effective methods of preventing a site from falling victim to a search engine penalty is by keeping up to date with the search engines themselves. Both Google and Bing, as well as other smaller search engines, provide webmaster resources and guidelines to help website owners understand how to properly optimize their sites for search engine rankings. These guidelines are well worth reviewing and help to provide a detailed understanding of what is considered to constitute ethical practice. Chances are, when a search engine makes a change to its guidelines it will make this publicly known; this means that website owners and SEO practitioners should ideally hear about any changes that could impact them. By presenting such changes and developments, the search engines are effectively trying to encourage compliance to their guidelines – because they want everyone’s search engine experience to be as smooth and accurate as possible. This is why they include the tools and resources mentioned above. By following these ethical and organic SEO practices, a website can ensure that it is not subject to any search engine penalties and can achieve strong, sustainable rankings.

Search Engine Penalties

In some cases, search engines will issue very severe penalties to websites that use black hat SEO, going as far as to ban the site entirely from search results. If a website has been penalized, the website owner will be informed of this through their Google Search Console account. There will also be information on what specific problem has led to the penalty. There are several types of search engine penalties, including a manual action penalty, an algorithmic penalty, and a negative SEO attack. A manual action penalty is issued when a human reviewer at Google has determined that a website is not following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This could be an action for using techniques such as cloaking or could be as a result of a site having been hacked. An algorithmic penalty occurs automatically when a website is detected to be in breach of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and the issue is not resolved within a certain time period. A negative SEO attack occurs when a website owner has intentionally tried to harm a competitor’s search rankings. This could involve a website owner building hundreds of spammy links to a competitor’s site in the hope that Google will issue a penalty. As a result of a penalty, a website’s search rankings will be negatively affected or, in the worst scenario, the website will be removed entirely from search results – an action known as delisting. Such consequences can be disastrous for a business, leading to loss of traffic, loss of potential customers, and a significant reduction in sales. With penalties being so severe, it is always recommended to ensure that only ethical and organic search engine optimization techniques are employed. By doing so, website owners can mitigate the risks of receiving search engine penalties and ensure that they, and their business, continue to thrive online.

How to Avoid Black Hat SEO Practices

It is important to remain vigilant so that even as the methods change, one can be able to remain a step ahead. The process of cleaning up a website from black hat SEO is very challenging and most of the times costs a lot of time because after being removed from the server, the website could be capable of causing security breach. Also the complications that arise whenever the black hat SEO create a negative impact on the organization’s brand, a lot of effort and financial resources would be required to rectify the problems.

By following the above suggestions on how to avert black hat SEO, one can be able to keep his or her website safe and ensure that it remains indexed by search engines. This is important given that losing the index by a major search engine may translate to a huge impact in terms of time, finances and resources required to restore the website.

It is also advisable to monitor and control who has access to the organization’s resources. By offering quality content and services and making sure that the search engine can index a website properly, organic SEO is enhanced. This means giving the best experience to the users without having to trick the search engines.

Developing quality and relevant content for a website is another critical factor to consider. The website should incorporate user-friendly and optimized designs which are easy for the visitors to navigate.

Ensuring that a strong password policy is implemented when handling an organizational website and its applications is important.

Apart from the complex technical and time-consuming analysis tools utilized for detecting black hat SEO, some of the best ways of averting black hat SEO are summarized below.

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