Feb 2, 2024

Risks of Black Hat SEO

Black Hat SEO is when you use strategies to trick search engines. Here, we will go over the many types and potential penalties.

Risks of Black Hat SEO

What is Blackhat SEO & Why You Should Avoid It


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is important for businesses who want to attract more visitors to their website. There are many ways to improve search engine rankings. However, not all are ethical or work over the long term. 

“Black hat SEO” describes methods used to manipulate search engine algorithms. These tactics violate search engine guidelines and can lead to severe consequences. In this article, we’ll go over some types of Black Hat SEO and the potential penalties if a site is caught using these techniques. Learning the ranking factors helps you avoid making pointless mistakes that can impede your results, if you would like to explore this topic more, click here to view are article which details the 200+ known ranking factors.

Common Blackhat SEO Techniques

Who knows what is hidden in this red box? (Nothing, actually.)

Common Black Hat SEO Techniques

Black Hat SEO tactics focus on exploiting loopholes in search engine algorithms. This is in contrast to white hat SEO, which focuses on providing a good user experience. The “black hat/white hat” naming comes from westerns in which the bad guy wears the black cowboy hat.

To protect your site from the consequences of black hat SEO, avoid using the following methods:

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is when you excessively use keywords on a web page to manipulate search rankings. This usually makes the content nearly unreadable. 

For example, if your keyword is “fluffy kitten”. Keyword stuffing would look like this:

“We sell fluffy kittens for all your fluffy kitten buying needs. Come in and see our fluffy kittens. You might just buy our fluffy kittens. No returns on fluffy kittens. Our fluffy kittens are asbestos-free. Call us at 1-800-Fluffy-Kittens.”

Instead of keyword stuffing, add relevant keywords naturally. If it reads poorly or looks blatantly obvious that you are trying to rank for a particular keyword: cut down on the keywords. You should also avoid listing phone numbers or names of cities that you want to rank for[1].

Article Spinning

Article spinning is when you take one of your articles and modify it so that it conveys the exact same information but says it in a different way.  Write something new[2].

Of course, if you write long enough, you are going to end up repeating yourself sometimes. Article spinning is more intentional than that and less natural. Duplicating an article three times and then rewording each copy is an example of article spinning.

Plagiarizing Content

Don’t copy and paste content from other sites (or your own) into your website. This is both unethical and violates search engine guidelines. Instead, reword information that is not your own or common knowledge and cite your sources. Use quotes and a citation if you want to keep the exact phrasing of quotes. You can also use a free plagiarism scanner to help identify accidental plagiarism. I like to do this on our articles just to be safe.

Hidden Links or Content

Hidden text are keywords or links that are hidden from users while still being visible to search engines. It can be done by setting the text color to match its background or by placing text behind images. Some people also try to make punctuation (like a period) into a link or change the font size to zero[2]. Search engines are adept at detecting all of this.

You can create hidden text without intending to. Copy-pasting text with CSS styling can result in accidental hidden text (which is another reason why you shouldn’t copy-paste other people's content)[2]. It can also occur in user comments if your site is not designed to prevent this[2].

Spamming Your Link

Excessively sharing your links in the comment sections of blogs or social media websites will likely get your site penalized[2]. 

Share a link only when it is relevant to the discussion, but don’t expect backlinks from forums or the comment section of blogs. Google now discourages this backlinking strategy in its guidelines[3].  Some links are fine, but don’t use it as your dominant linking strategy. Many reputable blogs and forums make all links in comments into “nofollow” links. This means that search engine bots won't follow them, so it isn’t going to have any positive effect on your search engine rankings[4]. 

Misleading Users to Click on Your Site (Clickbait)

At one point, Groupon continued to advertise an expired voucher from a touring company (Comprehensive Tours) to get clicks onto its page[4]. After users would click, the content would change and the voucher would be gone. Any bait-and-switch tactic like this violates search engine guidelines while also lowering user trust.

Participating in Link Farms or Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

A link farm is a website (or a group of websites) that is meant for link building. They usually are poor quality because their purpose is to just build backlinks. Private blog networks are similar to link farms, but every website in a PBN network will link to a main site rather than to each other[6].

Google values reputable backlinks. Backlinks are links from another site to yours. If the sender site has a good reputation, this sends a signal that you must be reputable as well. So, this method actually works against you as soon as Google realizes the sites linking to yours are garbage.

Buying Links

Don't do it. Google tracks links to predict if they have been purchased[2]. You also can't barter by giving free products or discounts for a link. Google penalizes that as well[2].

Excessive Reciprocal Linking

Reciprocal linking is when one or more sites mutually link to each other. It's a type of “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” arrangement[7].

It can be either good or bad. If there is no actual relationship between the two sites (meaning that a person interested in one site would have no reason to be interested in the other) it is bad. The resulting links will look like spam[7]. 

Link when it will be useful to your visitors.  Don't do it for the sole purpose of boosting your SEO[8].

It's also risky (and a bit ridiculous) to try to do reciprocal links with yourself. Don't try to build several sites and rank them just so they can reciprocal link to each other[9]. It is awkward, like singing “Happy Birthday” to yourself.

Backlink Warfare

Some of the less scrupulous than normal black hat SEO practitioners try to take advantage of how Google gives penalties. Since backlinks from domains with bad reputations are penalized they will link your site to those sites in order to hurt your reputation[2].

Fortunately, if this happens to you, Google provides a way to dissociate yourself from other sites.

Improper Use of Rich Snippets 

Rich Snippets enable you to change how your content looks when it shows up on a search engine results page. An example would be including reviews for a recipe or product information. Improper use of rich snippets would be displaying misleading information in a rich snippet (like giving yourself a fake five-star review)[4].

Rich snippets in search results

Putting Your Link in a Plugin

Sometimes website owners create a plugin or theme that includes a link to their website. They then share this with other people so that when the plugin is installed on a website it links to the creator’s site.


Cloaking is when different content is shown to search engines and users. This tactic aims to deceive search engines by presenting optimized content for search rankings while showing different content to users. A similar technique is using Doorway Pages. A doorway page (aka bridge, portal, gateway, entry or jump pages) is a page that ranks for a keyword then immediately redirects the user to another page[2].

To prevent accidental blackhat SEO, don’t implement SEO tactics that diminish the quality of a page for users. Don’t try anything that “hacks” or “tricks” a search engine. It is quite hard to outsmart over 27,000 engineers at Google[10]. It is best not to try.

You should also be wary of paying for people to do link building for you. Avoid businesses that promise quick results for low prices and guaranteed links. Links are never guaranteed. Someone else has to consent to having your link on their website and that takes time if it does happen[11].

Risks of Using Blackhat Techniques

Risks of Using Black Hat SEO Techniques

Google is an ad company. In order to keep making money by selling ads, it needs to have a search engine that people continue to use because ads don't work if no one sees them. This means search results have to be good or at least decent.

To maintain a high standard for search results, search engines like Google give strict penalties to discourage manipulation. When a website is caught using black hat techniques, it can face manual actions or algorithmic penalties.

Manual actions are penalties imposed by employees who review websites and determine whether they are in violation of their guidelines. These penalties can result in a significant drop in search rankings or complete removal from results pages. Recovering from a manual action can be an arduous process. This can require the removal or disavowal of manipulated content and the submission of a reconsideration request.

Algorithmic penalties are automatic penalties triggered by search engine algorithms. These penalties can be triggered by various signals, such as keyword stuffing, spammy backlinks, or cloaking. When a website is hit by an algorithmic penalty, its search rankings can plummet, resulting in a significant loss of organic traffic and potential customers.

Aside from penalties enforced by algorithms and search engine employees, poor user experience caused by these methods will also negatively impact a website. People don't stay on low quality websites for long. This leads to a high bounce rate, which can hurt rankings. Users are also unlikely to trust a website that employs manipulative tactics to deceive search engines. This is poor marketing and can result in a loss of potential customers.

Black hat practices can also damage relationships with other websites and online communities. Other website owners may refuse to collaborate or link to a website known for using black hat SEO techniques, because it can bring their own rankings down. You should be wary of this because getting backlinks is very important for SEO.

Whitehat SEO Alternative Techniques

White Hat SEO Alternatives

Instead of resorting to black hat SEO tactics, businesses should focus on white hat SEO techniques that align with search engine guidelines. Here are some white hat alternatives to consider:

Content Creation and Optimization

High-quality content is key in white hat SEO. By producing helpful information, you can attract organic traffic.

On-Page Optimization

On-page optimization involves optimizing various elements on your website, such as title tags, meta descriptions, and header tags. 

Link Building

Focus on building high-quality, natural backlinks. This can be achieved through outreach efforts, collaborations, guest posting, and creating good content that others naturally want to link to.

User Experience

Prioritize providing a good user experience. This means ensuring that your website is:

  • fast
  • mobile-friendly
  • easy to navigate
  • easy to read and scan
  • accessible to people with disabilities

Keyword Research

Use keyword research to find keywords that your target audience is likely to search for. Incorporate these keywords naturally.

Monitor and Analyze Performance

Regularly monitor your website's performance using tools like Google Analytics. This helps you identify areas for improvement.

Final Words on Blackhat SEO

Bullet Summary

  • Black Hat SEO is the use of methods to trick search engines.
  • It doesn’t work. Users will most likely be caught and penalized.
  • Providing a good user experience aligns with search engines because they try to return high-quality search results.

References We Used for this Article

[1] “Spam Policies for Google Web Search | Google Search Central | Documentation,” Google for Developers. Accessed: Jan. 03, 2024. [Online]. Available: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/essentials/spam-policies

[2] J. Clark, “17 Black Hat Techniques That Can Harm an SEO Campaign,” Search Engine Journal. Accessed: Dec. 20, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/11-black-hat-techniques-can-kill-seo-campaign/180601/

[3] “Identify Black Hat Link Building - 6 Strategies To Avoid.” Accessed: Dec. 20, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://linkdoctor.io/how-to-identify-black-hat-link-building/

[4] “An Introduction to Black Hat SEO.” Accessed: Dec. 20, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/black-hat-seo

[5] “How to do Anchor Text Optimization?,” Quattr. Accessed: Jan. 03, 2024. [Online]. Available: https://www.quattr.com/enhance-experience/www.quattr.com/enhance-experience/anchor-text-optimization

[6] “What is a Link Farm?” Accessed: Jan. 03, 2024. [Online]. Available: https://ahrefs.com/seo/glossary/link-farm

[7] “How Reciprocal Links can benefit your SEO (& How they can’t),” Rock Content. Accessed: Dec. 20, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://rockcontent.com/blog/reciprocal-links/

[8] “Reciprocal Links: Do They Help Or Hurt Your SEO?,” Search Engine Journal. Accessed: Dec. 20, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/link-building-guide/reciprocal-links/

[9] T. Soulo, “Reciprocal Links: Will They Hurt Your SEO? (A Study by Ahrefs),” SEO Blog by Ahrefs. Accessed: Dec. 20, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://ahrefs.com/blog/reciprocal-links/

[10] “How Many Software Engineers Does Google Have in 2024? - Increditools.” Accessed: Dec. 20, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://increditools.com/how-many-software-engineers-does-google-have/

[11] “Black Hat Link Building Explained (Detailed Guide),” LinkBuilder.io. Accessed: Jan. 03, 2024. [Online]. Available: https://linkbuilder.io/black-hat-link-building/

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