How to Spot if Your SEO Expert is Using Unethical Practices to Boost Your Ranking

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By Boris Dzhingarov

Unethical practices that help a website rank higher in Google are known as black hat SEO, and often,  a website owner may not even realize that their website is suffering from black hat SEO techniques, particularly if you have handed over responsibility of your search engine optimization to an outsourced company. Although black hat SEO may be able to temporarily boost a website’s ranking in search engines such as Google, eventually the search engines are going to catch on, and the website will be penalized and demoted for bad practice. It’s important that you are able to identify black hat SEO techniques, particularly if you’re trusting your search engine ranking to somebody else.

What is Black Hat SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization and describes the process of designing a website to rank higher in search engines such as Google, app stores and Amazon. It is an innovative way to optimize web content, whether you’re an online retailer, media company or offering a local service, in order to drive traffic organically to your website rather than relying on paying expensive advertising fees.

There are two main kinds of SEO – black hat and white hat. Websites using white hat SEO use legitimate, recommended techniques in order to rank for relevant keywords, such as producing user-friendly, informative content, developing high quality links and being mobile friendly. On the other hand, black hat SEO techniques are designed for search engines rather than humans, which ends up misleading both the user and the search engine algorithms.

Paid Links:

Link popularity is just one of the many ways in which Google ranks websites. The more websites there are linking back to yours, and the better the domain authority of these websites, the more authoritative – and deserving of a higher ranking – search engines will consider your site to be. However, black hat SEO techniques use links that are not genuine or high quality, for example, links paid for or generated by link farms, or content with an ‘anchor text’ that appears random, with no connection to the link. If a page is full of randomly linked, irrelevant text, then they are most likely paid links and could be damaging your site.

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Keyword Stuffing:

Keyword stuffing was a popular and effective SEO tool a couple of decades ago, but use it today and your website is going to be penalized rather quickly. Keyword stuffing occurs when a certain keyword appears on a website an inordinate number of times, in order to convince Google to rank that website or webpage higher in search results for that search term. Despite Google making algorithm updates to spot keyword stuffing, and prioritizing user-friendly, relevant and useful content, it is still one of the most popular black hat SEO techniques. And, this practice can be difficult to identify, because Google often changes the guidelines for what percentage of text should incorporate your keyword. The best way to try and catch keyword stuffing is to look for the keyword hidden in places like the title, meta description and introduction, especially if it is also appearing several times throughout the text.

Private Blog Networks:

Private Blog Networks or PBNs are a way to build backlinks, which is typically done through a series of blogs. They can be used to either build domain authority for one another through a web, or to increase the ranking of a specific, central website. PBNs used to be fairly common, but Google has been working hard to penalize them. And, uncovering this kind of black hat SEO is fairly easy for search engines as it can be easy to identify the type of patterns that they tend to produce such as identical IP addresses, the same blog owners, shared servers, and similar or even identical content. So bear in mind that whilst using a private blog network might seem – and even be sold to you as – an easy way to build a strong backlink profile, they are also a very easy way of getting your website quickly penalized for bad SEO practices.

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Cloaking and Redirects:

URL redirects and cloaking are when websites show two different types of content to search engines and users. Have you ever clicked on a link only to be redirected to an entirely different website? Google refers to this as a ‘sneaky redirect’, and its purpose is to drive traffic to a specific page, whilst having search engines rank the website based on the content from a completely different one. This is especially common when it comes to mobile website versions – whilst the desktop version will remain the same, the website that mobile visitors find themselves on could display an entirely different URL.

Hidden Links:

Hidden links are exactly what they sound like, and whilst they’re thankfully less common these days, you may still run into them so it’s important to keep your eye out. Although these are links that the user does not typically see, they are still picked up by search engine crawlers and taken into account when determining how to rank a website. This black hat SEO technique often includes hiding text and links behind images, placing links off screen, placing links with a font size of 0 onto a website, using white links on a white background, and linking a very small part of text. You can discover hidden links by going through the backend of your website page by page – or to save time, invest in a good SEO tool that allows you to analyze the website’s link profile. If you find any of these telltale signs, then there’s a good chance your SEO expert is using black hat techniques.

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Google algorithms are some of the most sophisticated in the modern world, which is only a good thing for business owners and ethical optimization companies using white hat techniques to rank for relevant keywords. If your website is in the hands of somebody using black hat techniques, the chances of receiving a penalty from Google will increase with every update that they make to your site.