Online visibility is essential for the success of today’s businesses. Not only does it help acquire more customers, but a solid digital presence also increases brand awareness and allows you to stand out from the competition. Link building forms the foundation of a well-rounded SEO strategy that will get your website in front of the right audience. It requires expertise and resources, so some resort to unnatural link building tactics to get faster results. We’re here to explain why this is a bad idea.
What Are Black Hat Links?
Black hat links are those that go against search engine guidelines. Black hat link building is acquiring links through means that don’t yield practical results for search queries. These tactics aim to increase rankings without actually serving internet users. Instead of adding value, black hat links work by trying to manipulate search engines. However, as the algorithm gets more sophisticated, these shady link building techniques become useless and open to penalties.
Why Do People Use Black Hat Links?
There are several reasons why businesses use black hat link building tactics:
- Black hat links are easy to build: They don’t require dedicated outreach or helpful content that took work to create.
- Black hat links are cheap: Most link builders want to make a quick buck by selling any link from a list. This never works because relevance and quality are essential to links that improve rankings, and such assessment is done manually.
- Black hat links are fast: Building symbiotic relationships with content creators is the way to build natural links, but it takes time. On the other hand, black hat links are merely transactions.
Why Should You Avoid Black Hat Links
Black hat links are at best a waste of resources as they lack the principles of good link building and thus don’t improve rankings. But there are other more serious reasons why you should avoid black hat links:
- Black hat links are unethical: The primary goal of businesses should be to help their customers, and this approach shouldn’t be limited to the product they’re selling. Assisting customers online starts with the search query. Spammy content that doesn’t respond to what the internet user is looking for is a common way to build black hat links, which is unethical.
- Black hat links are unnatural: A backlink that works has to come from relevant, high-quality websites that make sense to the end-user and Google. Black hat links come from irrelevant websites that link to other unrelated websites. They don’t make sense, and they are unnatural. Find out how we build highly-relevant editorial links Google loves.
- Black hat links are open to penalizations: Search engine algorithms are constantly improving to detect shady SEO practices. Google’s algorithm has been good at detecting useless backlinks for a decade now, and they issue penalties to fight spam.
- Black hat links can cause serious loss of profit: Google’s penalties can be harsh enough to destroy all your traffic and decrease your ranking dramatically.
8 Black Hat Link Building Tactics You Should Avoid
1) Low-Quality Links
Google emphasizes relevance and quality when talking about backlinks and says backlinks are “editorial votes given by choice”. To understand what makes a high-quality, relevant link, we must first understand how backlinks work.
External links work by passing authority to the target page. The higher the authority, the more of it passes to the target URL. Think of an authoritative website as one that carries weight about a particular topic. NY Times could be a good example of a high-authority site. However, other less popular sites can also be authoritative, as popularity doesn't correlate with authority.
One common mistake that some make is relying too much on third-party metrics to determine authority. This approach can be problematic because third-party metrics are open to manipulation. Instead, use content is an indicator of authority: Useful blog posts, infographics, well-researched data, images, detailed product comparisons, and anything else created to respond to search queries in the best way possible is good content. These are also called linkable assets: pieces of content that others will want to link to.
If a website has a good amount of linkable content, it has the expertise and thus, authority. As authoritative websites have large volumes of relevant inbound links, it is no surprise that high-quality content would be essential to their success.
Another sign that a website is high-authority is the user experience. Is this site easy to navigate? Can you find what you're looking for? A website will feel good if enough thought went into designing it for internet users.
On the other hand, bad-quality websites generate low-quality links. These sites are easy to detect: They have thin content that doesn’t add value to the internet. They appear to talk about everything a little bit. They appear scattered without a business model. Low-quality websites often exist only to sell links and should be avoided. The links coming from such sites don’t pass authority because Google updates are sophisticated enough to ignore what isn’t “editorial votes given by choice.”
2) Spam Links
Link spams are link placements solely for promoting one’s website. Low-quality links are spammy since they just want to manipulate search engines and internet users. Other common places where link spam occurs are comments and directories. Spam comments are typically unrelated to the article topic and include a link to the website spammer is trying to promote. An example is a comment about how to lose 20 pounds in a week below an article about climate change.
Another type of spam links are directory spams. While appearing on credible directories is important for local SEO, many other directories are just empty pages with nothing more than a list of links. Businesses can register themselves in these to generate large volumes of backlinks. Nonetheless, these tactics are outdated. They don’t improve search engine rankings and should be avoided.
3) Keyword-Stuffed Content
Keywords are a ranking factor. Websites typically target certain words and phrases related to their business to appear higher in SERPs when internet users search for them. So it is natural to think the more keywords, the higher rankings. However, it is considered spam if the exact words are repeated until they stop making sense.
Blog posts should make sense to humans first. Trying to rank for keywords is part of SEO, but it should always be structured around comprehensive content.
4) Automatically-Generated Content
Computers or AI generate this type of content. The problem with automatically-generated content is that it is recycled and subject to logical errors. Although AI is getting better at learning, Google states that such content violates the guidelines if:
- It is just translated from a different language and published without proofreading.
- It is plagiarized. This is called RSS scraping: content stolen from other resources and published as if one’s own.
- If it is full of keywords, it doesn’t make sense to the readers.
5) Doorway Sites/Pages
Doorways are pages or sites created to serve another page or domain. They’re typically full of keywords and don’t add value. They’re a gateway to the target page and work by redirecting users. They’re dishonest because they’re duplicates in nature and prevent users from reaching directly to a product or a query they searched. Google says that “they are bad for users because they can lead to multiple similar pages in user search results, where each result ends up taking the user to essentially the same destination.” Doorway pages are an unethical attempt to manipulate search engines and internet users, so backlinks from them are black hat links.
6) 301 Redirects
These redirects occur when website owners move a URL permanently from one location to another. If you’ve moved your site to a new domain, you can redirect the traffic from the old domain by creating 301 redirects. So, they’re not all bad. However, black hat SEOs use expired domains with a good backlink profile to create redirects and pass authority to their site.
Another way people use this feature to manipulate web crawlers is by hiding low-quality and spammy pages from SERPs by redirecting them to other pages on the site that are more relevant. This can improve a site’s quality only permanently because these tactics trigger manual and algorithmic penalties.
7) Hidden Links
Hidden links are placed in a way that while the internet user can’t see them, the crawlers can. Hidden texts are usually the same color as the background, or their font size is set to zero, so they’re not visible to humans. They are deceptive and considered a form of cloaking, showing different content to users than to the Google Bot. Hidden links violate Google’s guidelines for quality, and should be avoided.
8) Negative SEO
Negative SEO is building large volumes of black hat links to your competitor’s site, and then reporting it to get them penalized. As we've mentioned, these links are easy, fast, and cheap to build. Black hat link builders sell these low-quality spam links in bulk.
Besides being an utterly cruel and unethical practice, negative SEO isn’t worth the money paid to these link sellers. Because Google’s Penguin 4.0 update aims to devalue spam rather than the entire domain, the algorithm is getting better at telling if a website is acquiring bad-quality links at scale to manipulate rankings or is under a negative SEO attack. This brings us to our next point: auditing your backlink profile to detect and remove any harmful links.
How To Identify And Remove Black Hat Links
If you’ve just required a website or have been running one for quite some time, you want to run periodic backlink audits to identify and remove spammy links you might be getting. You’ll need a backlink checker for this. Start by entering your domain and checking the overall traffic to see if there are any sharp rises or declines. If you find that’s the case, check the backlinks acquired during the traffic change. Some black hat links will be:
- Coming from foreign sites
- From weird domains: numbers, random letters etc.
- With unrelated anchor texts
Depending on the backlink checker you use, you can see the spam score of an inbound link in your backlink profile, which is a good indicator of a black hat link. But overall, spam hunting is a manual process and may require you to check the links one by one. A good idea would be to start from the lowest DR/DA links, as these are likelier to be the bad guys.
Once you’ve identified the bad links, you’ll want to create a file. This again depends on the SEO tool you use. You can then upload this file to Google’s disavow tool. If you’re an SEO, removing every spam link from your multiple clients’ sites could be impossible. So, do as much as possible without compromising other SEO aspects.
Link building is evolving, and it is good practice to be up-to-date with the changes. However, sticking to the main principles pays off. If a website is created with the internet user in mind, it will have a higher chance of success. Unethical tactics never work in the long run and do more harm than good.
Why Trust Us On SEO
Eric Carrell & Sebastian Schaffer have been working in SEO for over a decade, building their own projects - understanding and testing SEO strategy, along with building hundreds of white hat links per month for our projects. They take their learnings and experience and apply them to the strategy that drives our link building strategy for our clients.
Eric & Seb have always believed in quality over quantity, doing things the right way so we future proof our client’s websites against future Google updates and the evolving industry of search.
While Seb handles the company strategy around culture, processes and structure, Eric is constantly working to improve our service offering, customer experience, and following the industry in parallel with Google’s Quality Guidelines so that we are always one step ahead of our competition and aligned with what Google wants to see for your site to rank higher.