What Is Black Hat SEO? A Comprehensive Guide

Black hat SEO involves manipulating search engines to achieve higher rankings at the expense of a website’s credibility. But what is black hat SEO exactly? 

The world of search engine optimization (SEO) is riddled with both ethical and questionable practices, and it’s important to understand the difference. 

 In this article, we’ll delve into the realm of black hat SEO, discussing its defining features, risks, and potential consequences, all while emphasizing the importance of upholding ethical SEO strategies for sustainable success.

Key Takeaways

  • Black hat practices refer to any SEO strategy that goes against the guidelines of major search engines, including keyword stuffing and link cloaking.
  • Other common black hat SEO techniques include paid links, hidden content, overused anchor text with irrelevant keywords, and PBNs.
  • Advantages of using these tactics include faster ranking time on SERPs and less expensive implementation, but if detected, the risks usually outweigh the benefits.
  • Potential consequences included decreased rankings and organic traffic, or even deindexation by search engines like Google.
what is black hat seo

What Does Black Hat SEO Mean?

The term ‘black hat SEO’ refers to any SEO strategy that goes against the guidelines of major search engines. Such strategies are implemented to cut corners to achieve higher rankings and more traffic. Some of the most common black hat SEO tactics include link manipulation, keyword stuffing, link cloaking, hidden content, and the use of private blog networks (PBNs).

Black hat SEO tactics do offer some short-term benefits, but once detected, they can damage your website’s presence by reducing its rankings and traffic. Even worse, they can result in deindexation. 

Black Hat SEO vs. White Hat SEO

As opposed to black hat SEO tactics, white hat SEO practices are the ones that comply with search engine guidelines. They’re an ethical approach to ranking higher in search results.

Some of the most common white hat practices include:

  • Creating relevant, high-quality content
  • Developing a solid internal linking structure
  • Improving website navigation and speed
  • Incorporating descriptive meta tags
  • Choosing and placing keywords strategically
  • Using schema markup to help get rich snippets

It’s also worth noting that there are SEO techniques that fall under the grey-hat SEO category. Grey-hat SEO tactics are somewhat exploitative in nature, but they don’t explicitly go against the guidelines of most major search engines.

Common Black Hat SEO Techniques

Now that you know what black hat SEO is all about and how it differs from white hat SEO, let’s discuss some of the most common black hat SEO techniques.

Link manipulation is the use of link schemes and link spam to manipulate search engine algorithms. After all, links are one of the most important factors when it comes to web page relevancy and ranking.

According to Google, link manipulation and link spam come in the form of:

  • Overuse of the “link to me and I’ll link to you” approach
  • Buying, selling, or exchanging backlinks for ranking purposes (paid links)
  • Low-quality bookmark or directory site links
  • The use of automated link-building services and software
  • Blog and forum comments that contain optimized links
  • Site-wide footer or sidebar links
  • Large-scale guest posting campaigns and advertorials

It’s important to note that Google is fully aware that buying, selling, and exchanging backlinks is normal in the world of advertising and sponsorship. This is where link qualification comes into the picture. If you qualify your links, which is when you add tags like rel=”sponsored” to your links to clarify the relationship to the linked page to Google, they’re less likely to be viewed as a violation of Google’s web spam policies. They also won’t count as a black hat linking scheme — assuming they are high quality and relevant to your site.

The use of hidden links is another black-hat SEO practice that might get you penalized. The average reader may be unable to detect your hidden links, but Google certainly can!

There are quite a few ways through which a link can be hidden, including:

  • Hiding the link’s anchor text behind an image
  • Using white text on a white background
  • Reducing the anchor’s font size or opacity to 0
  • Embedding the link into characters like periods and commas
  • Using CSS to keep the link’s anchor text off the screen

Any of the above-listed link-hiding methods is a direct violation of Google’s guidelines, along with most other major search engines. Using any of them will surely put your website at risk.

Overused Anchor Text

From Google’s perspective, repeating the same anchor text over and over again is a one-way ticket to spam city. This applies to both internal and external links. On that account, you need to make sure that your anchor text is unique, relevant, and not keyword-stuffed. Also, you need to make sure it’s descriptive yet somewhat brief.

We recommend using different types of anchor text for your links. Instead of always opting for exact-match anchors, experiment with other types, such as partial-match, related, and branded anchors.


PBNs, short for private blog networks, are basically a group of sites that link to one main site. PBNs are a lot like link farms in the sense that their sole purpose is to increase the number of links pointing to your own site. PBNs aren’t as widely used as they were years ago. Back then, black hat SEO practitioners would buy expired domains that have a good deal of authority, rewrite the content that existed on the domain, and then use it to link to their main site.

Nowadays, the overt use of PBNs has become easy to detect by search engine algorithms and can lead to serious penalties. You might not get detected right away, but it’s bound to happen.

Keyword Stuffing

While keywords are important when it comes to letting search engines know what your content is all about, the overuse of keywords can do more harm than good. Essentially, keyword stuffing is inserting an excessive number of keywords or phrases in an attempt to increase a web page’s ranking in search results.

Keyword stuffing can also refer to when you repeat the same keywords and key phrases over and over again to the point that they sound unnatural. Nowadays, Google and other major search engines are quite good at detecting keyword stuffing. In most cases, search engines penalize keyword-heavy content by not displaying it on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Hidden Content

This is probably the oldest trick in the black hat SEO book, where content is hidden by making it the same color as the web page’s background. Hiding content is a black hat SEO tactic that enables you to include as many keywords and semantically linked phrases as you want within a given web page in an attempt to increase its ranking. This can result in a manual action from Google.

Cloaking is another old black hat SEO practice that revolves around serving different content or URLs to search engines and users, which is considered a violation of Google’s guidelines. Serving search engine crawlers an HTML text while showing human users a page that contains only images is one of the many types of cloaking. Another cloaking approach is to serve human users that have JavaScript enabled on their browser a completely different piece of content than human users that have JavaScript disabled.

Sneaky Redirects

Sneaky redirects are the ones that send users to one page and search engines to another page. It’s similar to cloaking, which makes it a practice that violates search engine guidelines. Another example of a sneaky redirect is when you redirect a high-authority web page into an irrelevant, low-authority page just to boost the latter’s ranking in the SERPs.

What Are Some Advantages of Black Hat SEO?

By taking advantage of algorithmic blind spots and limitations, black hat techniques can offer short-term benefits such as:

Rank Faster on Search Engines

Black hat SEO practices such as cloaking, sneaky redirects, and private blog networks can help you rank higher in the SERPs in a short period of time compared to white hat SEO practices. That being said, the gains achieved by black hat SEO are, in most cases, temporary. You might get away with a few attempts, but the more you engage in these practices, the more at risk your site will be.

Less Expensive to Implement

On the one hand, you have white hat SEO, which entails crafting valuable, high-quality content. Doing so takes time, effort, and maybe even money if you intend to hire a freelancer to do the writing for you. On the other hand, you have black hat SEO, which spares you the hassle of creating valuable content by offering you shortcuts such as content spinning, link manipulation, PBNs, and sneaky redirects.

Clearly, black-hat SEO practices are much more convenient to implement than their white-hat SEO counterparts. As we stated earlier, though, the gains achieved by black hat SEO are temporary.

What Are the Potential Consequences of Black Hat SEO?

black hat seo

Black hat SEOs are always at risk of losing their rankings, authority, and even a full site ban. Read more about the potential consequences below.

Decreased Rankings and Organic Traffic

If Google detects that you’re engaging in black hat SEO, it will send an update to its PageRank algorithm, which will decrease your search rankings and the amount of organic traffic your website receives.

A Google penalty can tank your rankings, authority, and even get you banned from search results completely. This is why we keep saying that black hat SEO offers short-term benefits and that anything you gain from using these shady practices is most likely temporary.

Google Penalties and Deindexation

Whenever you violate any of Google’s guidelines, you can get struck with a penalty that can affect the overall performance of your website as a punishment. This is why you need to avoid black hat SEO. Penalties can come as a result of an update to the ranking algorithm, or they can come in the form of a manual review that might result in website deindexation — as in removing your website from the search engine’s index.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Black Hat Search Engine Optimization Still Work?

Engaging in black hat SEO isn’t worth it. Google’s algorithms have become so robust and powerful that they’re able to detect practices that go against search engine guidelines with ease. Instead of engaging in black hat SEO, you can experiment with some grey-hat SEO tactics, which basically sit in between white hat and black hat tactics. Grey-hat SEO practices aren’t entirely risk-free, but they aren’t explicitly prohibited by Google and other search engines either. As long as you use them with caution, they can be of value.

Why Do People Use Black Hat SEO Despite the Risks?

People use black hat SEO strategies to reach their ranking goals faster. That’s not to mention that black hat SEO is less expensive to implement than white hat SEO. That being said, most of those who use black hat SEO aren’t trying to build a long-lasting business. Instead, black hat SEO is only good for achieving short-term goals.

Can You Report Competitors Who Use Black Hat SEO?

Yes, you can report black hat SEO by filing out a webspam report. Note, however, that this has to be done with discretion, as false spam reports won’t be viewed in a positive light. Another instance in which you can report black hat SEO is if your website has been attacked by a negative SEO campaign (spammy links), virus, malware, or any other sort of malicious hack. If what you’re dealing with is a negative SEO campaign, you can go about fixing the issue by using the Disavow Links tool to get rid of the spammy links that are pointing to your website.

Final Thoughts

So, what is black hat SEO? It describes any illegal or unethical practices employed in an attempt to boost a website’s rank in SERPs. These activities run afoul of both search guidelines and best practices for online marketing, so it’s important to consider the consequences. Not only could you get penalized by Google for black hat practices, but you could also damage your reputation and lose potential customers.

Avoid black hat SEO and play it safe with white hat tactics, like high-quality link building and content that satisfies search intent, to help you build a strong online presence in the long run.