The Black and White of SEO

by Geoffrey Hoesch — Apr 25, 2007

As with any other business practice, Search Engine Optimization can be performed within or without the boundaries of accepted business ethics. White hat SEO is optimization that follows the guidelines set forth by search engines. Black hat SEO intentionally undermines these guidelines.

White hat SEO includes:

  • Increasing keyword density within text in a relatively natural manner
  • Designing keyword friendly Titles, Meta Tags, Meta Descriptions, Headers, and Alt text for your site
  • Natural linking between your site and similar sites
  • Developing new, link-friendly content for your site

There are definite advantages to cutting corners and utilizing black hat SEO, mainly that your page will increase dramatically in Search Engine Results Page (SERP) rank within a relatively brief amount of time. However, search engines (Google, Yahoo!, MSN, etc.) are constantly updating their algorithms to detect and penalize black hat SEO.

Formerly, it was common practice in black hat SEO to create hidden text within web pages. This text increased keyword density without creating phony sounding text. For instance, if I wanted to increase my keyword density for copywriting I could simply insert the following line at the bottom of my text:

copywriting copywriting copywriting copywriting copywriting copywriting copywriting

Then I could change the text font color to white and “presto” the text disappears — my keyword density for copywriting increases but my visible text remains the same.

Fortunately, this basic black hat practice is no longer viable, as search engines have developed methods to detect 'keyword spam' and same-color text. Websites with such black hat tactics are not only recognized by the search engines as black hat sites, but are penalized and often completely removed from SERPs. If this happens to your page, it can take months or years to regain your ranking.

Most current black hat SEO takes place on the design or programming side of website development. These tactics include:

  • Cloaking — Showing a different page to search engines than to site visitors
  • Duplicating content — creating numerous copies of web pages in order to increase page rank
  • Link Farming — Buying into 'link farms', sites with no other intention than to increase your links unnaturally
  • Pagejacking — Copying and pasting text from other websites and using it as your own

Is Black Hat SEO Illegal? No. There are no 'laws' regulating the utilization of black hat SEO; however, the internet's closest equivalent to the judicial branch, Search Engines, are constantly developing methods to detect and penalize sites that utilize underhanded SEO tactics.

Why is Black Hat Ethically Wrong? According to the Search Engines, black hat SEO is immoral because it intentionally manipulates a system designed to promote quality websites. Search Engine algorithms are developed in a manner that sites most beneficial to consumers are ranked highest on SERP. Exploitation of this system undermines not only the practice of good business but also the belief in a consumer-driven economy.

Is Black Hat SEO worth the Risk? In my mind, no. You may get away with it and it will be very lucrative for you to quickly climb the SERPs. However, keep in mind that competitors and Search Engines are extremely suspicious of quick-climbing websites. If your site is found to have black hat SEO, it will be severely penalized by if not completely removed from the search engine.

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