It sounds like something straight out of a Tom Clancy novel. “What is black hat SEO,” you say? In this article, I answer that question as well as other important ones like: What is the intent of black hat SEO? What are some black hat SEO techniques? Is black hat SEO illegal and what are the potential consequences using black hat SEO?

Not a lot of time? Skip to what you’re most interested in covering:

What is Black Hat SEO?

What is the Intent of Black Hat SEO?

What Are Some Black Hat SEO Techniques?

Is Black Hat SEO Illegal?

What Are the Consequences of Using Black Hat SEO?

What is Black Hat SEO?

Black hat SEO is the leveraging of knowledge about how search engines work to unfairly game a search engine’s algorithm. Tactics utilized with black hat SEO strategies are against the content policies of search engines but are designed to circumvent these policies in an effort to gain search rank through manipulative methods.

What is the Intent of Black Hat SEO?

Black Hat SEO Techniques

It’s no secret that companies wish to rank on the first page of Google and Bing. It’s also no secret that the higher a page is ranked on page one, the more likely someone (aka prospective customers) will choose to click on their content.

According to, content occupying the #1 position on a SERP (search engine rank page) gobbles up nearly 30% of click-throughs! The #2 and #3 positions take another 15%, each.

There are three types of SEO marketers in the world, but we are only going to really discuss two of them: Black Hat SEO Marketers and White Hat SEO Marketers. There is a third type known as a Gray Hat SEO Marketer, but really that’s just an individual who is willing to blur the lines of following search engine rules by using Black Hat techniques in a more creative and less blatant way (so they are more like Black Hat Light).

The intent of gaming the system through black hat methods is purely for the purpose of ranking higher and allowing your content (or a customer’s content if you’re an agency) to be seen before that of a competitor’s. But why go to such great lengths to get content seen if it is against the rules? Why not just follow the rules and get content to rank the correct way?

There are typically two possible answers to the previous questions:

  1. The person uploading content doesn’t understand how to optimize content in a white hat manner, or
  2. The person uploading content doesn’t have enough time to generate results organically (and within the rules)

The second scenario is usually the case when a supervisor (or client) doesn’t understand the time that is required to implement a strong SEO strategy that will lead to continuous organic traffic (free of search engine penalties). The result is marketers choosing to take shortcuts in an effort to produce quick results, ultimately exposing them to potential penalties.

What Are Some Black Hat SEO Techniques?

So, if you’re looking for some black hat SEO shortcuts, then the list below is a great place to start. You can also use this list to help spot the warning signs of a black hat SEO marketer if you’re a company in the market to employ a marketing agency to do the job for you. By educating yourself on these techniques, you can protect yourself from having a website-wide penalty or being held hostage by a marketing agency.

5 Most Popular Black Hat SEO Techniques

  • PBN (Private Blog Network) – this takes some time to create but is an effective way for marketers to quickly game the system. If done well, it can be very difficult for search engines to detect them; but that doesn’t mean you can’t detect them.

PBN’s are a series of websites created by an individual or agency for the sheer purpose of building links for a primary website. Many marketing agencies use this technique because they are able to build domain authority and rank power quickly. Since backlinks are still an important Google ranking factor, results can be seen much faster than acquiring viewers and links organically.

Technically, this strategy is a “link farm,” and if caught, can result in a dramatic penalty by search engines (manually or automated).

You can check to see if a marketing company is using a link farm by running a link audit with tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush. From there, you can check a website’s WHOIS information. If the website appears to be owned by the same individual, then they’re most likely engaging in shady practices that could force you to pay a heavy ranking price.

If you’re considering building a PBN, make sure you take the time to use different hosting companies, different themes, and different content to create your individual pages. Otherwise, you’ll likely get caught by Google and your website will suffer. The time, energy, and cost associated with this kind of endeavor are often prohibitive (if done correctly) because you’re essentially creating functioning, quality websites for the sole purpose of promoting another site.

The reason it’s important to stay away from marketing agencies who use this tactic is that they can hold your company hostage. I have met business leaders who switch marketing agencies like they are yesterday’s fashion. If you hire a company for SEO and their results are driven by their PBN, when you decide to no longer do business with them, they’ll take their toys – I mean links, with them. The fallout is your website taking a dramatic dip in where it ranks.

  • Keyword Stuffing – this is a very popular method for SEO novices and marketing agencies alike but much easier to detect. Keyword stuffing is exactly what it sounds like. For instance, if I wanted my content to be ranked on page one for the term, “best marketing agencies in Atlanta,” I might make sure that every paragraph includes the phrase “best marketing agencies in Atlanta.” I might go even further and make sure that all my headers (H1-H6) include some form of that word, as well.

This was a very popular tactic in the late ’90s to early ’00s because that’s how search engines worked. Since that time, Google, Bing, and others have become much more sophisticated. Search engines put greater emphasis on quality over quantity and there are certain metrics that help them determine if the content is of quality.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Some of this is okay. The key is to monitor the percentage a particular keyword makes up of your overall content on a single page. Anything above 2% might signal a red flag. That doesn’t mean content can’t do very well if it’s higher than that, but metrics like dwell time and bounce rate become more important when keyword stuffing is suspected.

The reason why so many websites are penalized for keyword stuffing is that their content doesn’t create any value for its audience. Remember, people are looking for your company to solve a problem for them, not to see how many times you can force the same phrase into 700 words.

  • Hidden Text – this technique is a variation on keyword stuffing. Marketers realized that they were getting a boost in rankings but no one was converting. This is because their content wasn’t any good. They had spent so much time and effort keyword stuffing that they forgot to actually market their product or service.

So, how did they get around this?

Hidden text allows websites to keyword stuff without the side effect of poorly written content. It’s a bit harder to detect but you can typically find hidden text on a website by holding down your mouse and dragging the cursor over the entirety of a website page. The hidden text will be the color of the background. You can practice on this paragraph to see what I mean…

Hidden Text Example (drag your cursor to the left of this)

  • Cloaking – no, this isn’t something out of a Star Trek movie. Cloaking could just as easily be described as camouflage because it describes a website that looks like one thing to Google, but something else to a human. To Google it may look like a helpful article on how to make the most of your unwanted knickknacks. To the user, it’s really an eBay rip-off trying to get you to buy and sell junk you don’t want or need.

This is easy for a human to spot (you can tell you’re a cloaking victim if you click on a headline within a search page but land on a site that seems distantly or completely unrelated), but it can be harder for a search engine to spot. Most penalties of this kind are assessed manually. If you think you’re a cloaking victim, simply report it to Google.

  • Mirror Content – this is just a fancy way of saying “duplicate material.” Time is money, and unfortunately, some digital marketing agencies employ shortcuts to meet quotas and agreements that are beyond what their infrastructure (number of employees) can handle.

That’s right, some companies are paying marketing agencies considerable amounts of money and trusting that they are creating original content. Now, this doesn’t have to always equal plagiarism. Often, this is strong content that has entire sections (sometimes verbatim) used on multiple pages or with multiple clients.

Why is this a bad thing? If it’s good, then it’s good, right?

Search engines only care about promoting new content. Anyone can write an article but the first page, and more importantly, the top three spots are coveted and valuable digital real estate. That means that the awesome original article will certainly rank if it’s proving to be valuable to readers, but all of the copycats aren’t going to see the light of day.

You can protect yourself from mirror content by copying your blog material and placing it in a search bar or you can use this helpful tool called Copyscape. This will give the most complete results (though there is a fee to complete a premium search). This is ideal if you are producing a lot of content.

You can also input your copy in the Google Alerts feature to do a search, as well.

Is Black Hat SEO Illegal?


Black hat SEO isn’t illegal by any government standards, though I suppose a good lawyer could find a class action lawsuit in there for a website that uses certain techniques to falsely attract customers.

It is illegal by search engine standards. What this means is that if you get caught, your website is going away for a long time until you clean up your act. So, what do you do if you’ve been caught participating in black hat SEO techniques?

  1. Clean up your site. Remove all paid links or spammy links (this means disavowing or asking a for a no-follow to websites that are linking to you via chat forum or have nothing related to your content).
  2. Request an audit. Once the infractions have been fixed, you can request an audit by the penalizing search engine, and if you did everything correctly, you should be released from internet jail.

It is possible to receive a penalty without knowingly participating in black hat SEO. If you think your site has dipped in rank due to a manual penalty – if on Google – go to your Google Search Console and look under Security & Manual Actions (in the version for 2019). It will list any manual actions taken against your site and state its reasoning.

What Are the Consequences of Using Black Hat SEO?

Throughout this article, I’ve listed potential consequences for any of the black hat techniques listed above as well as what can happen if you get caught. If you decided to skip to this section, I’ll recap for you.

An unintended but frequent consequence of black hat SEO is that your website and its copy come off looking amateur. Copy begins to look very boring when you’ve repeated the same keyword over and over again. More than likely, you’ll see a rankings drop without a search engine intervening because people will bounce from your site after being beaten to death by your favorite searchable phrase.

But the main consequence of leveraging these practices is a potential and costly drop in ranking. As great as it can to reach the summit, it’s incredibly sad and lonely when you fall off. Imagine being a business that sells clothing online, or takes orders through their website, or receives most of its inbound leads through a form online.

A drop can bring all of that to a halt long enough to create real havoc on your bottom line.

In the long run, it isn’t worth the risk and white hat SEO techniques are simply SEO best practices. They do take longer to see results, but the results also last much longer if your strategy is on a solid foundation. Our company is a fan of white house techniques to build online visibility. The results are stronger and knowing that you’ve accomplished your ranking the correct way will give you the peace-of-mind to continue growing your business without fear of search engine repercussions.

Interested in learning more about SEO and how to leverage it for your organization?