“Good SEO work only gets better over time. It’s only search engine tricks that need to keep changing when the ranking algorithms change.” – Jill Whalen, SEO consultant, speaker, and writer
It’s no secret that link building is one of the single most critical skills in the entire SEO discipline. Learning the process of successfully building fruitful links across the web is the culmination of a variety of abilities: Content mastery, networking, sales, digital marketing, psychology, and more.
Even if this sounds like a challenge, link building is a must for generating increased traffic.
Because of the hardships associated with link building, many marketers opt to partake in what’s know as black hat tactics.
Before we explore what some of the most prevalent black hat link building schemes are, let’s take a moment to examine what black hat link building is in general.
Defining Black Hat Link Building
The term “black hat” refers to the dynamic of old western movies where the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black.
Following this logic, black hat link building is the process of building links with the sole intent of duping Google’s algorithms for higher rankings for certain phrases.
These links are often spammy and are housed on pages that are clearly not optimized for the users; they exist strictly to leverage the clout of the link to help the page rank.
Black hat link building goes against the rules that Google has established. This means that operating outside of Google’s guidelines can easily get your site penalized, demoted, or outright banned from the SERPs. The punishment depends on the infraction, but they are all undesirable for those looking to build a long-term online existence.
With that basic understanding of what we’re talking about, let’s explore common black hat link building tactics that will land you on the wrong side of Google.
6 Types of SEO-Harming Black Hat Links
As the very essence of black hat SEO revolves around finding new ways to “game the system,” there are a variety of unsavory link building tactics that can get your site penalized by the Google Gods:
1. Blog Comments
Black hat blog comments are most typically created in mass and point to spun content. The comments tend to add zero value to the overall conversation and are often posted on sites that have no moderators. This is usually easy to spot as there are often scores of other spammy comments found here as well.
2. Wiki Links
Several years ago, a popular black hat link building tactic was to employ software that would create pages on wiki sites with links pointing to your webpage.
In typical fashion, the pages created by these platforms were often low quality and not maintained by anyone, meaning that it merely consisted of spun content that would quickly be flagged by Google.
Bookmarks are considered links on websites like Reddit or Stumbleupon that enable people to post a link alongside a short description. While there is nothing wrong with this in general, black hat marketers utilized digital tools (like those described above) to generate massive amounts of bookmarks to be published on all manner of bookmarking sites; not just the reputable ones.
Because of the nature of the sites these bookmarks were posted on, site owners typically ended up paying the price.
4. Purchased Links
In the black hat heyday (and today still, though to a lesser degree) there are scads of sites dedicated to selling links on sites based on their PageRank score. Many of these sites operated in an auction format, with the best quality links going to the highest bidder.
These days, Google has become exceptionally well-versed in identifying and devaluing bought links.
If you are buying a link on a site today, ensure it has a “nofollow” meta tag to inform Google you are not attempting to increase your rankings through this method.
5. Forum Profile Links
This method leverages software to create various fake accounts across a myriad of forum sites and places links to the user’s website within the profile description.
These accounts were an extremely easy and effective way to generate thousands of backlinks. Today, however, Google rarely indexes these types of links and has established a method for depreciating their value to where this is a relatively fruitless pursuit.
6. “Web 2.0” Profile Links
While the term “Web 2.0” is antiquated at this point, it is still widely used when referring to gray and black hat link building communities.
This phrase is used to characterize sites that enable users to create new pages with unique URLs.
This is essentially the same tactic leveraged in forum profile link building, only using more reputable destinations.
While there isn’t anything wrong with doing this naturally, when hundreds or thousands of fake accounts are created for building links, Google tends to take notice.
The Consequences of Black Hat Link Building
If your brand is found guilty of violating Google’s webmaster guidelines, you are likely to be served a penalty from the search giant; the seriousness of the transgression will end up dictating the severity of the punishment. These penalties could last for a few weeks, a few months, or until the issue has been rectified.
There have been many high-profile instances of this happening.
In 2011, JC Penny was found to have purchased many links targeting certain keywords. As a result, the company had to utilize its resources to take down an untold number of the bought links; it took the retailer several months before they started to recover from the wrath that Google unleashed.
This is important to keep in mind because in the worst-case scenarios, your site could even end up getting banned from Google’s search engine for life.
In the end, black hat link building methods are generally not worth it. The risk far outweighs the reward; especially if you are trying to build a legitimate, long-term online business.
If you are trying to build a reputable brand, stick to today’s link building best practices and keep refining your content and networking skills.
Do you think black hat tactics can be useful for legitimate businesses?