We have all heard it, read it or saw it on the news before as it relates to search engine optimization, “you should not practice ‘Black Hat’ SEO”.  But what exactly is Black hat SEO and how can I make sure I avoid those tactics in my SEO program? 

Black Hat SEO is defined as:  Any practice employed by a web site owner (web master) to knowingly deceive the search engines and the search engine users to increase traffic to a particular web site.  These practices vary in difficulty level and scalability, however, they all are frowned upon so badly by the search engines that if you get caught, you run the risk of your web site being penalized or banned from the search engine indexes altogether.  How does Google decide what penalty to assess?  No one but Google really knows the answer to that, however, Google has been very public about the action they will take with any web site that employs these techniques.


The bottom line is that some people are so desperate for page views that they will attempt anything to try and increase that number.  The problem is for the average small business owner (or any business owner for that matter),  the risk is just not worth the reward.  For professional black hat SEO’s and businesses that make a living solely off of spam web sites, the risk is worth the reward because they expect to get caught!  That’s right, they plan on getting caught and have back-up sites going up all the time.  So if they lose one or more web sites a month, their revenue stream is not affected by it.  But for the small business owner who is relying only on one web site for revenue, the risk is so high and so great that if they lost that site (got banned from Google, Yahoo and Bing) they would probably have to close their business, the risk is definitely not worth it.  Here are some basic ‘black hat’ techniques and a brief description of what each one is so you can avoid them.

#1 – Cloaking:  Cloaking is the practice of designing a web site so that the search engines see one thing and the visitors to the site see something else.  This is one of the most common spammer tricks and is HIGH on the list for Google to handle in an extreme way and by that, I mean banning the domain and removing it from the search engine index completely.

#2 – Duplicate Content:  Google has recently (early and mid parts of 2011) rolled out two large algorithm updates (Google Panda Update, read more here Google’s Panda Algorithm Update: How Did It Affect Your Site?).  These algorithm updates are designed to find and penalize web sites that either scrape (steal) good content from other web sites and publish it as their own or web sites that purposely publish duplicate content in an effort to gain search engine rankings.  Bottom line, you should avoid duplicate content at all costs.

#3 – Automation of Content Creation:  Yes, you can buy, download or subscribe to content generators or “spinners”, however, this is in direct violation of the Google Webmaster Guidelines (webmaster guidelines).   And believe me when I say, that Google is pretty good at finding and rooting out auto generated content.  Write your own, unique and original content.  You will be much better off from an SEO standpoint and you will gain more respect and admiration from your followers, readers and professional community for the niche you are working in.

#4 – Keyword Meta Tag:  Google has placed less and less importance over the years on this meta tag.  In fact, some would argue they have completely devalued this factor for SEO.  I am of the opinion that they still assign some weight (however small) to this meta tag and it can certainly do no harm.  Or can it?  If you choose to use this meta tag, please be sure to avoid the following:  keyword stuffing (repeating the same keyword over and over), false keywords (listing keywords that are not relevant to your site content) and finally avoid using competitors trademarked content in you keyword meta tags.

#5 – Automated Submissions:  Just like automated content creation, Google does not like to see automated article or directory submission on behalf of your domain.

#5.5 – Automated Submissions UPDATE: More than just automated directory submissions, you should now avoid ALL automated submissions for the purpose of link-building.  This includes (but is not limited too): Social Book Marking sites, Directories, Web 2.0 Properties, Blog Networks, Blog Commenting, Forum Commenting, Forum Profile Signature links, social profile creations, classified ads, Blog carnivals, press release submissions and of course article creation and spinning.

#6 – Doorway or Gateway Pages:  These are pages that are designed to look like one thing to Google and users but actually take you somewhere else.  For example, a doorway pages might be designed to look like bicycle, bicycle race, bicycle club and then take you to the “Tour De France” website.  These are big no-no’s with Google.  Again, just like cloaking, no one likes to be tricked and seeing and clicking on search results thinking you are going to one place and then ending up somewhere else….well kick my butt, but that sounds like SPAM to me ! ! !  So it stands to reason the search engines would be looking for and fighting hard to eliminate those sites.

#7 – Distributing Malware, Viruses, Trojans or Worms:  It should go without saying; however, if your site distributes any of these and gets caught it will be removed permanently from the search engine indexes.  Be sure that you check any software from another party that you agree to distribute very carefully.  Also make sure your domain is secure.  Hackers have been known to break into a domain and distribute bad software from other sites (Yikes), so make sure your domain is secure.

#8 – Title Stacking:  Google really only recognizes one <title> tag per page.  So this one is kind of old school, but if you get flagged for too many <title> tags you will be penalized.  It’s best to keep your site design clean and list only one title tag per page.  Title tags should be about 65 characters in length and should be an accurate description of your content.

#9 – Hidden Text:  Hidden text is most often accomplished by layering text on top of other text.  This is accomplished by changing the color of the bottom text to match the background and therefore effectively hiding it from site visitors, but still making it visible to the search engine spiders, thus giving more keyword opportunity and content as far as the search engines are concerned.  Again, this is in direct violation of the Google Web Master Guidelines (see #3 above for the link) and penalties for violators can be severe.

#10 – Link Exchanges and Links from Bad Neighborhoods:  Let’s face it, sometimes you are judged by who your friends are.  If you have a friend who has linked to you, be sure before you link back to them that they are going to be good for you to link to.  Linking to spam sites, porn sites, hacker sites, etc…is never a good thing (unless you are involved in those industries).  You should be looking for linking partners that are part of your niche and that can add value to your web site content and you to theirs.  Also – buying links, link exchange programs, email link exchange requests…should all be looked at extremely closely and scrutinized by the web site owner.  All of these activities are frowned upon by Google and if caught, the penalty could be devastating to your web site.

#10.5 – Building Links Just for SEO – UPDATE:  2013 saw some MAJOR changes in the search engines and their approach to dealing with websites that are link building just for SEO.  Bottom line is you should only be building links that make sense for your web site, add value to your content and that are 100% earned and industry related.  Anything else will most likely be seen as spammy and an unnatural link by Google.

Well, there you have it.  Click-finders top ten of SEO Don’t s.  We hope you enjoyed the list and by all means, feel free to add additional items that people may want to avoid in the comments section!

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  1. Chris Heck

    Great share Mike!

    Can you talk a bit more about Gateway or Doorway Pages? I read that and the first thing I think about is our landing page for social media and email campagnes. Is there a difference between landing pages and the doorway pages you mention here…or are we in trouble?

    • Hi Chris…thanks for reading and the question!

      Short answer…Landing pages are OKAY because they typically have to do with the product or service being offered on the main site and they are typically hosted on the same domain. Doorway pages are typically hosted off the original domain and usually lead you somewhere that had nothing to do with your original search query.

      Hope this help….


  2. Thanks for the great article. I will link it on my site as I think it explains Black Hat Techniques very well and understandable for non-techies.

  3. Hi Jarimbi!

    Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment. And we <3 links back to us ALWAYS ! ! !

  4. Del Putnam

    Great article! With respect to #9, Hidden Text, would text that is indented off a page in order to replace it with an image considered “hidden” as well?

  5. Hi Del…great question!

    In my opinion Google would probably put this in the “GRAY” area of hidden text, as long as it was only a one time instance on the page. By definition it would be considered hidden text because you are not allowing your visitors to see it, however, you are allowing the search engines to index it. If you did it more than once, I’m sure Google would suggest that you use the tag and fill your text in there for the image.

    Thanks for reading and the GREAT question! I hoped my answer helped…

  6. justin

    Hey Mike, nice post.

    I’m wondering though if you have any proof to backup your claim of #5.

    I see no problem with utilizing my time better by using automated article submission. If I am submitting quality articles, I see absolutely no problem with utilizing the power of computers to save my time, at all.

    It also makes no difference if I myself would have submitted the articles by hand or used a software.

    So in your opinion, why is working smarter in that sense, “bad”?


  7. Hi Justin – No offense meant at all. I was simply stating that if you sacarifce quality in any way for automation your efforts will suffer. I have yet to see an automated program that provides the quality of manually generated submissions or articles. But thats just me. If you have found one that you believe generates the same high quality work as an actual human…by all means, go for it!

    Working smarter is not always working faster.


    Hey mike, thanks for the reply.

    I apologize if I appeared rude in my comment and I totally agree with your reply. Using crap generated articles is not the way to go, however it appeared you had it out for the automation sense which I disagree with strongly.

    Most spammers give it a bad name, but if you use the software to submit quality articles and not rewritten spun crap, you’re doing yourself a favor by not handling all the grunt work after the initial creative writing spree.

    Thanks and, nice blog! You’ve got a new reader : )

    • No need to apologize! I totally dig spirited and professional conversation about our craft and your comments were BOTH spirited and professional.

      Thanks for your AWESOME input and readership!

  9. Great article. I can’t tell you how many times I have to explain to my clients how bad hidden text is and how important manual submissions are. I will be relying on this article for backup!

    • Hi Jeanne…thanks for the comment and the kind words! Feel fee to use this for backup anytime!

  10. Hi Mike,

    Great list and some excellent points.

    We’ve also found that Google place a deal of emphasis on your webserver for your site. For instance if you happen to share an IP with a site that displays some of the above you will get penalised (if it’s your fault or not).

    So in other words be wary of cheap or free hosting if you want a decent SEO rank. Spend some money and be a decent ‘Internet Neighbour’ 🙂


  11. Des

    Hi Mike,

    I have been subscribed to your blog for a few months and always feel like I’m opening a present when I get notified of new posts! Another great post that I am thrilled to share and link to; the icing on the cake is that the time spent reading your post was highly enjoyable.

    Thank you and keep these great posts coming!

  12. @DES – Thanks Des! Thanks a heck of a compliment!

  13. SEO Boston

    This is a excellent site. If you would like to learn far more about Search Engine Optimization or stay up to date on Google information check out optumusanalytics

  14. Not sure if it’s considered a SEO tactic or strategy, but many SEO’rs create secondary domains and it’s killing alot of businesses! I wrote a blog post that gives the pros and cons.


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