The world of SEO used to be incredibly murky. Dodgy companies could help the worst websites hit the top of Google’s search results using shady tactics known as the SEO black hat techniques.
Over time, however, Google got wise to to these practices, and turned the tables – heavily punishing those who had been exploiting the system.
As the name would suggest, these “black hat SEO techniques” violate the search engine’s terms of service, and have the aim of artificially boosting a website’s search ranking.
Marketeers and website owners first started using them as a quick and easy way to boost website’s ranking at the time when search engine algorithms were more simple and consequences for implementing those practices weren’t as damaging for the website.
But nowadays, algorithms have become much more sophisticated, especially Google’s. So while you can still use black hat practices and get a short term rank boost, Google will eventually catch up with you and push you down the search rankings, penalising you and marking your content as spam. It can then be impossible to regain your reputation as a trustworthy website.
Despite the long-term damage, there are still some SEO agencies and copywriters that are offering black hat techniques as services to help you with SEO, without explaining the likely consequences. So to help you avoid those unethical agencies and practices, here are some of the most common SEO black hat techniques to be aware of.
SEO Black Hat Techniques
Keyword stuffing is when you fill content with unnecessary keywords as a way to manipulate the algorithm to rank your page for the certain search term.
This used to work well, and created some horrible, unnatural content.
Nowadays just putting keywords where they make no sense or create no value, will have the opposite effect.
It sounds unnatural, spammy, and just overall wrong – just take a look at this example: a London-based hotel wants to rank on the first page for the keyword “best hotel to stay in London”. The keywords stuffing would look like something like this:
“We are located in the city centre and we are the best hotel to stay in London. All our guests have said we are the best hotel to stay in London. If you are searching for the best hotel to stay in London, look no further…”
As you can see, it’s easy for a reader to recognise it, and it’s equally easy for Google’s algorithm to recognise as well. So please, don’t implement this practice, it’s not worth it.
Related article: Top five SEO copywriting tips for hotels
Low quality content
Next on the list is the low quality content. Any content that is directly copy-pasted from another website is considered to be low quality by search engine standards.
For example, let’s say that a London-based hotel called X has on its blog an article about the top ten things to do in London. Another London-based hotel called Y saw the article, and copy-pasted it from start to finish and published it on its blog, with the same headline, without citing hotel X as a resource.
This unethical replicating of content from another website is marked as a low quality by search engines. The worst part is that it’s not only penalising you but the website you “stole” the copy from. So you are damaging not only yourself, but others as well.
This doesn’t mean you can’t write the content on the same topics as others from your niche, but the right and correct way here would be the following:
Hotel X published the blog article with the headline “Top ten things to do in London”. Let’s say Hotel Y wants to write about the same topic, so it writes the article with the headline “The ultimate list of must-dos in London”. Hotel Y includes some of the things from the hotel’s X article, but uses the correct citing and links the hotel’s X article as a resource.
Related article: Content Marketing for Travel Businesses – how to plan content
Bait and switch
Bait and switch is when a website creates a content to rank for one specific keyword, then when it starts ranking high for that keyword it switches the content to something else.
So let’s say a hotel based in Berlin is creating content that will rank it for a search term “hotels in London”. Once it gets ranked on the first page for that keyword, it replaces the content for something else that is relevant to its offer but irrelevant to the targeted keyword. So in our example, that would look like this – somebody searches for “hotels in London” and clicks the misleading link of hotel in Berlin, they get the offer for stays in Berlin, which is completely irrelevant to the search.
This practice might drive website traffic but it creates a bad experience for Google’s users, as they are not getting the information they are searching for. And the visitors you will get using this practice are not leads because they are not interested in your offer – you basically tricked them to come onto your website – so they will hit the back button straight away, which also damages your SEO ranking.
In my previous article, “SEO tips”, I talked about backlinks and why are they important for SEO. To quickly sum it up, a backlink when another website mentions you in their content and links back to your website. For example, if someone mentions a blog you wrote in their article, or if you have partners then might be in their partner’s section, special deals and so on.
There are many good ways to build good backlinks, and I encourage you to give my previous article a read if you haven’t already where you can learn more about it.
The downside of backlinks, however, is that you need a lot of solid backlinks for them to start impacting your ranking, and consequently, it takes a lot of time for that.
So some marketeers saw that as a business opportunity and started offering building backlinks for websites as a service.
While I do not want to discredit agencies and SEO marketeers who are doing this service in a proper way, I do want to make sure you can recognise what type of backlinks building strategy to avoid – which is “pay to play”.
If someone is requesting you to pay to have a link published on a certain website, that’s a red light and you should deny any offer of that kind.
Paid links are usually placed on websites that are irrelevant for your hotel, low quality and give no benefit to your ranking at all.
So even though your website might not get Google penalties, your budget will suffer for something that isn’t helping you with anything. And there are so many other ways you can invest that money to get actual results.
Link farms and private blog networks
Private blog networks and links farms are similar practice to paid links, but a step further.
Link farms are websites that marketeers use only for link building purposes. They link to website or websites they want to boost in ranking.
The problem with link farms is they have low-quality content and are very obviously full of links. These kinds of websites don’t have any authority, and having backlinks from them can only harm your ranking.
In addition, links on these websites also often contain search terms they want to boost the site’s rank for, so it is really easy for Google to spot link farms, which is another reason why you should avoid them.
A private blog network is very similar to link farms – it’s a website that has been created only for link building. But the main difference is that private blog networks have a certain level of authority. Here’s how marketeers create them – they buy an expired domain that had a high authority previously.
They will recreate content similar to what was on the website before and place links to the website(s) they want to increase search rank.
By building authority to fake websites and placing you backlinks there, they are manipulating the algorithm to put you higher on the search ladder.
In the past, marketeers could get away with this and get results because search engines were not sophisticated enough to discover private blog networks that easily. But that has changed, and nowadays search engines are giving harsh penalties if they catch you violating terms of services this way.
Blog comment spam
This one is pretty much self-explanatory: it’s a practice of putting a link to your website’s page in the comments section of blog articles. You have probably seen many examples of this – imagine you are reading an article about a food guide in Italy, and below you read comments on how to get a discount on flights to Australia.
Fortunately, this practice is less frequent now than before because the comments section has become better at anti-spam protection. Very often links in the comments are un-clickable by default, or they first need to get approval from the website owner/moderator, so it’s easy to prevent having comment spam on your articles.
I do encourage you to comment on articles closely-related to your industry, as that can help you with building community and authority. But don’t use comments as a way to self-promote yourself and have a one-way communication – the only thing this can get you is your comment flagged as spam.
Need help with hotel copywriting?
Stay safe and healthy,
Until next time