I asked some of the top SEOs and internet marketers out there about the effectiveness of black hat seo, more specifically 2 questions:
1. What black/grey hat SEO techniques have you used past and present?
2. Are you still having the same success with these techniques and what is working best right now?
Here is what they had to say:
Josh Bachynski – themoralconcept.net
1. What black/grey hat SEO techniques have you used past and present?
All of them An SEO cannot consider themselves an expert, nor can they satisfactorily service a variety of customers, unless they know how the “other side” ranks sites.
2. Are you still having the same success with these techniques and what is working best right now?
The short answer is yes, of course
The longer answer is no.
Allow me to explain.
In principle the techniques never change: “exploit Google’s algorithms for the desired effect.” This is what we do. This is all anyone ever does. White hat or black hat, SEO or searcher. All we want to do is exploit Google to get the result we are looking for. Google (the search engine) is there to be exploited.
But the tactics, of course, have changed fairly dramatically.
Most of my business right now is in doing penalty recovery right now, which I am an expert at.
However, the tactics I use to to rank sites (and I do rank sites, dozens of them) has evolved to include other algorithms that are just as important, if not more important than links.
For more info you can see a very good and DETAILED example of my current 2015 tactics, and actual screenshots of sites I currently rank, in this free SEO course here.
So, 2010’s tactics (either “white hat” crappy content marketing or “black hat” link buying / placing) are not working as well – they cost more money, take more obfuscation, and take more time. This is exactly as Google (Matt Cutts) expressly dictated they wanted it to be.
And they have a much higher (and for most sites) too high a risk.
However 2015’s tactics are new, smooth, largely secret, dispersed, yet powerful and virtually risk free. They can be done organically, or manipulated. Likely a combination of both – depending upon your internal assets (do you have creative marketing skills or programming skills or manpower skills? Etc.)
You just have to know how This is what I teach.
Richard Adams – techtoucan.com
Generally speaking I’m more of a white-hat marketer; the results might take longer to appear but they tend to be longer lived. That said, I’m always carrying out some kind of experiment, and I certainly don’t omit “the black arts” from my experiments. In the past year I’ve spent a fair amount of time experimenting with blog networks and tiered ink building for some of my niche websites.
Right now though I have put a stop to all that action, even experimentally. Why? I believe that Google is getting ever better at identifying “black hat” SEO and so the risks outweigh rewards except in deliberate “churn and burn” attempts.
Towards the end of my experimenting I think that like a lot of people I was seeing less response from these techniques. In general, it seemed that PBN’s were generally requiring more and more links to be effective. On the flip side, they’re now risky from an SEO point of view and also increasingly expensive.
These days then I’m focusing far more on white hat SEO, and getting far greater results from it. I have to say; it’s also far more enjoyable in my opinion, has put me in touch with all sorts of fascinating people, and produces a better ROI than paying for all those blackhat links.
To be more specific, I’m focusing on classic “content marketing”; something that I’m tremendously positive about and is what I consider to be the “future” of SEO.
Should it be of interest I covered a few of the techniques that are working well for me in an article at: www.techtoucan.com/7-alternatives-pbns-60465
Largely though the philosophy is simply to create awesome content and then find ways to share this content with people who will be interested, whether this is through email outreach, social media, paid advertising etc.
Amanda Disilvestro – highervisibility.com
Using black or gray hat tactics is incredibly risky for your SEO (to say the least), so I absolutely avoid them. I can honestly say that for the past three or so years I have not used one black/ gray hat SEO technique. This is of course to my knowledge, but I keep a close eye on everything I do. Using these techniques can not only penalize you, but it can start to dig your website into a hole that will take a lot of time and resources to escape, so it’s absolutely not worth the risk for me.
1. In terms of tactics I may have used in the past, if I was using a black hat tactic it was because A). I had no idea at the time that it was a black hat tactic or B). the SEO community in general didn’t really know that Google would eventually make these practices so taboo.
For example, there was a time when I was freelance writing and I would try to write for a variety of websites even if they weren’t relevant just so I could get that link. I would write relevant content, but the link would be stretching it. I would never do that now, but way back when (probably about 4 years ago), it seemed like the right move. Hopefully those websites allowing that type of behavior are also getting the picture!
2. I think I answered this a little bit in number 1, but no, I would not get the same results today if I were using any black hat tactics.
The web is changing (for the better in my opinion), so you have to stay up on the news and change your techniques along with it. The techniques working best for me right now are building relationships with authoritative sites and becoming a regular contributor.
Matthew Barby – matthewbarby.com
I’ve used and currently use a load of different black hat and grey hat link building methods. The reason for this is to test out as many different things that could work as possible.
One of the main tactics would be the use of PBNs. In my experience, they’re one of the most effective single strategies to ranking quickly for any given search term. Similarly, I still focus a lot of link building around exact match anchor text because regardless of what many people say, it’s still the most effective method for ranking for a search term.
With any of these methods, you need to balance them out. Working solely with a PBN can end up leaving an unnatural footprint; this is even more relevant with exact match anchors, so you need to be using a multitude of techniques and methods in order to strike the right balance.
Yes, I’m still seeing good results with these methods, but like I mentioned, you need to strike the right balance. With any unnatural links, you’ll want to build up a threshold within your site’s link profile to enable you to get a little leeway from Google.
Also, spreading out the pages that you’re linking to is particularly important. If 99% of all your links hit your homepage then you may want to consider focusing your link building methods through to the deeper pages of your site. Of course, every project is different, but if you really want to know what works right now then you need to start testing yourself.
Carla Dawson – mobydigital.com
Currently I do not use any black hat techniques since the consequences are so severe and because philosophically I think Google is right about being so strict on links. In the past I did do heavy directory linking before it was actually classified as black hat because it worked and clients want results in the first 6 months.
I do a lot of PR (Public Relations) work to help accelerate mentions and inbound links. Publishing content is not enough, it is also about promoting this content.
Frankly no. Strict white hat SEO is a very long term process and 6 months is the bare minimum. When I did directory links, I was getting results in 2 months.
White hat SEO is so hard to implement because clients are impatient and 6 months is the maximum they are willing to wait yet it is the minimum you need to see some kind of result in terms of inbound links.
Links and anchor text still are very important and attracting them via white hat methods is not easy. It requires a very mature and patient client. I coach my clients on these issues before we start a project but about 4 months in I start to get complaints. Public Relations is key in any content marketing strategy nowadays.
Jacqueline Zenn – agencypost.com
Mostly automated tools which I believe fall more into the grey hat territory – not only do they help improve rankings, they make the entire SEO process more efficient so I can focus on writing creative content and coming up with new and unique marketing strategies. But really, would any black hat tell anyone about their really successful techniques? It’s like Fight Club – the first rule of black hat SEO is that you don’t tell anyone about it.
There’s always room in the industry for new tools that automate basic processes and best practices (and I still use many of the same ones), but in the nearly ten years I have been involved in the SEO realm, I’ve definitely seen a shift from what I think of as “left brain” techniques like placing keyword rich tags and getting listed in directories, etc. to more complex “right brain” techniques like creating shareable content and creative link-building techniques that are closer to digital PR outreach than traditional SEO.
You can follow Jacqueline Zenn here: jacquelinezenn.wordpress.com
Moosa Hemani – setalks.com
I am from a country where SEO is highly misunderstood, so in the beginning of my career (agency life) I used plenty of black/gray hat techniques and most of them actually worked for me and my clients. One of the techniques I still remember was buying a keyword rich domain and redirecting it to the relevant page. This is absolutely gray (if not black) hat technique but it was working very well in the pre-panda and penguin world.
Same Success, No! But if you play smart, I still believe that these kinds of techniques can still work. I personally believe that keyword match domains still have an advantage over the domain that only contain brand value.
If you find a keyword rich domain with a powerful back link profile (if you can invest time and resources on building a good link profile that would be awesome) 301 redirecting it to a targeted page can still work but make sure the domain itself is not spammy and does not have a history of penalization.
Also, do not over do this or it might hurt you. 2 to 3 domains redirecting to your main page make sense but 10 to 15 absolutely doesn’t make sense and will back fire you.
Gyi Tsakalakis – gyitsakalakis.com
Many years ago, we saw many cases where article spinning and reciprocal linking worked disproportionately well. Currently, we don’t do anything that I would characterize as “black hat.” I’d like to say that we don’t do anything “gray hat,” but gray tends to be the realm of subjectivity and perspective. After all, if you build a link with the intention of improving a page’s position, that could be seen as gray (or even black) by some folks.
No we do not use these techniques. Most of the sites that we’ve seen that employed these techniques have suffered in SERPs. However, there are instances where this stuff still works quite well. This is particularly true in the legal serpscape. What works best for us now is creating pages that people actually “like” and getting those pages in front of people who are ready, willing and able to further promote, discuss and link to them.
Michael Borgelt – 51blocks.com
Since I began in SEO over a decade ago, I’ve only used a few techniques that would be considered “grey” hat, even today, and never saw any “black” hat techniques utilized strategically, though I saw some of the aftermath of those efforts.
The idea of “grey” hat is a bit unfair since, things like exact matched keyword phrase integration across multiple pieces of content that would border on keyword stuffing today worked well and was regularly practiced by many optimizers.
Buying links on trusted sites was another common, though admittedly borderline, practice that got results overnight.
Link manipulation in general was considered a strategy and found in SEO plans for almost all industries. When JC Penny was caught with sophisticated link wheel microsite webs they created to feed the main domain link juice to create relevancy across 1000s of keywords, many websites with aggressive online marketing were doing similar activities, just to a lesser extent. I know my firm was.
In no time at all, link building became grey hat and then eventually black hat – at least the type of artificial link creation common 4+ years ago.
These techniques were openly discussed with clients and colleagues without shame. The group above only lost their usefulness when Google algorithm updates started weeding out manipulative behavior and the industry responded.
So to answer the second question, the above techniques haven’t lost their impact; a good back link is still as huge a victory today as it always was. Now, those techniques require more diligence and effort to make the same shift forward, but it’s still about what you have to say and who is listening.
Be prolific with content and your business’ reputation in your niche and branch out whenever possible with social and relevant online content contributions. Those techniques pay off every time in every industry.
As they always have.
Michael David – tastyplacement.com
When it comes to Black Hat Confessions, I always offer to go first. It’s important to be up front with yourself and clients about what techniques you use. I also think to be a well-rounded SEO in today’s environment, you need to have tried every technique, and getting burned through black hat is part of the learning process.
I always pitch clients on that idea: we have tried every technique and therefore we know what is detectable and what is not. I had a $400 a month Adsense site back in 2008 and I got it penalized by selling text links to a link builder.
I remember the anchor text like it was yesterday: “lawsuit funding”. We survived Penguin and Panda updates much better than most, but we did have some sites get burned.
At our consultancy, we’ve tried most of the “dark grey” techniques like bulk directory submissions, paid blog posts, article directory submissions, and we were super effective at scaling these efforts. A few years ago, these techniques worked very well.
We always stopped short of the truly black techniques like hidden links, doorway pages, and any form of hacking into sites. I don’t have any moral problem with black hat techniques, but the reality is that nearly all of the black hat techniques that worked in 2004 to 2008 simply don’t work any more. And once you know the pain of link cleanup–you’ll think twice before securing links in a black hat manner.
We still believe in focused directory submissions–but this means maybe 6 to 8 niche directories per website, and we believe in curated blog contributions and infographics.
Dennis Seymour – leapfroggr.com
I’ve tried almost everything but one thing I didn’t explore is hacking/injecting. I just felt it was a bit too much (ethics wise) to hack edu sites and spam the heck out of it just to get that instant ranking boost.
Public and private blog networks, link wheels, everything. Probably the most fun was when basic spamming worked. I could pump out a million links in a couple days back then.
I was mixing in white and black for campaigns in the past to balance things out. I’ve stopped doing black back in 2010. I’ve been doing white hat since. Nowadays, I do black/grey/automated stuff to test things or to experiment theories I have but I don’t use it on client and money sites.
To be honest? It’s a bit slower but a good number of them still work, until you go overboard.
You can’t do most of the tactics at a scale of how you did it before so it’s effectiveness is severely hindered. If you tip over, then you get hit with a page or domain penalty depending on how you abused it.
Linkwheels and tiering? They work. But do it smartly. Utilize domains, blog posts, guest posts etc. Utilize the techniques in a white hat mindset and it’s gold because if you look at how whitehats do it, it’s practically the same with different ways of link acquisition. It’s why I think blackhat plays a good part in an SEO’s education. The concepts are solid and you accelerate your learning by going through them and failing.
Some tactics though still work really well, like blog networks. Penguin didn’t kill them all. In fact, they’re more sly now. I’m not an advocate but I can see how a lot of competing sites succeed because they use them. Can’t blame these companies though. They work, until it gets tracked down, that is.
Dimitar Dimitrov – inbound.bg
When it comes to real deals and real businesses I’m totally against using black hat techniques because it is too risky for the business. It’s just not worth the efforts and the resources in the long run. Almost every single day I have to deal with incoming help requests from websites owner (fortunately not our customers) who got bitten by Penguin or Panda because they were too greedy or their SEO (freelancer or agency) wasn’t doing it right.
But YES, I do black-hat SEO with my own websites made only for controlled tests. On every 2-3 months I try something old and new in order to see how the algo is developing. For example in September I tried using sidebar sitewide links with our brand as anchor pointed to our own website (inbound.bg) from 4 of my own old sites – a blog with over 3000 pages, a local catalogue with about 800 pages and 2 more small niche sites with an average of 10 pages each. First week was a blast and over 80% of our average rankings jumped from pages 2-3 to first. But in the second week the expected fall started and our rankings dropped to pages 4-5. I’m still holding those sitewide links to our company site (phew, luckily I’m the owner ) and the automatic penalties are still active – there isn’t any manual penalty notice in GWT but it is clearly seen in the GWT data how the filters are affecting our rankings.
I remember few years ago how easy it was to cheat Google algos. All you have to do is get a nice domain, write several good pages, add few generic images and buy or gain links (no matter what or from where) like the world will end tomorrow. The only condition was to get those links with the exact match anchors. One week later your brand new site was on the top spots. From what I’m seeing today in the requests from penalized sites if you try this you’ll be dead pretty fast. Same will happen if you try keyword stuffing in your pages – fortunately this can be cured/fixed pretty fast.
Bill Sebald – greenlaneseo.com
For clients, I never do. But I like to learn all sides of SEO to understand what’s being done out there. I once had a few throw-away affiliate sites. I dabbled mostly in networks – blog, article, etc. Some comment stuff. Some Web 2.0 stuff. I didn’t really get into it heavy because by the time I found out how to do it, Google started their 2011 crackdowns.
I got a few play sites penalized or banned pretty good. It definitely worked pretty well while it lasted, but I hit the accelerator too hard (at the wrong time).
I’m sure I don’t know the current best tricks of the blackhat trade. I’m sure it still works to a powerful degree, but after I lost most of my inventory, I moved into other parts of SEO. Blackhat SEO is still interesting to me, so I’m curious to read your post. Those are some of the smartest SEOs in the business.
Dana Tan – danatanseo.com
I have never used black or grey hat techniques, ever. I’ve never had to to achieve real wins for clients. I provide value by uncovering hidden technical SEO problems on sites and fixing them. Sometimes this has to do with site architecture, sometimes it has to do with how Googlebot is crawling a site.
Sometimes it has to do with server admins or developers that are clueless about SEO and set things up poorly because they just don’t know any better. In all my 10 years as an SEO, I’ve only ever come across one site that didn’t have serious technical SEO issues holding it back.
Yes, absolutely everything I used to do, with the exception of certain Web directory submissions, still works today, and in some cases amazingly well.
Darin Pirkey – vzpro.com
Only black/gray hat I’ve done in the past is PBNs. I still use them sparingly but as a percentage of links it’s under 20%.
They still work well but they are more risky now. I’ve found outreach is more effective for link building but obviously takes more time. I hate the cliche but good content really works. I have legal clients that don’t link build actively but blog every day and we’ve started to see rankings without links from those blog posts.
Joshua Jacoby – myfavoritewebdesigns.com
I have, in the past, spun articles and other text using best spinner, but I stopped doing that, not worth the time to properly set up spyntax, you cannot trust outsourced labor for that job, and I have more productive things for my people to do anyway. I also once upon a time purchased whois type links, but of course would never do that now.
Really if you want to go so called grey hat I recommend multiple domain with targeted content and good link structures and relevancy. Do not grow your network too big, 3 or 4 domains, with each focusing on service in addition to a root level landing page on your site, which can then give or receive a link with all the other targeted content on your network depending on what content google deems to show in SERPs first.
I also find google plus and onsite optimization most productive, specifically keyword rich anchor text for internal links.
Bill Slawski – gofishdigital.com
There are so many opportunities to do things in creative and intelligent ways without having to turn to black/grey hat methods, that I just don’t use them. Learn how the search engines respond to different query types and how to incorporate the knowledge graph and schema into what you create and you’re poised for success.
I used to use blog networks back in the day, I don’t use any at the moment and don’t plan to.
We stopped because the risk was too high and we kept seeing people getting penalised. What works best for us right now is content creation and promotion with a bit of outreach link building.
Gabriel – seoroi.com
I’ve played with some link buying, and funny URL redirection schemes, as far as black/grayhat techniques. I haven’t done either directly in a while, but from what I’ve read of others experiences, they both still work. The bottom line is that you have to know what you’re doing, put in effort and not rush.
Blackhat or grayhat isn’t really a shortcut if you want your results to stick – which is, indeed possible with some of these tactics – it’s just a different approach that is often psychologically more pleasant (e.g. buy links rather than beg for them; generate content rather than slaving away for ages etc).
The reason it’s often shortlived is because people often do it half-baked, or they get very aggressive (i.e. go for super popular keywords) that draws attention and possibly spam reports or manual reviews.
Read Gabriel’s blog post about the principles on buying links properly here.
Samuel Scott – theclinegroup.com
I used black-hat SEO techniques many years ago in my first SEO job — even though I had no idea what I was really doing at the time. The company had me write blog posts stuffed with keyword phrases that would then be published on a third-party site with links to the company’s own website. Of course, the company owned that third-party website but had tried to hide that fact from Google as much as possible.
Today, I never use black- or gray-hat SEO methods. In fact, the more advanced that Google becomes, the more that I say that I just do marketing and publicity via digital channels. Because that is what will always work the best over the long term. Here’s how I summarize “SEO”: Build, promote, and publicize a website that delights its target audience. Everything else will fall into place.
The term “SEO” has become both too vague and too sullied to mean anything significant. I’m sure it’s why many companies and agencies are rebranding and dropping “SEO” from their names.
Here’s my two cents:
I’ve used both black and grey hat SEO techniques. If you’re a professional SEO, I dare say you’ve likely, no definitely— at some point or another— employed non-white hat tactics.
That said, I used to (2012-2013) write quite a bit of locally optimized copy for a large SEO company. They outsourced to me, with specific guidelines requiring grey hat on-page SEO tactics.
Not keyword stuffing— but a heavy density requirement, which made keeping copy natural-sounding difficult.
In addition, I’ve overused keyword-specific (exact match) naming in images, their alt tags and titles. With Google’s recent updates, I no longer attribute anything to an image’s alt tag, however.
I also used to be big on heavy keyword usage in title tags and slugs. Again, not the best practice today.
No, certainly not.
I used to be able to rank with general ease for three-word searches and long-tail searches using the above practices….
Today, with social media, email marketing, blog outreach, and don’t forget word-of-mouth; on on-page SEO isn’t at the top of my marketing shelf.
I enjoy ranking, but find that by simply engaging with a client, I can achieve more future sales, referrals, exposure, etc.
That said, here’s how I do SEO today:
I name images naturally, using engaging title tag descriptions readers want to read.
For meta title tags, I keep keywords near the front, but also write unique & catchy to ensure clicks.
For URLs, I still employ keywords, but make sure the slug is easy on the eyes (and readable).
And as for headings, I aim to use my target keyword(s) in H1. Everything else is fair game for natural verbiage.
My motto for today’s search is this: “If a human wouldn’t want to read it, a search engine won’t want to either.”
I’d like to give a massive shout out to all the SEOs who contributed to this post! Thank you for sharing all your experiences.
It’s particularly impressive that they shared so much detail on a subject that many consider so taboo.
It’s great to see different points of view from such a variety of backgrounds.
If you enjoyed this as much as I did don’t forget to share it
I know more would have liked to have contributed but are handcuffed for the sake of their own or companies reputation.
I fully understand those reasons however I also think Michael David brought up some great points. Having experience in the “dark arts” can be a massive positive for you and your clients.
How has your experience with black hat seo been?