Back in the mid-1800’s ‘Black Hats’ were known as the villains and criminals of the wild west. These were the guys who were holding up towns, robbing banks and always in trouble with the law.
When it comes to search engine optimization, the same picture is painted of search engine practitioners who intentionally choose to guidelines set forth by search engines like Google.
First, to better understand the history of black hat SEO, lets first talk about why over the years, search engines like Google have adopted these types of guidelines.
Back in the day, it was pretty easy to game the system. There wasn’t really any rules. You could easily get a website ranked simply by having the right keyword in the domain name, stuffing a handful of keywords on the page, and collecting a handful of links through paid, or fabricated means. SEOs around the globe picked up on exactly what search engines like Google were looking for and going full bore getting sites ranked for terms that were maybe relevant, or maybe not resulting in a poor search engine experience for many users. For an example; imagine doing a search for a local plumber and seeing a bunch of random businesses who did everything but plumbing show up in the search engine result pages?
Since the early 2000’s, search engines like Google caught on. They developed their search engine algorithms to detect things such as unnatural links, paid links, keyword stuffing among many other ‘fabricated’ techniques designed to improve search engine rankings by gaming the system. This is when the terms white, gran and black hat SEO were created.
White Hat SEOs are known for following the rules. Gray Hat SEOs are known for dabbling in both ethical, and unethical practices while back hats focused primarily on deceptive practices that violate the guidelines put forth by the search engines.
In today’s climate, many search engine optimization practitioners use the term ‘black hat’ generously which is designed to put fear into consumers minds when searching for a new SEO vendor, regardless if that person is actually a black hat.
In order to put this argument to rest, lets first define what blackhat actually means:
What is a Black Hat?
Informal definition: a person who hacks into a computer network with malicious or criminal intent.
Formal definition: used in reference to a bad person, especially a villain or criminal in a movie, novel, or play.
There are a SEOs who like to come up with their own definition and requirements for Black Hat SEO but if you look at the literal definition, Black Hat SEO is a person or a business who practices search engine optimization that intentionally engages in malicious tactics. Malicious, or malice can be defined as the intent to do harm. Most SEOs that I know who deploy practices who may in some way, shape or form violate the search engines guidelines do not have malicious intent. They are simply cutting corners and hoping that the search engines don’t catch them.
That being said, there are several guidelines I’m confident are deployed with malicious intent such as cloaking, sneaky redirects, scraped content, and creating pages with malicious behavior.
That being said, if there is ‘malicious intent’ any violation of the search engines guidelines could be considered a black hat, but the element of malice needs to exist.
The last problem I have with coining anyone who violates search engine guidelines as black hat is it’s very hypocritical. For an example; if you look at Google’s guidelines on sending automated queries to Google, most SEOs I know who deploy a rank tracking software for their clients are violating this guideline which reads: “Google’s Terms of Service do not allow the sending of automated queries of any sort to our system without express permission in advance from Google. Sending automated queries consumes resources and includes using any software (such as WebPosition Gold) to send automated queries to Google to determine how a website or webpage ranks in Google search results for various queries. In addition to rank checking, other types of automated access to Google without permission are also a violation of our Webmaster Guidelines and Terms of Service.”
Are you wondering if your SEO is black hat or not? Hopefully, this helps you better understand the key components that make an SEO black hat.
Sean Hakes is the Founder & CEO of Altitude SEO based in Denver, Colorado. He brings over 17 years of professional experience in digital marketing and an established authority in search engine guidelines, website hack removal and reconsideration requests.