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Black Hat SEO: Digital Marketing’s Dark Side


Happy Star Wars Day! In addition to general nerdery at our office like Caitlin playing all the Star Wars soundtracks all day, we’ve decided to publish a timely and on-theme post. 

Welcome to the dark side of SEO. No, we’re not talking about dressing up like Darth Vader and trying to manipulate search results with the Force. We’re talking about the world of black hat SEO – the shady tactics that promise quick results but can ultimately lead to a business’s downfall.

Now, you might be thinking: “But isn’t SEO all about getting ahead quickly? Isn’t that the whole point?” Well, yes and no. While it’s certainly true that businesses want to see results from their SEO efforts, the danger of black hat tactics lies in the long-term damage they can do.

In this post, we’re going to explore the world of black hat SEO and the risks it poses for businesses. We’ll take a closer look at some of the most common black hat tactics, and offer tips for how to avoid them. By the end of this post, you’ll have a better understanding of why ethical, sustainable SEO strategies are the key to long-term success.

So buckle up, padawan, and let’s take a journey to the dark side – and back.

What Is Black Hat SEO? 

If you’re new to the world of SEO, you may have heard the term “black hat SEO” thrown around. So, what is black hat SEO, exactly?

Black hat SEO refers to unethical tactics used to manipulate search engine rankings, often in violation of search engine guidelines. Examples of black hat tactics include keyword stuffing, cloaking, and link schemes.

While these tactics may promise quick results, they can ultimately harm a website’s reputation and lead to penalties or even being banned from search results. To build a sustainable, long-term SEO strategy, it’s important to focus on ethical, white hat tactics and prioritize user experience and quality content.

Now that you know what black hat SEO is and the risks it poses, let’s dive into some of the specific tactics that fall under this umbrella. By understanding these tactics and the potential consequences of using them, you can make informed decisions and prioritize the long-term success of your business. 

We’ll also offer tips for how to avoid these tactics and build a sustainable, ethical SEO strategy that prioritizes user experience and quality content. So, buckle up and get ready to explore the dark side of SEO – and learn how to steer clear of it.

Common Black Hat SEO Tactics 

Part of the joy of working for a marketing agency is that I get to see all kinds of wacky tactics other “SEO”s used on websites before we took over. Here’s some of the most common techniques out there, and why it’s best to avoid them. 

Keyword Stuffing 

Keyword stuffing is a black hat SEO tactic that involves overloading a webpage with irrelevant or repetitive keywords in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings. The idea is that the more times a keyword appears on a webpage, the more likely it is to rank highly for that keyword. However, this tactic is not only unethical, but it’s also ineffective and can actually harm a website’s search engine rankings.

Examples of keyword stuffing might include cramming keywords into meta tags, titles, headings, and alt tags, as well as using the same keyword repeatedly throughout the content of a webpage. For example, imagine a website selling organic skincare products. Instead of writing naturally, a website using keyword stuffing might have content like this: “Welcome to our organic skincare products website. We sell the best organic skincare products that you can find. If you are looking for organic skincare products, you have come to the right place. Our organic skincare products are perfect for all skin types. Buy our organic skincare products now!”

Sounds gross, right? 

Using this tactic can lead to a poor user experience, as the content is not written for humans but rather to game the search engines. It can also make a website appear spammy and untrustworthy, which can harm its reputation and overall search engine rankings. In addition, search engines are getting better at detecting keyword stuffing and are penalizing websites that use this tactic, which can lead to lower search engine rankings and less visibility for the website.

Instead of keyword stuffing, it’s best to focus on writing high-quality content that provides value to your audience and uses relevant keywords naturally and strategically. This will not only improve your search engine rankings but also provide a better user experience and build trust with your audience.


Cloaking is a black hat SEO technique that involves showing different content to search engine crawlers than what is displayed to actual website visitors. The idea behind cloaking is to deceive search engines and manipulate search engine rankings. The content shown to search engine crawlers is typically keyword-rich and optimized for search engines, while the content shown to visitors may be completely different and irrelevant.

Here’s an example of a time I’ve actually seen this: a website might display content about a legal group to visitors in the United States, while showing content promoting a foreign pharmacy to search engines crawling the site. This allows the site to rank highly for keywords related to the foreign pharmacy, while still appearing to be a legitimate legal group to users.

Cloaking is a bad idea for several reasons. First and foremost, it’s an unethical practice that violates search engine guidelines and can result in severe penalties, including being completely removed from search engine rankings. Secondly, it provides a poor user experience, as visitors may be misled by content that doesn’t match their search intent. Finally, it can harm a website’s reputation and credibility, leading to a loss of trust with both search engines and visitors.

Link Schemes 

Link schemes, also known as link farms or private blog networks (PBNs), are black hat SEO tactics that involve artificially creating links to a website in order to manipulate search engine rankings. This usually involves creating a network of low-quality, spammy websites that link to a target website.

An example of a link scheme might involve a website owner creating dozens or even hundreds of low-quality websites, all linking back to their main website. Another example might involve purchasing links from websites that specialize in selling backlinks, which are often low-quality and irrelevant to the target website’s niche.

Link schemes are a bad idea for several reasons. First and foremost, they violate search engine guidelines and can result in severe penalties, including being completely removed from search engine rankings. Secondly, they provide a poor user experience, as visitors may be directed to low-quality or irrelevant websites. Finally, they can harm a website’s reputation and credibility, leading to a loss of trust with both search engines and visitors.

An extremely important caveat: not all link building strategies are bad. Natural, high-quality links earned through creating valuable content and building relationships with other websites in your niche can be extremely beneficial for both search engine rankings and user experience. In fact, we highly recommend it for almost every client! However, artificially creating links through link schemes is never a good idea and can have serious consequences.

Doorway Pages 

Doorway pages are another type of black hat SEO tactic that involves creating low-quality pages specifically designed to rank for a particular keyword or phrase. These pages often have little or no valuable content and are only created to serve as a gateway to a website’s main content.

For example, a website might create dozens of pages targeting different variations of a keyword, with each page simply redirecting visitors to the main website. These pages might be filled with repetitive content, keyword stuffing, and other black hat tactics in order to manipulate search engine rankings.

Not only do doorway pages violate search engine guidelines and put a website at risk of penalties or being removed from search engine rankings, they also provide a poor user experience. Visitors who land on these pages are often frustrated by the lack of valuable content and may quickly leave the website.

In addition, doorway pages can harm a website’s reputation and credibility. Search engines may view a website that engages in these tactics as manipulative and untrustworthy, leading to a loss of trust from both search engines and visitors.

A group of people working in an office

How to Win at SEO Without Resorting to Shady Tactics 

To avoid the dark side of SEO and stay true to the force, businesses should focus on ethical, sustainable SEO strategies that prioritize user experience and content quality. Instead of looking for shortcuts and quick wins, businesses should commit to creating valuable content that engages their target audience and encourages natural link building. This means avoiding the use of shady link schemes or quick fixes, and instead focusing on building a strong online presence through authentic interactions and a genuine commitment to providing value. 

High-Quality Content 

The antidote to shady link building tactics is high-quality content. Creating compelling content that provides value to your audience is the best way to attract visitors to your site, encourage social shares, and build natural links. When you create content that is informative, interesting, or entertaining, people are more likely to share it with others on social media or link to it from their own websites. This, in turn, can drive more traffic to your site and improve your search engine rankings over time.

Creating high-quality content can take many forms, from informative blog posts and articles to engaging infographics and videos. The key is to focus on providing value to your audience and creating content that they will find interesting and useful. By doing so, you can attract visitors to your site who are more likely to engage with your brand and become loyal customers over time.

While it may take some time and effort to create high-quality content, the benefits are well worth it. By building a strong foundation of high-quality content, you can establish yourself as a trusted authority in your industry and build a loyal following of engaged followers who are eager to share your content and help promote your brand. So don’t be afraid to get started today and start creating content that will drive real results for your business over the long term.

Building Links Through Relationships 

While it can be tempting to engage in shady link building tactics to quickly boost search engine rankings, building links through genuine relationship building is a much better long-term strategy. This involves reaching out to other websites and businesses in your industry, building connections, and creating content that they will want to link to. This approach not only leads to more organic and high-quality links, but also helps to establish your business as a trustworthy and authoritative voice in your industry.

To get started with link building through relationship building, you can begin by identifying key influencers and websites in your industry that you admire or have a relationship with. Reach out to them with personalized emails or messages, and offer to collaborate on content or share each other’s resources. Additionally, you can guest post on other websites or host webinars with other businesses in your industry. By building these genuine connections and partnerships, you can not only build valuable backlinks but also establish yourself as a respected member of your industry.

While this approach may take longer than engaging in shady link building tactics, it is a much more sustainable and effective strategy in the long run. Remember, building relationships takes time and effort, but the benefits are well worth it. So, instead of focusing on quick fixes, prioritize building genuine connections with others in your industry and creating high-quality content that people will naturally want to link to.

As Jedi Master Yoda once said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Don’t try to cheat the system or take shortcuts, do the hard work and focus on creating value for your audience. By prioritizing ethical SEO practices and staying up-to-date on industry best practices, businesses can avoid the dark side of SEO and achieve long-term success. May the force be with you.

Sara Bodner

Sara Bodner

Sara Bodner is Conklin Media’s Digital Content Manager and caretaker of the many, many office plants. You can most often find her neck deep in keyword research, putting together SEO strategies to help businesses become more profitable, and fixing technical SEO issues on websites. More about Sara Bodner

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