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Black hat SEO involves using marketing techniques which are against the search engine's guidelines. Employing these tactics can result in your site being penalised or banned from the index. 

The scary thought of being banned from Google often results in people rejecting black hat methods outright without taking the time to think if these methods could be modified in an acceptable way.

By using black hat ideas and then altering them to stay on the right side of the search engine guidelines, it is possible to benefit without as much risk.

1. Expired domains

The black hat method: 

Website owners often lose interest in their sites and do not renew them when they expire. All the links which these website acquired usually remain, even though the site no longer exists.

One black hat technique which has been used for a number of years involves purchasing expired or dropped domains and 301 redirecting them to a money site. Google often does not reset expired domains and a 301 redirect can transfer most of the link equity to the URL of your choosing. 

There could be a number of legitimate reasons why you would 301 redirect a domain to another site. For example, you could have taken over a competitor or you may have rebranded an old site to a new one.

However, if you are trying to manipulate the flow of Page Rank by redirecting random sites, Google considers this to be against its terms of service. The more domains you redirect to your site, the more your risk increases of being penalised.

The white hat alternative: 

Instead of buying just any expired domain, look for ones which are relevant to your niche. If you are able to find an expiring domain that is similar to your website niche, think about buying it and building it out, providing a useful resource to people who would otherwise end up on a 404 page.

Where possible, you could use Archive.org to resurrect the old site, making slow, incremental changes. At some point in the future, when it is useful for visitors, you may be able to find an opportunity to link back to articles or sections of your money website, which should result in improved rankings.

Tip: If you are going to use this technique, I would suggest hosting the expired site on a separate C class domain and using privacy protection if possible.

2. Comment spamming

The black hat method:

Like a car thief looking for an open door, spammers play a numbers game, hoping that a webmaster will automatically approve comments or accidently let one through.

Once they find a site that allows their comments, they will come back and leave an endless stream of links back to their site.

The white hat alternative:

Instead of polluting the web with worthless comments, why not play a more intelligent game, leaving comments which are useful, informative and engaging on blogs within your niche.

Don’t even include a link initially. The idea is to build rapport and a relationship with the website owner.

Once you have complemented/suggested/assisted/and engaged the webmaster, they are going to be much more likely to reciprocate. This reciprocation could be in the form of linking back to some content you have created or allowing you to guest post on their blog.

3. Paid links

The black hat method: 

Google states that buying or selling links that pass PageRank is a violation of its Webmaster Guidelines, therefore buying links is black hat.

It is not hard to spot an overtly paid link, they tend to be anchor text heavy and surrounded by other links to low quality sites.

A quick analysis or a manual review from Google could result in these links being discounted at best or at worst, your site being penalised.

The white hat alternative: 

There is ambiguity over what the search engines consider a paid link.

Is a donation to a charity a paid link? Is sponsoring an event a paid link?

What about giving away one of your products that results in a link? You can set up a Google Alerts to send you potential opportunities that could result in legitmate ‘paid’ links.

For example:

  • site: kickstarter.com "link on our website"  + "your  niche"
  • "the following sponsors" + "your niche"
  • "the following companies donated" + "your niche"

Tip: If you are going to donate to a charity or sponsor event, it’s best to try and find a relevant charity or event. For example, if you sell running shoes, why not donate to an obesity or other related charity.

4. Mass directory submissions

The black hat method: 

It’s not uncommon to see ads, offering to submit your site to 500 directories for $5. Google only provides broad guidelines around this tactic, stating that we shouldn’t “participate in link schemes designed to increase your site ranking or PageRank”.

As many of these directories have ‘SEO’ in their URLs, it’s a sure sign to anyone looking over your link profile that you are trying to game the system.

The white hat alternative: 

Target niche directories related to your website. Not only will these directories look more natural if anyone from the Google Spam team were to look over your link profile, but many will provide real traffic and targeted leads and have added SEO benefits.

In summary...

Like an investment in the stock market, your SEO tactics should factor in your goals, strategy and risk tolerance. Whichever techniques you decide to use, make sure you weigh up the risk and rewards of using it and how aggressive you are.  

Being too aggressive can lead to your site being manually reviewed which opens up your entire history and potential wrongdoings.

David de Souza

Published 3 September, 2013 by David de Souza

David deSouza is Partner at GoFishDigital.com, Co-founder of MatchingDonations.org and a guest blogger on Econsultancy. You can connect on Twitter or Google Plus

2 more posts from this author

Comments (19)

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Peter Gore

banned from "the index" - sounds like some all encompassing galaxy dictator. The same applies to Bing also.

over 3 years ago

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JG

"Where possible, you could use Archive.org to resurrect the old site, making slow, incremental changes."

While this is an interesting idea, I'm not sure if it's totally kosher. Just because you own the domain doesn't mean you have the right to reproduce content created by someone else, does it...?

over 3 years ago

David de Souza

David de Souza, GoFishDigital.com

JG: Agreed, you shouldn't do it if it is copyrighted but if it is generic content for example, tax rates, or other data that is in the public domain/creative commons, then it would be possible to do in a kosher way.

over 3 years ago

Heledd Jones

Heledd Jones, Head of Search Marketing at Confused.com

re: #3 - I think it's poor advice to suggest that buying links of any form is white hat. Personally, I think if you're recommending this approach of sponsoring events/charities, then think you should recommend that most of these links need to be no:followed.

There are plenty of examples of big brands who were hit by the 'Interflora' update where they had a high volume of paid advertorial links that weren't correctly marked as no:follow.
I'm sure there are examples of sites that have used your tactic of 'sponsorship' only to be hit further down the line...

over 3 years ago

David de Souza

David de Souza, GoFishDigital.com

Hi Heledd,

Thank you for taking the time to comment.

I agree, going over the top on any kind of link building tactic is not a good idea.

Do you consider any/all of these paid links and would you expect them to be no followed:

1. A high quality directory link
2. Membership to a trade body which provides a link back to your website
3. Sponsoring a meetup
4. Taking a reporter out to lunch
5. Leaving a testimonial for a product you bought which gets you a link.

Do you not think these and sponsored events/charity links would be good as part of a diversified link profile?

This is what I am suggesting.

If you had a link from any of these source would you disavow them or ask them to be no followed?

over 3 years ago

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Brandon

Some really good points David. On the expired domain front the best and really only way you should use expired domains is through white hat techniques. Like you said either building the site back up to resemble the original site but with fresh unique content or finding a good expired domain that is relevant in some way to your site and 301 redirecting it. Its extremely important you do your homework on every expired domain before you attempt either method so you don't get a worthless domain. I have a free site that displays a good portion of the important SEO information needed to make an informed decision about buying an expired domain (you and your readers are welcome to use it). Great write up David!

http://buyexpireddomains.info

over 3 years ago

Heledd Jones

Heledd Jones, Head of Search Marketing at Confused.com

David - I totally agree with you that a diversified link profile is a good thing, and I know there are lots of grey (hat) areas that you've listed in your reply.... I just think if you're suggesting a 'white hat' approach of buying links by any means including sponsorship, it would make for a more rounded blog if you wrote about the use of nofollow, and the potential risks of buying links.

over 3 years ago

David de Souza

David de Souza, GoFishDigital.com

Hi Heledd,

Thanks for your reply.

Do you consider any (followed) link building to be gray hat and risky?

So to confirm.... you would recommend that someone who had paid for a link from a high quality, niche directory, contact the website owner and ask them to No follow the link? The same with taking a journalist out for lunch, if you are pitching your business or some content that you have created, do you think it necessary to ask them to No follow any links they include to your site?

over 3 years ago

Heledd Jones

Heledd Jones, Head of Search Marketing at Confused.com

David I didn't say that - in your article you were recommending buying links explicitly under the 'sponsorship' guise - all I was saying is that Google have made it clear recently that these types of links should be nofollowed (and I know of big brands that have been hit by not doing this properly) but your article didn't mention it at all so potentially misleading and damaging to readers.

over 3 years ago

David de Souza

David de Souza, GoFishDigital.com

Hi Heledd,

Thanks again for your reply. In your previous reply you wrote:

'...there are lots of grey (hat) areas that you've listed in your reply.'

I just wanted to confirm which ones you considered gray hat. Would you mind doing that so I can better understand your take?

Maybe we are on the same page. I agree that if you go out and buy, blatantly sponsored links at scale there is a high risk. This is not what I am suggesting in this article.

What I am suggesting is sponsoring a meetup or event that is relevant to your niche. Do you think this is a bad idea? Would you ask all bloggers at the event to No follow any links to your site?

I think we also agree that it's about being diversified and not scaling a tactic to the roof. This is the reason I find that most sites are hit with penalties.

You mentioned that the article was potentially misleading and damaging to readers, however I did include the following paragraph:

'Like an investment in the stock market, your SEO tactics should factor in your goals, strategy and risk tolerance. Whichever techniques you decide to use, make sure you weigh up the risk and rewards of using it and how aggressive you are. Being too aggressive can lead to your site being manually reviewed which opens up your entire history and potential wrongdoings.'

I think, like many things in life, it's better to take a nuanced approach where you don't go over the top in any tactic. If we took Google literally we wouldn't do any link building as they say 'any links intended to move rankings' is black hat and against their terms of service.

over 3 years ago

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how to make money online

realy great post and helpfull so i will bookmark this site for further updates

about 3 years ago

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affordable seo services

I really appreciate a brief content of this article. It is informative and meaningful. Black hat & white hat techniques are vast but here it is explained in a very precise way.
Looking for more...

about 3 years ago

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看護師求人

Very helpful!!! There are a lot of seo techniques online, but never explained if they are black or white. It is very important to know whether you are doing something that google will allow it if they noticed or not.

about 3 years ago

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Aaron

Great . I like your 2nd point . It is very useful . People always use commenting to increase the traffic . I agree with your point commetng should be informative and useful

about 3 years ago

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Richard Blackburn, Forum Owner at IMSoldiers

Regarding your first point i think its better and cheaper to build your own network using authority from a trust worthy domain. For example Blog platforms.

Rankwyz dot com provides such a platform to build genuine related blogs on almost 200 blogging platforms.

I'm currently doing this now as a strategy

about 3 years ago

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Abhiram Pathak, SEO at www.sscsworld.com

Thanks for sharing such a good informative post. I appreciate your hard work. I think black hat SEO is unethical; I like to do white hat seo for my website.

almost 3 years ago

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Oliver Stanley, Employee at Digital Next

Thanks for the post. I think white hat SEO best for the website. I am agree for your 2nd point about commenting.
http://www.digitalnext.co.uk/services/seo/seo-link-building/

almost 3 years ago

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Richard Braggs, Programmer at Codename:Like

This is the best and straight to the point discussion about it's advantages and disadvantages using Black hat or white hat SEO's.
Actually i'm doing both and enjoy more than a year staying on the no. 1 spot of Google over multiple keywords. But as i'm very confident to my standings, i leave my website behind for a while unmaintained - i dropped down to 3rd place. And the no. 1 - no 2 spots are the website of my friend whom i taught some of my techniques. His Facebook fan page boosted on the 2nd place and on the first page is his website. It's like a story "Hunted" when you're student tries to go wild and you're hired back to stop him. Now i'm preparing my tools and energy to climbed the steepest summit of Google. I'm old but still can fight! A master will always be a master, and a student is always be a student!

http://facebookpvastore.codename-like.com

over 2 years ago

Nauf Sid

Nauf Sid, SEO at http://affpayday.com

Great post David. I thoroughly enjoyed this post as I am a blackhat SEO as well. What's your take on blog networks though. is this way of making blog networks as described here accurate affpayday.com/private-blog-network/

Would like to know your views on this.

over 2 years ago

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