SEO CSI: Examining Popular Black Hat SEO Tactics

If you have been online for awhile, you’ve seen the evolution of SEO as it happened. The early days were a landscape without law; it seemed that we could do whatever we wanted and get away with it. Not so today. Since 2002 and the first Google algorithm update hit the web, there have been many changes in the decade that would follow. It was then that the experts realised that SEO was something that would be in constant evolution, and they needed to pay attention in order to hold onto their rankings. No longer can a site get away with using shady SEO tactics; today’s search engine arena demands useful and relevant content.

Let’s take a walk down memory lane to review some of the most heinous SEO crimes.

Hidden Text

In the old days of the SEO Wild West, experts chose hidden text as a way to get around the more obvious tactic of keyword stuffing. It allowed them to stuff keywords onto a page without the visitors being aware. A very common way to do this was to make the background colour of a page black, and then type in text that was a shade or two lighter.

The most popular time for this tactic was before people were caught for doing it, which was about 15 or 20 years ago.

Unfortunately, this tactic doesn’t work today. Thanks to the Panda update, Google not only sees hidden text, but can penalise those pages which contain it. Interestingly enough, some web sites still contain hidden text, which is now quite taboo.

Keyword Stuffing

Little was more popular – or more annoying – than keyword stuffing. This particular tactic could make what had the potential to be an informative page into a repetitive mess. The key to this tactic was to find the highest ranking keyword or phrase for your business, and then inserting that word or phrase several times throughout your page’s copy. Keywords and phrases would also appear in bold on many sites.

Keyword stuffing was most popular about 10 years ago, before search engines were based on algorithms. Even 10 years ago, the tactic was still being used by SEO experts, who had now begun to call it ‘keyword density’.

Panda was the update that killed keyword stuffing. However, this has not stopped many sites from using the now-defunct tactic to get visitors.


The spam blog had high hopes: not only did it want to manipulate search results and get ranked for particular keywords, but it also didn’t care if any of the text made sense or even if it was stolen from another site.

The typical sblog was rife with links to its main site, all scams to lure the unwitting surfer in circles to find what they were looking for. Some sblogs still exist, although many were eliminated thanks to the Penguin Update.

Today, blogs continue to be great for those wanting to improve their SEO. In fact, they can be used in several ways. Blog authors are guest posting on other blogs, which is getting them a lot of exposure without all of the penalties. However, this now must be looked upon as more of a traffic generation tactic.

Old McDonald Had a Link Farm

Although modern link building involves targeting customer who will click a link and ensuring quality link sources, in the old days it was all about quantity. The link farm could take nearly any shape. A single company could create several blog sites, all linking to each other in order to boost their ranking. Others would place their links on sites that hosted – you guessed it – other people’s links.

7 to 10 years ago was the most popular time for link farming. But today, search engines not only know about it but did issue the Penguin update, which penalizes link farm participants.

Article Spinning

You may have heard of this tactic if you are a business owner with a blog or an article writer. The idea behind article spinning is to create an original version of an already-written article without having to rewrite it yourself. Article spinning involved the use of an online or offline spinning program which would alter the copy, sometimes for no cost.

Unfortunately, more often than not, article spinning software would spit out text that was impossible to follow and grammatically incorrect. These types of content pieces are known today as ‘thin content’.  Despite this, article spinning had its heyday as few as 7 years ago, which the Panda update would later wipe out.

What to Do Instead

One solution is to pay attention to the newer methods of getting good rankings like social media. Many webmaster are still missing out on the value this strategy can bring. While it has yet to be proven whether or not social links will improve rankings – Google currently doesn’t include them as part of its algorithm – there are certainly many indirect benefits.

Instead of looking for new ways to fool the search engines, we can opt to do one simple thing: create unique, relevant and useful content. When you think about it, it makes sense; the internet is a source of information that is available for anyone who is able and willing to access it. Shouldn’t it, then, be filled with information that people can use?

The Take-Away

So what is a web site owner to do these days, seeing as so many search engine eyes are watching? The best advice is to let sleeping dogs lie. There is no wiggle room with search engines today, many of which have clearly stated what is and is not considered to be quality content.

Still, the choice is still before us about which road to take. One can still participate in black hat SEO tactics. However, they should be aware that search engines are becoming stricter by the day. Really, anyone using such tactics only has so long before they are caught and penalised. And given what has occurred in the past, there is no telling what new restrictions a future update might bring