How do you get your website to the top of the search engine results page (SERPS)? If you are diligently following our search engine optimisation guide (SEO) then you might want to turn away now.
The techniques of SEO – boosting your website to the top of the SERPs – can be broken down into two types, called ‘white hat’ and ‘black hat’. ‘White hat’ techniques are all the best practice methods we talk about in the guide. These include making sure you include your keywords in the title text and visible copy of your website; linking your pages together clearly; and then generating inbound links.
The ‘Black hat’ techniques – referred to as such since they are suspected to include elements of sorcery! – involve ‘tricking’ the search engines into placing your website at the top of the SERPs.
Black hat techniques include building thousands of keyword rich ‘cloaking’ pages that the search engine spiders will see but that users never will, so that the search engine thinks you’re writing about a particular subject in great detail whereas your website might be about something else entirely.
It should be noted here that if Google finds your web page using any black hat technique they will surely boot your web page out of their directory, so it won’t be found at all. However, since it’s not always easy to discover that a website is using black hat – in fact it’s often only found out when the website in question is reviewed manually – websites get away doing black hat SEO for months, and sometimes years at a time. These websites are normally those in markets that some might consider slightly shady themselves, such as gambling or pornography.
There have been lots written about ‘black hat’ SEO, and how the search engines are trying to clean out their directories of websites guilty of it. So The Guardian website decided to try their hand at these techniques as an experiment to see what happens.
The Guardian stuffed a load of irrelevant keywords into the header of one of their football news pages. These were keywords that generate lots of search volume, but are from the more tabloid end of the keyword spectrum. They included ‘Paris Hilton’, ‘how to make money without working’, and some other words that we’re not going to mention on this blog… if you get my meaning.
And did it work? Not in all cases: Yahoo! and MSN weren’t fooled, but the mighty Google and Ask started to rank the website in the top tens search results for some of the saucier keywords. It remains to be seen how long they will stay there, but since this is now a news story someone at Google might be adding that page to their banned list.
So is black hat SEO worth trying? Well it probably depends what market you operate in – if you’re building a website all about poker then it may be your only choice. But if Search Engines are your main source of traffic, and you’re using black hat SEO, you had better find an alternative source of visitors for when Google do finally kick you out of the SERPs.
Have you had any experience of Black Hat SEO? Do you suspect a competitor of doing so? Leave us a comment below.