There’s an ongoing debate about whether or not Black Hat SEO is actually effective. Go to Warrior Forum, Reddit, or BlackHatWorld, and you’ll see a range of answers. It’s a divisive topic to say the least. I’ll do my best at shining some perspective on it.
Let’s get a few things straight before we begin.
- I’m not recommending you apply Black Hat tactics (especially if you don’t know what you’re doing)
- We’re not talking about any shady, unethical tactics.
Black Hat SEO generally refers to “unnatural” link building processes that attempt to manipulate search engine rankings. We’ll start with a few basic rules to make sure we’re on the same page.
Rule #1: Links Affect Rankings
Links affect rankings. It’s as simple as that.
If you don’t think links impact rankings, you’re wrong. I hate making definitive statements when it comes to marketing, but there’s no other way to put it.
If links didn’t matter, it would be incredibly easy to rank any site you wanted to. All you’d have to do is find a profitable content-based business model, hire a top quality writer, take care of your on-site SEO and voila! For less than a few grand, you could start generating tens of thousands of visits every month.
Sorry, but it doesn’t work this way. Links matter. They always have and they will for a long time.
Rule #2: Almost Every Link You “Build” is Unnatural
Black Hat SEO often gets a bad rap for being an “unnatural” form of link building but, in reality, almost every form of link building is unnatural.
The second you make a conscious effort to build links, your behavior is unnatural. Link building is not a natural marketing activity. Sure, some links will drive traffic, but the majority of them will not (certainly not enough to justify the time spent).
Rule #1 states that links affect rankings and Rule #2 states that almost all link building is unnatural.
So if you’re committed to building links, you just need to choose where you want to be on the “unnatural” scale.
What is Black Hat SEO?
Black Hat SEO encompasses a wide range of strategies, but the majority of these strategies relate to unnatural link building. The goal is to “manipulate” search engines to rank your site.
Whereas a White Hat SEO practitioner may reach out to other site owners to build links, a Black Hat practitioner will build their own. Here’s an example to illustrate it.
Black Hat vs. White Hat Example
Here’s an example of building contextual links using white hat and black hat SEO. It’s just one of many comparisons but it should illustrate the point.
A White Hat SEO practitioner (who believes in the value of link building) may reach out to blog owners in their niche and ask if they can write a guest post on the blogs. For example, the owner of YumYum Cat Food may reach out to the owner of ILoveCatsForever.com to write an article about cat food on the site. The owner of ILoveCatsForever.com gets a free article and the owner of YumYum Cat Food gets a link (as well as any traffic that may result from the post).
A Black Hat SEO practitioner would skip the outreach process and build their own properties. Instead of contacting ILoveCatsForever.com, the practitioner would build their own site, or network of sites (known as a Private Blog Network) and build links. For example, if YumYum Cat Food took a Black Hat approach, they may create a blog called CatLadyForLife.com and start blogging about cats there. They will control the properties and can create as many links as they’d like.
The end result is that both the White Hat and Black Hat SEO practitioners end up with a contextual link from a niche-related site.
In theory, this is why Black Hat SEO has to work. Both the white hat and black hat approaches achieve the same end result.
The obvious follow-up question to the example above is, “which link holds more value?”
The short answer is “it depends.”
Not All Black Hat SEO is Created Equally
The goal of Black Hat SEO is to emulate White Hat SEO. Both “hats” aim to achieve the same goal: better search engine rankings. Black Hat SEO practitioners attempt to manipulate this process by “forcing” it.
Let’s go back to the example from above. Which link was better? The guest post on a legitimate site or the PBN link? The answer will always vary. You can build good black hat links, bad white hat links, and vice versa.
Building good black hat links requires a strong understanding of SEO. Unfortunately, a large amount of Black Hat SEO practitioners are inexperienced. They build thousands of links using automated software and spun content. This type of Black Hat SEO does not work in the long run.
It’s also the reason that you’re more likely to do damage with Black Hat SEO than white hat SEO. That said, this doesn’t mean that black hat is ineffective. It just means you need to know what you’re doing.
The White Hat SEO in the example above created a link on someone’s legitimate site. The Black Hat SEO attempted to emulate a legitimate site.
The success of Black Hat SEO relies on your ability to emulate legitimacy.
Why Black Hat SEO Works
To say that Black Hat SEO doesn’t work would be the same as saying that SEO doesn’t work. Keep in mind, both Black Hat and White Hat SEO can be done either effectively or ineffectively. That said, if SEO works, black hat SEO works.
If you can effectively emulate legitimate links, the “unnatural” links hold the same value as their legitimate counterparts.
Take this very site for example – marketinglogiq.com. Getting a link from this site would hold value. I get requests on a regular basis.
This site happens to be fully legitimate. I didn’t build it to rank other properties…. but I could have. In fact, I could build a dozen similar sites in the coming months. Would Google be able to differentiate them?
No – Google doesn’t recognize intent. Obviously, I would have to cover my footprints.
The point is simple – black hat properties can be as effective as white hat links IF they are set up properly.