Any digital marketer worth their salt knows that white hat SEO is really the only way to go. However, black hat techniques can be a great way of learning how the internet works. There are also some techniques that black hatters use which could be used for white hat purposes.
Using these slightly dodgy methods could be considered grey hat, but these terms are usually connoted with intention rather than technique. A white hatter can quite legitimately put on a black hat, but use these approaches ethically, sparingly, and honestly.
Here are a few tools and black hat techniques that could be of great use to anyone who wants to make the world of digital marketing a better place, and wrangle at least some control away from those who are less-than-upfront about their products and services.
Old, abandoned websites that have a semblance of authority (e.g. old government websites, websites that were once popular in the internet’s heyday) are of great interest to anyone looking to exploit a particular name or brand. They are able to buy an expired domain name and 301 redirect it to their own site, which is often questionable in quality, or in the worst case scenario, trying to infect your computer with nasty viruses and malware.
This is also sometimes known as “SEO Squatting”, whereby someone buys a domain that is related to a few specific keywords, writes some new copy (good enough to fool robots), puts some adwords around the updated copy, and adds a few well-placed backlinks to their own site.
Buying old domains with great potential is a great way of getting ranking without having to build an entirely new website. Think of buying domains in a similar way to refurbishing an old home: the foundations are already there, but the furnishings and decor need some work.
Someone who isn’t honest about their intentions would never really try to make such an old domain more attractive to actual human viewers, as they are merely using it as a cover or more nefarious ends. Someone who has noticed a niche and actually wants to make a decent website from good foundations, on the other hand, is thinking of the person who is looking for useful content directly related to their search enquiry.
This involves gathering data from a website by unleashing a bot on it. This data is used to create illegitimate links, spam a website’s users, and steal content. These bots also slow websites down significantly for other users as they contribute heavily to a site’s traffic. Scrapers can also be used to build “mirror” sites – copies of popular websites – in order to make the copy look like a legitimate site. In other words, using a mask to cover your face and true intentions.
Legitimate users will have the website owner’s permission to scrape their site, and will use the data gathered to improve users’ experience of their website. Scrapers can be used to find bad & broken links and ways to improve your site’s markup. Common tools for this include Screaming Frog, Apache Camel, and Greasemonkey, amongst others.
ScrapeBox is the SEO’s go-to choice. ScrapeBox can “spin” content, harvest URLs, perform site audits, and lots more besides. ScrapeBox is an excellent tool, and is dubbed by many to be the Swiss Army knife of SE”. Of course, like any knife, ScrapeBox should be wielded carefully.
Ever see those comments on websites like Youtube, where someone claims you can earn x amount from home? They often target videos and articles with a high number of views and comments, and these links have nothing to do with the subject of the video or article. This is link spamming in its purest form.
A good marketer will never link spam. They will be trying to write insightful comments and build genuine relationships with customers. Should they ever link to something, it will be something connected to the subject of the video or article, of interest to anyone responding, and it is less likely that the commenter will provide a link in their first post (with a few exceptions). This actually improves conversion rates (people who buy a product or service thanks to your link) in the long-term. They will also make their intentions and the company they’re representing clear.
This involves submitting your website to hundreds of directories in order to improve your site’s ranking and trying to “game” PageRank algorithms. This is quite quickly spotted and penalised by search engines, as Google’s algorithms pick this up without too much trouble.
Indeed, as this is such a surefire way to let Google know that you’re up to no good, some people submit their competitors’ businesses to lots of directories to ensure they receive a penalty. Or, to take it one step further, they set up a hyper-specialist directory themselves. They then eventually change the content or ask the third party directory to say that all links on the site require an inclusion fee. Google can now penalise their target for paid links. This is called negative SEO.
Honest Joes ought to avoid submitting to too many directories, and only target directories within their specific niche, market, or demographic. Some directories are also more useful, powerful, and trustworthy than others, and a white hat SEO will look to get your website in the more well-regarded ones.
URL Profiler checks backlinks, link metrics, connects directly to the Google Analytics API, checks websites for malware, finds social accounts, fetches page speed scores, gives content readability scores, harvests emails, and lots more. It’s an infinitely useful piece of kit, but with great power comes great responsibility: it can be used for good or ill.
While URL Profiler can be used for evil deeds, its capabilities as a tool scream “use me for white hat purposes!” The point of URL Profiler is to get a hold of data from legitimate sources and put it all in one place. The fact that you can use URL Profiler to check for spun content, whether or not your site’s mobile-friendly, and to carry out toxic link audits displays its white hat credentials.
URL Profiler can help rid a site of its penalties by showing exactly where things are going wrong, too. After all, URL Profiler’s true purpose is to fight back against bad digital marketing and SEO techniques, whether they were purposely carried out or not.
Some people like to register their website name as something quite similar to a legitimate website, with the same look, text etc. They will also try to register site names that are commonly misspelt or accidently typed in order to get traffic. They will then fill this website with spun content, spammy links, bad advertising, and more. Like creating a mirror site, but more direct as such sites could actually be built under a genuine, trustworthy website.
Legitimate developers like to use multiple subdomains in order to rank for keywords and queries in several different geographic locations. Subdomains can also be used to organise and personalise websites (think WordPress) effectively, giving high quality content a platform to shout from.
Essentially, hiding links from human readers and trying to get them to click on links they otherwise wouldn’t have if they could actually see them. Common on non-sponsored and video streaming sites.
Web counters and many web statistics programmes utilise invisible links, and are perfectly fine to use.
Stick together a load of keywords into a paragraph or article, regardless of whether or not the writing makes sense, and you have the phenomena of “keyword stuffing”. This is an attempt to “trick” a search engine to ranking your site for various, sometimes even unrelated, sets of keywords.
Decent SEOs will avoid keyword stuffing, and wherever possible and/or necessary, ask copywriters to create fresh, original, readable content. Several keywords are still used, but in a more natural way. Highly skilled writers may be able to tie two unrelated keywords and fool robots into thinking they’re synonymous, thereby improving a website’s SERPs for two completely different keywords. This is an excellent way of beating the competition.
The best way to keyword stuff without penalty is to get users to generate their own content (UGC, or user-generated content) and tag their work with words of their own. This creates a natural amount of variation, and could get you ranked for words and phrases you wouldn’t otherwise.
Creating a group of websites where each one links to all the others within the group, to the exclusion of other websites. Link farms are used to spam a search query and ensure users stay on a particular set of sites, and create confusion between the vendor and the promoter.
The respectable approach is not to build an enclosed farm, but rather try to reach out to other, relevant sites and pieces of content in order to build a reciprocal, mutual flow of information between websites. The vendor is never the promoter.
New code and text changes can fool search engines into thinking the website is fresh and new, even if the content stays the same. This is done over and over again in short periods of time.
Consistency is of utmost importance. Brands that change design all the time won’t be trusted. Repeatedly changing your website design may get you to the top of SERPs briefly, but readers will not think much of your brand and your rankings will ultimately suffer as a result.
People trust others’ opinions. Should you have a competitor, there’s nothing stopping you from writing a few bad reviews, or getting others to do so for you. This is dishonest, but it does work.
If a company is legitimately bad, the people must know! Hence, bad reviews are not against the law, and the more constructive the better.
Spun stories comprise bits and pieces from other articles drawn together into one, and then submitted to sites with lax editorial regulations. They are not there to be informative. More likely, the aim is to ride on a piece of news that’s trending to try and win links, without having to put effort into writing original copy.
Any news article written by a white hat SEO is likely to be well-written, well-researched, and sent to high quality publications.
There are several other tools and techniques you could possibly use, but we won’t give them here, as they definitely sit on the fence between white and black hat SEO, and will therefore likely get you penalised.
The techniques and tools you see above, however, can be used for all sorts of good if wielded ethically and responsibly. After all, just because you have a hammer, it doesn’t mean you have to hit people over the head with it! Rather, it is best to use that hammer in order to build and fix things as it will give better returns in the long run, as well as help beat black hat SEOs at their own game.
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