BLACK HAT SEO: WHY YOU SHOULD AVOID IT AS A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER August 29, 2023 | Marketing , Social Media | Google , business website , SEO By Zach Vesper, NPI, Inc.'s Senior SEO & Marketing Strategist When running a small business, there are many facets of building a company that entrepreneurs will encounter for the very first time. Building relationships and developing marketing strategies are difficult tasks on their own, but business owners need to perform those actions all while ensuring that they have a viable, valuable product to offer their clientele. Needless to say, small business owners have a lot on their plates, which is why it’s important to find the right kind of help in areas where experience or knowledge might be lacking. One major area where small business owners are likely to be limited in their knowledge is SEO. Business websites that haven’t had the benefit of being reviewed by someone experienced with SEO are at a major disadvantage when it comes to online visibility, but there are many so-called “experts” who offer help that could ultimately set a business back considerably. To get an idea of why SEO is so important and how unethical optimization tactics can end up hurting your business, let’s discuss “Black Hat” search engine optimization. What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? Small business owners can have a great talent for customer service, but businesses that struggle to reach their customers will always have a difficult time getting their foot in the door within their market. This is where SEO comes into play. Put simply, search engine optimization (known commonly as SEO) is the practice of making things like websites and website content more easily discoverable on the internet through search engines such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo. The best actions that can boost a website’s SEO include relevant keyword research, meta description tags, and quality content that answers user’s queries. When solid SEO-improving principles are implemented, business websites will naturally (or “organically”) rank higher in Google searches over time, leading more clients and customers to find their information. These strategies are the most effective, but they can be too gradual for some. Small business owners who are looking for quicker results and are willing to cut corners might find themselves trying out other strategies known as “Black Hat SEO.” Black Hat SEO practices might provide short-term benefits, but business owners who implement these strategies are sure to regret them down the road. What is Black Hat SEO? “Black Hat SEO” is a term that calls back to old westerns that quickly split its ensemble into “good guys” (characters with white hats), and “bad guys” (characters with black hats). In the same spirit, SEO practices are largely divided by experts between ethical strategies (White Hat SEO), and the strategies that attempt to game the system or indulge in suspect motivations (Black Hat SEO). Here are a few examples of common Black Hat SEO tactics to watch out for: While this strategy may have worked well in the past, search engines have become much more capable of detecting content that isn’t of a high quality, or isn’t very reader friendly, which is often the result with sites that use keyword stuffing. Keyword targeting is an important part of good SEO tactics, and creating strong content is a better way to boost website traffic in the long run. Again, search engines have become more savvy nowadays. Even if this trick isn’t caught immediately and a website is artificially boosted, you should expect a hefty penalty once the hidden text is identified. When considering keywords, the best strategy is natural, organic incorporation into existing content, rather than using these manipulative Black Hat tactics. As can be expected, search engines have caught up with this dishonest tactic and are able to negate any benefits from these types of backlinking, and will penalize sites that engage in link farming. The best way to build up valuable backlinks is to develop and host relevant, helpful content that is worth referring to. Keyword Stuffing involves an unnatural overuse of targeted words or phrases that you are trying to rank highly for. For example, “When you're looking to buy a home , a thorough home inspection is essential. Ensure that every corner of your potential new home is inspected by a professional. From basement to attic, home inspections provide peace of mind. Don't overlook the value of a comprehensive home inspection ; it's crucial for any home buyer. Home inspection services are indispensable.” In the past, these spam-heavy strategies could manipulate search engines like Google into ranking a webpage higher than it normally would have for the selected terms. Hidden Text is somewhat similar to keyword stuffing in that it involves placing targeted words or phrases unnaturally throughout a webpage. In this context, however, text will be placed in odd areas on the page, and their colors will be changed to make them completely unreadable or “invisible” for any website visitors. This might sound silly, but back in the day, this strategy allowed search engine crawlers to read and factor in these hidden keywords to boost rankings, without detracting from the reader’s experience like with keyword stuffing. Link Farming refers to websites that are made only for linking back to other content, usually in exchange for money. Backlinks are important for websites to accrue over time since they are similar to a recommendation for that website’s content. When many reputable websites create links to your content, then these sites are saying that your information is valuable and worth directing their own audience towards. Many marketers and marketing groups are known to reach out to small business owners promising that they can positively impact their online SEO, increasing their website traffic, and boosting their ranking on Google. However, these marketers often employ Black Hat SEO tactics that are designed for quick, impactful results which will later be severely penalized by Google and other search engines. Automated systems and Google’s manual review teams search out unethical SEO practices, and will often pull an offending website’s ranking far lower than where it started or completely remove it from results. Business owners should be very wary of working with so-called SEO experts who make big promises, as they will become much harder to work with once their results have backfired. Instead, try working with people who have established a relationship of trust and a verifiable track record of SEO success. Looking to improve your online rankings? Contact NPI's marketing team ! Want to learn more about the benefits of purchasing a franchise with National Property Inspections? Get your free info packet today! About the Author Zach Vesper, Senior SEO & Marketing Strategist Zach brings twelve years of content marketing and nine years of search engine optimization (SEO) experience to the NPI in-house marketing team. His areas of expertise include building marketing plans that increase franchise sales, optimizing web content for search, crafting effective paid search campaigns, reputation management, and content strategy. Zach is always more than happy to answer your questions about all things Google and considers this the most important and enjoyable aspect of his job.