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Black-hat SEO is any practice against search engine guidelines that attempt to improve site rankings in results pages.

Last Updated November 13, 2023
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When doing SEO, your goal should be to make your website a trusted source that people — and search engines — want to use. However, there are less-savory ways to earn more rankings, which experts refer to as black-hat SEO. Learn more now!

What is black-hat SEO?

Black-hat SEO is any practice against search engine guidelines that attempt to improve site rankings in results pages. These tactics usually result in a penalty from search engines that will prevent a site from ranking. Common black-hat SEO techniques include keyword stuffing, cloaking, and link farming.

Black-hat SEO vs. white-hat SEO

In contrast to black-hat SEO is white hat SEO. If black-hat SEO includes the approaches you shouldn’t do, then white hat SEO encompasses all the approved ways to improve rankings.

For example, one common example of black-hat SEO is buying links. The white-hat alternative would be earning links naturally through quality content.

Black-hat SEO techniques

So, what are some examples of black-hat SEO techniques? There are many out there, but below are the main ones that most companies try to use.

Keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing involves adding keywords unnecessarily into a page to help it rank higher. This includes putting keywords in:

  • The content
  • Backlink anchor text
  • Meta tags

Now, adding keywords to these areas isn’t inherently bad. It’s when you cross the line of a couple of natural mentions to multiple instances of one keyword.

Alternative white-hat method

Shoot to use your keyword about 2 times in the copy naturally, once in the title, once in the meta description, and nowhere unnecessary. If you have to make it fit, you probably don’t need to add it.


Cloaking is where you present different content to the search engine crawler than what’s on the page. This way, each party has a different experience with the content.

This tactic is an attempt to help pages rank with content designed for search engines while showing users something else.

Alternative white-hat method

Create the best pages possible for your users, and search engines will naturally rank your pages higher over time. After all, their goal is to provide users with the best results!

Link farming

A link farm is a website (or multiple websites) that exists for link building. These websites link out to other sites that they want to rank well in search results. By boosting the number of links, the goal is to help the recipient website rank higher.

However, these sites usually have low-quality content with tons of links. The best link building tools can help identify these low quality sites. Google can also detect link farms easily, which will hurt your rankings.

Alternative white-hat method

Write informative content that encourages links naturally. Or, if you know a site that could be helpful to have a link from, reach out to them directly and ask them if you can write guest content or feature a link to a relevant page on your site.

Hidden text

Hidden text is added to websites to help add keywords to pages. The text itself is invisible to users, but Google can still read the keywords added to the page. This text can create a poor user experience (UX) and be flagged as deceptive to Google.

Alternative white-hat method

Much like keyword stuffing, you should insert keywords naturally and as they fit on your page. If you focus on writing relevant content, you should have no issue with ranking for the keywords you choose.


With the bait-and-switch technique, you create a page that ranks well, and then once the content is high on the results pages, you change what the content is on the actual page.

So, say you write a page on interior design for modern homes. Then, once it starts ranking, you change the content to something unrelated, like SEO for pest control or locksmiths. This intentionally tricks the user and creates a poor UX.

Alternative white-hat method

Be incredibly clear about what the user can expect when they click on your result. Make sure that your meta description, title, and keywords all match the content on the page.

Why should you avoid black-hat SEO?

Black-hat SEO may have some perks in the short term, like more traffic or higher rankings, but Google is quick to penalize sites that use black-hat approaches to SEO. Since these techniques go against Google, it looks like you are trying to be intentionally deceitful for your site’s benefit.

Search engines are getting better and better at detecting black-hat SEO techniques. If you catch a penalty from Google, you will likely drop severely in ranking. Or, your site could be removed from rankings completely. In that case, you will see less traffic, less customers, and less revenue.

Following a white-hat approach will save you from Google penalties and build trust with your site visitors. If you want to make sure your site does well long-term, you should opt for honest, SEO-approved techniques.

How to avoid black-hat SEO

If you want to avoid black-hat SEO, you’re probably not trying to commit any wrongdoing to begin with, so there’s little to worry about. That said, here are a few different ways to make sure you are above-board on all things SEO:

  • Put the user and search engine first. Never try to trick either party into thinking pages are about a certain topic and avoid intentional redirects. Your goal should be to give users and crawlers a pleasant experience on your site.
  • Never buy or sell links. These links will only hurt you over time, and they can even cause spam flags if they aren’t from a good source. This post from Google breaks down buying and selling links.
  • Write only good, quality content. When writing good content, you can include keywords naturally and answer search intent without tricking users. The more persistent you are, the more traffic will come in over time.
  • Follow webmaster guidelines and stay up on new information. As more black-hat techniques come about, Google will update their rules and punishments for implementing them.

Optimize your SEO campaign with the pros

Using proper SEO tactics will give your site the traffic, conversions, and revenue you want without jeopardizing its future.

If you want to improve your SEO, we have a full SEO glossary and plenty of informational articles to help you get starred. Or, you can contact us online to chat with an expert on white hat SEO!

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