Black hat SEO is when an SEO company uses strategies outside of Google’s guidelines. This is often really enticing for SEO companies because it is much easier to get rankings this way. However, the issue is, the rankings only last for the short term. After doing SEO for a good amount of time, I can tell you it is well worth the effort to build quality over time. Every corner you cut, catches up to you. That can be hard for a start up to swallow, as they want immediate results, but if you look at the clients who have been doing quality SEO since the beginning versus those who went the black hat route, the line of success is clear.
In this post, I show you how to tell if your company is doing black hat SEO.
Check your Backlinks
Most inexpensive SEO companies who are black hat will build a lot links really fast. What happens is, Google at first interprets this as a quality signal, but then you get a penalty. One of the first things you can do, is check a tool like Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO or the Google Search Console Link Report. Each of these tools do pretty much the same thing, but I prefer Majestic.
Majestic SEO will show you any spikes in backlinks. If there is a major spike in links, you can investigate those links to see where they are coming from.
Here we see your options for looking at those links in Majestic SEO.
When looking at these links, use your own best judgement. Do these look like links that have been earned or links that are “unnatural“. One other thing you might want to do is take a look at the anchor text report. If your SEO company as built too many text links with a keyword in them, you could get a Penguin penalty and lose your ranking for that term.
Checking Onsite Optimization
The main issues with black hat SEO is that it generally occurs from building poor quality links to the website. However, there can also be onsite issues as well. For example, things like keyword stuffing, cloaking, spun content or doorway pages are common issues that fall into black hat category.
You will know this one when you see it. Here is an example provided by Google.
Pretty nasty stuff, right?
Cloaking, Spun Content and Doorway Pages
I wont go too much into these, but briefly, you can check for cloaking by doing a fetch as Googlebot or checking the cached version of your page and see if it matches what you see. Also, spun content is just gibberish and it is easy to spot. Doorway pages are pages made for just SEO that really shouldn’t be there. Now, there is a big difference between category pages that provide value and doorway pages. Doorway pages provide no navigational value to the user and have limited, if any, unique content.
Usually what will happen if your SEO company is doing black hat work is that you will see a good boost in the first 3 to 6 months and then start to lose traffic. It looks something like this.
Now, it is not always that drastic. Sometimes it is much more gradual.
Usually, if poor quality content is being added to your site, odd sounding projects and a lot of links are being built, those are red flags. But the thing is, if you used a black hat SEO company in past and are now with a good one, they will need some time to reverse the bad work. It is very hard to bounce back when black hat techniques have been used on the website. Your new company should be talking about things like disavow files, link clean up, earning new links, inbound marketing and social media.
Panguin Tool and Manual Actions
Finally, if you want to see if you actually have a penalty, you can go to the Google Search Console and click on on the manual actions link. If it says you have a manual action in there, then you have one. Now, it gets a little trickier with your site if it is being held down by an algorithm change or update. For that situation, I recommend the Panguin Tool. It overlays your Google Analytics organic Google traffic on top of all the Google updates.
I like this tool a lot and recommend it often. But, watch out for seasonal or event based traffic spikes. This can really throw things off. One of the worst things that can happen in SEO is operating on a false premise. You can waste so much time and energy working on project. For example, consider that you think you were hit by Panda, but you were not. You could spend so much time consolidating URLs, moving to subdomains, trying to create more quality content, cleaning up filters, etc.
These are just some of the things I look at when assessing a penalty and black hat SEO. By the way, is your company doing black at social media?