Black Hat Horror Story


Black hat techniques —that is, sneaky and dishonest search engine optimization—are unfortunately rather common in the ecommerce world. After all, if a consultant claims that they can get your site into the first page of results for all of your keywords, you are probably not going to ask a lot of questions about how. However, this can be very destructive for your website if the powers that be discover your less-than-legit methods. A good example that we saw this spring is well-known retailer JCPenney. Hopefully this story will stop the use of Black Hat SEO and help you legitimize your methods to increase rankings and improving your search.

What Happened?

JCPenney was recently exposed as being a black hat marketer by the New York Times. According to an exposé performed with the help of an online search expert, JCPenney had thousands of links from spammy sites, often ones with only the link to JCPenney. This is just one of many black hat tactics that put them on top of search engine results… and ultimately dragged them back down to the bottom.

What Are Black Hat Tactics?

Black hat tactics can be difficult to define, but in general, they lure in customers with content that will not help them once they are on your website. For instance, product descriptions and blog posts help your customers; keywords stuffed repetitively behind a CSS page do not. Black hat tactics fool users and fool search engine bots—albeit only for a while. They include things like hiding pages or keywords, link spamming, and keyword stuffing. At the other end of the spectrum are shite hat tactics, ones that improve your page rank without tricking anyone.

Black hat tactics are common on the internet, although we rarely see them so blatantly used by a large retailer like JCPenney. However, they are rarely effective on the internet for long. It is only a matter of time before Google (or the New York Times) figures out what you are doing and puts an end to it.

How Can I Protect Myself?

You should be suspicious of any SEO consultant or firm that claims they can get you to #1 for a common keyword or offers to find you thousands of links—all almost overnight. Optimizing your ecommerce website is a long haul for people who use white hat techniques, so be suspicious of anyone who makes it too easy. While black hat techniques might work for a while, it is only a matter of time before you get busted by Google and dropped to page 1,634,782 of results. With search engine bots and algorithms designed to seek out black hat SEO, it is truly only a matter of when.

Any SEO plan should include a written plan that includes optimizing your website’s basic structure, legitimate link-building, adding fresh content on a regular basis, and other tactics that build your PageRank without a hint of black hat, If your SEO experts are not being open and honest about what they are doing and how, you just might wake up one day to find that your site has disappeared from the Google—and that your visitors have disappeared as well.