SEO is a fierce zero-sum game war.

That’s why some business owners resort to black-hat tactics to topple competitors from the top of the SERPs.

While there are some black-hat SEO tactics you clearly shouldn’t use, like hacking (because it’s illegal), others seem less risky. But even the ones that look like they might be worth it are frankly never a good idea for legitimate businesses—so you should avoid them at all costs.

In this article, we’ll cover six common black-hat SEO tactics and what to do instead:

  1. Buying links
  2. Keyword stuffing
  3. Blog comment spam
  4. Article spinning
  5. Negative SEO
  6. Rich snippets spam

Buying links means paying another website to link to your website.

Payment for links can be money, goods, or services.

Buying links is bad on many levels:

  • It’s a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Google explains this here.
  • It can lead to a Google penalty. Google will penalize your site if they catch you selling or buying links. Some SEOs question how good Google’s algorithm is at sniffing out paid links, but the truth is they’re getting better at it all the time. So while they might not identify them all, chances are some links you buy will at best have no effect and, at worst, hurt your rankings.
  • Paid links are expensive. $361.44 on average, according to our 2018 case study.

What should you do instead?

Link outreach.

This is where you create a valuable resource, then reach out to the owner of a website you want a link from and give them a compelling reason to link to it.

A great way to get started with this approach is to use the icing on the cake technique:

  1. Create a useful resource.
  2. Find pages that your resource will complement.
  3. Pitch your resource to the site owners.

Let’s look at an example…

Say you’ve created a curated list of resume templates. This is a valuable resource, so the next step is to find pages that your resource will complement. In this case, that might be posts about “how to write a resume.” After all, a guide to writing a resume is good, but a guide to writing a resume with templates is arguably even better.

You can find these pages super easily in Content Explorer, a searchable database of billions of web pages. Here’s how:

  1. Go to Content Explorer
  2. Search for title:"topic" -"what your page is about"
  3. Toggle One page per domain on

For example, if you search for title:“how to write a resume” -“templates”, you’ll see over two thousand posts about writing resumes that don’t mention anything about templates:

You could easily reach out to these sites and explain that:

  • You came across their guide to writing a resume.
  • You noticed they didn’t include any templates to get folks started.
  • You recently put together an extensive list of the best resume templates on the web.
  • Your resource might be a useful one to add to their article.

Not everyone will link to you, but some will (as long as your pitch makes sense).

Keyword stuffing is the practice of repeating the same keywords (or similar phrases) in your content to manipulate rankings.

Back in the ’90s, this tactic used to work. Not anymore.

Keyword stuffing is a bad SEO practice because:

  • It makes you sound unnatural. Cramming as many keywords as you can into your content makes your writing sound robotic and ridiculous. So it becomes an instant turnoff to readers.
  • It can lead to a Google penalty. Google says that “filling pages with keywords or numbers […] can harm your site’s ranking,” so don’t bother unless you want your rankings to take a plunge.

What should you do instead?

The antidote to keyword stuffing is comprehensive content.

You can create this in two ways.

First, write in-depth content that covers a topic meticulously. The result? You will naturally include most expressions and long-tail keywords people use to discuss the topic.

Second, try to cover subtopics that searchers might want and expect to see.

Both of these things can help you rank higher because Google doesn’t only judge content based on how many times it mentions the search query. It also looks at whether the page contains other relevant content and keywords:

There are many ways to find potential subtopics to cover, such as:

  • Looking for common subheadings among top-ranking pages for the target keyword.
  • Brainstorming related topics with your team.
  • Checking the “people also ask” section on the SERPs.

But these methods are labor-intensive.

The easiest and most efficient way is to run a content gap analysis for your page. This shows keywords the top-ranking pages rank for that you don’t, some of which tend to represent subtopics.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Enter your URL into Site Explorer.
  2. On the left menu, click Content Gap.
  3. Enter the URLs of 2–3 similar top-ranking pages for your main target keyword in the input fields.
  4. Run the search and look for keywords that represent subtopics.

For example, if we do this for our guide to guest blogging, we see a couple of keywords related to “guidelines”:

If we look at one of the top-ranking posts, we soon see that these keywords relate to advice about reviewing a site’s guest blogging guidelines before pitching:

We omitted this advice from our post. So it may be worth adding in for a more comprehensive article that can (hopefully) beat our competitors.

Blog comment spam is where you post irrelevant comments on blog posts with the sole goal of getting a link back to your site.

Even if we ignore how annoying this is for the blogs on the receiving end, it’s not good for SEO because blog comment links are almost always nofollowed. That means the links are extremely unlikely to help you rank.

What should you do instead?

Write helpful blog comments on high-traffic posts.

Doing this won’t lead to higher-value links than leaving spammy blog comments because they’re still nofollowed. However, people are more likely to read a valuable and helpful comment and click through to your website. That doesn’t lead to direct SEO benefits, but people might share your content and end up linking to you—so it can lead to indirect SEO benefits.

Here’s a good way to find pages to leave comments on using Content Explorer:

  1. Enter a relevant topic.
  2. Switch the search mode to In title.
  3. Run the search.
  4. Add a Page traffic filter with the minimum set to 100.
  5. Toggle Exclude homepages on.
  6. Look for blog posts in the results with comments sections where you could add a valuable comment.

For example, say you’re a dropshipping expert. You might search Content Explorer for “make money online” and see these results:

The highlighted post has tons of organic traffic and many comments:

This post is a perfect candidate for a powerful comment that can drive traffic to your site.

Article spinning, aka content spinning, is where you take a piece of content and rewrite it to create many “new” pieces of content.

Article spinners rarely use spun content on their blogs. Instead, they use it to create lots of “unique” guest posts to publish on multiple sites and build backlinks quickly and easily.

Article spinning is bad for SEO because:

  • It rarely results in an engaging article to read. Spun content often sounds unnatural and weird, so only low-quality sites are likely to publish spun guest posts.
  • It results in low-quality backlinks. Because only low-quality sites tend to publish spun articles, the links you get from spun guest posts rarely have much SEO value.

What should you do instead?

Use the perspective technique to create unique variations of a guest post from different perspectives.

For example, let’s say you write a guest post entitled “The future of link building.”

You could easily change the perspective of that post to create multiple unique and valuable guest posts:

Is this more work than article spinning? Of course. But it’s way less work than writing guest posts on entirely unrelated topics because you already did most of the research and hard work for the original post.

Even better, changing the perspective helps you to get backlinks from a wider variety of websites.

Think about it: “The future of link building for startups” is hardly going to appeal to a blog for SMEs, but a post about “the future of link building for small businesses” will.

You can also approach the same topic from opposite angles. For example, say you wrote a post about “X Benefits Of Link Building For Startups.” You could flip the script and write a guest post for another site titled “X Link Building Mistakes Startups Make.”

Learn more: Guest Blogging for SEO

Negative SEO is an underhand technique of attempting to sabotage a competing website or web page’s rankings.

Negative SEO is bad because:

  • It’s unethical, sometimes illegal. Tactics like leaving negative reviews or bombarding a competitor with low-quality backlinks are shady and unethical. But hacking and other forms of cyber-attacks are quite literally criminal.
  • It rarely works. Or at least that’s the case for the most common type of negative SEO attack: pointing low-quality backlinks at a competing website or web page. Google is pretty good at identifying and discounting these links on the whole.
  • It’s only ever a short-term solution. Even if negative SEO works, another page will soon come along and outrank your low-quality page.

What should you do instead?

Create content that actually deserves to rank—and demonstrate that fact to Google.

This is easier said than done, but there are typically two crucial ingredients:

  1. Matching search intent
  2. Getting backlinks

Let’s start with search intent…

Search intent is the reason behind a search. Unless your page aligns with search intent and gives the searcher what they’re looking for, your chances of ranking are slim to none.

You can identify search intent for a keyword by analyzing the top-ranking pages for the three Cs of search intent:

  1. Content type. Are most top-ranking results blog posts, product pages, category pages, or something else? Follow suit.
  2. Content format. Are most top-ranking results listicles, how-tos, tutorials, opinion pieces, or something else? Follow suit.
  3. Content angle. Do the top-ranking results have a common angle, like “for beginners” or “in 2021”? Follow suit.

As for backlinks, you need them—at least if you want to rank for anything remotely competitive.

We know this because Google said that links are one of the top three ranking factors. Our study of over a billion pages found a clear position correlation between rankings and backlinks too:

Check out the resources below to learn more about building links to your pages.

Rich snippets spam is when you misuse structured data to (try to) gain an edge in the SERPs.

Rich snippet spam is bad because:

  • It can lead to a Google penalty. Google says pages or sites violating their structured data guidelines “may receive less favorable ranking.” They also apply manual actions to pages they find to contain “spammy structured data.”
  • It can lead to rich snippet ineligibility. Rich snippets often improve clickthrough rates in the SERPs. That’s why people want them, and it’s why rich snippet spam is a thing. But Google says your page or site may be “marked as ineligible for rich results in google search” if you violate their structured markup guidelines.
  • It rarely works. Google is pretty good at spotting spammy and irrelevant structured data these days (unlike a few years ago). So you’re unlikely to see rich snippets based on irrelevant or spammy markup appearing in Google search results anyway.

What should you do instead?

Include accurate structured data on your pages where relevant by following Google’s structured data guidelines.

Google says that this helps them to “understand the content of the page.”

Following the rules also increases your chances of being included in special search result features and enhancements.

Check out the resources below to learn more about implementing structured data and winning rich snippets.

Final thoughts

Black-hat SEO tactics aren’t worth the risk, so stay clear of them.

They can get your site penalized and damage your brand’s reputation.

You’re better off focusing on viable white-hat alternatives. Admittedly, the tactics I suggested in this guide need require effort than the quickfire dark tactics. But the good news is they work and bring lasting results.

Got questions? Ping me on Twitter.

Source:, originally published on 2021-09-21 17:15:29