Identifying black hat SEO techniques

As the name may suggest, black hat SEO techniques are illegal and/or damaging search engine optimisation techniques that can be used by agencies and businesses to attempt to rise up the rankings. Ultimately, you want to know if your competitors or your chosen marketing agency are using these techniques as it can lead to punishment from Google and poor rankings long term.

Knowing how to identify them early and before they have any major, long-term impacts is important to ensure the respect and reputation of your website and business remains intact.

What is black hat SEO?

Black hat SEO defines a range of techniques that are used to increase a page’s or website’s rank in search engines through practices that violate the search engines terms of service or regulations. These techniques are often designed to see a short-term gain for the website in terms of its ranking but may not necessarily hold in the long term.

Some known black hat SEO techniques include;

  • Automated content
  • Hidden links and text
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Link schemes
  • Duplicate content
  • Excessive backlinking

These techniques are all aimed at improving the ranking of a website but may not necessarily improve the websites function for the user. A search engines algorithm is designed to find websites that best suit the search query and are of the highest quality within the category. If a business is simply using techniques that aim to improve ranking but not the user experience then it is likely that it is a black hat practice.

Identifying black hat techniques

There are a few things to look out for to determine if there is any illegitimate SEO work going on behind the scenes and it is important to look out for these both within your own business and competitors. Through the use of website optimisation and analysis tools like MozBar, you are able to assess a competitors search engine optimisation tactics.


Take note of the visibility levels of the website and its pages as significant changes in this area can be an indication of potential black hat techniques. A rapid fall in visibility may indicate that there have been punishments from the search engine as a result of illegal techniques. Additionally, a notable increase may mean that black hat techniques are being used and are yet to be noticed.

However, be careful not to take this is a definite sign as it may be that the resultant increase in visibility may be a result of high-quality search engine optimisation techniques that are coming to fruition.

Reviewing the backlinking profile

A websites backlink profile reveals a lot about the behind the scenes work that is going on. Referrals from other sites and to other sites indicate who they are connecting with and the type of content that is being linked to their site.

The Ahrefs Link Explorer is a great tool for identifying a competitor’s backlink profile. A backlink profile that sees regular spikes could mean that there are a number of black hat techniques going on but it may also be aligned with a recently launched campaign, so again, you need to be careful. There are a few links to look at when reviewing a websites backlink profile;

  • Quality of the links

Determining the quality of the links is a great indication as to the legitimacy of the practices being employed on the site. Links that are relevant to the page’s content and to high-quality sights likely reflect fair practices. However, those with lots of low-quality links to poor sites with largely irrelevant information may indicate so black hat practices.

  • Link anchor text

This is also a great method for determining if the backlinking efforts are legitimate or not. Those with highly repetitive anchor text that isn’t directly related to the information around it or the website may indicate that it is a deviant practice. An example would be a page that regularly uses the anchor text “SEO tools” despite it seeking to explain the benefits of social media marketing.

Regular monitoring

Constantly looking over your website and those of competitors is extremely important if you want to identify any possibility of black hat techniques. A websites ranking consistency gives a good indication as to whether or not it is using valid practices to achieve its high ranking.

The websites ranking are also highly valuable when used in conjunction with other statistics as they are often related. For example, a website with a high ranking is also likely to have a large number of Facebook shares as a result of its high quality and reputation.

However, if a site has all of a sudden experienced a rankings rise and does not have a competitive number of Facebook shares it may well be due to some dodgy work.

Additionally, spikes in particular keywords that are not relevant or have been previously unused may indicate that there are some black hat techniques going on such as keyword stuffing.

Identifying black hat SEO techniques is certainly not an easy thing to do and should only be acted upon following sustained periods of suspicious activity with regards to their website. Using the steps above will provide a strong background as to the performance of a particular website and can give insight into whether or not a competitor is using black hat SEO techniques.

Passionate about writing and sharing my experiences with others. I have a keen interest in marketing and the growth of digital.