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SEO 23 min read October 27, 2023

Black-hat SEO Tricks: How to Expose Mala Fide Actions in SEO

Black-hat SEO Tricks: How to Expose Mala Fide Actions in SEO

Disclaimer: Our intent is never to offend. The views expressed in this article reflect the personal opinions of specialists and experts we consulted with. We welcome diverse perspectives; if you have insights or opinions to share, feel free to contact us.

Kateryna Hordiienko
Kateryna Hordiienko
Research Editor at Serpstat

SEO is considered a top method of promoting business on the Internet. At first, you have to work hard to promote your website, but then you can relax and enjoy your success, as maintaining your site requires less effort. But SEO has its drawbacks. Firstly, improving search engine rankings takes a long time — usually months. Secondly, the result is difficult to predict — you can only set benchmarks.

Now, imagine that the miracle never happened. You've spent time, effort, and money, but your website only performs to a few percent of its potential. What's the reason? It's quite possible that you've had to deal with dishonest specialists who don't keep their promises. Here's how to avoid such an unpleasant trap: recognizing the signs of deception in advance and what aspects to consider first.

Why Can't an SEO Specialist Guarantee a 100% Result?

Real SEO experts are very similar to engineers developing a new technical product. They know what result they want to get in the end and the key characteristics of the future gadget, but they don't know yet what methods they can use to achieve their goals. SEOs have to experiment, test hypotheses, create prototypes, and optimize specific solutions.

Apple-steve-jobs-video-testimony

There are many historical examples when engineers changed a device's characteristics on the fly, adjusted their goals, and even ran into the technological limitations of a certain era. Sometimes, their mistakes led to new discoveries, and sometimes, spin-offs were more successful than the main products. The best SEO providers work in the same way. Each project for them means new goals, new developments, and new knowledge. 

There are no two similar cases in which the same set of SEO tools can be used. Moreover, even within the same project, it is impossible to use the same methods over and over again. A website develops, its audience expands, and approaches to doing business change. And even search algorithms do not stand still — developers are constantly improving them, trying to bring honest companies to the top and weed out scammers. 

When choosing the right SEO company, remember that the same rules apply to SEO as in other business sectors. An SEO specialist cannot guarantee a 100% result because, much like in other business sectors, success in SEO requires taking risks, innovating, and adapting to unique situations. While moving in the right direction increases the likelihood of success, the precise outcomes and the speed at which they are achieved are challenging to predict with certainty.

How Can SEO Specialists Manipulate Data?

While the best SEO specialists are engineers with ideas and a vision of the future, a dishonest contractor is more like an illusionist. They will show you a brilliant performance, make you feel like the center of attention for a while, and do something mysterious that is inaccessible to ordinary people. But will their efforts change the world? Hardly. When the spectacular show is over, you will return to the same moment of your work routine.  

So, how can you avoid being fooled by bright tricks and empty promises? To uncover the essence of magic and expose bad SEO, you should use the same method — pay attention to details that are very important in reality. 

Unclear contracts

The first thing you'll want to do when you encounter the dark side of internet marketing is to bring scammers to justice. And here's the bad news — most of them insure themselves in advance by writing the most vague phrases in their contracts, such as:

On the other hand, such prudence allows you to see the problem in advance. All you need to do is read the contract carefully and compare it with the words of "SEO experts." Do they promise to bring your site to the top of the SERPs, but this is not stated in the contract? Goodbye! You are presented with attractive traffic figures, but the contract talks about increasing the number of visitors without any specifics. It's time to look for a new contractor. Is there a clear list of services only in the presentation? You know what to do.

Another red flag is when they try to convince you to sign the contract as soon as possible. If the contractor doesn't want you to go into the terms of cooperation, there is definitely something wrong with them. 

The conclusion is simple — the contract should contain a list of works, deadlines for their implementation, directions for website optimization, and KPIs that will serve as benchmarks for assessing the quality of services.

Promotion by low-quality queries

Usually, website owners hire SEO experts because they cannot perform SEO on their own. They lack free time, the necessary knowledge, technical tools, and sometimes everything at once. Because of this, most customers do not get involved in the workflow, fully trusting their contractors. And in vain! 

One of the most striking illusions used in SEO cheating is huge lists of search queries used to promote a website. When you see them, you will expect a huge success because optimization is aimed at a wide audience. However, you may not see it because most of these queries have low value — some get only a few views per month.

We have already explained how businesses can control SEO contractors. And one of these ways is to use Serpstat's keyword research tools. Simply enter the queries the specialist will provide you with, and you will see the maximum audience for your marketing campaign.  

Serpstat overview

Misleading reports

You can't guarantee perfect results even if you work with the best SEO providers, but you can guarantee that scammers will provide a lovely and convincing report. It will contain many colorful graphs and charts confirming your progress toward success. But you won't see the key metrics that directly affect the financial performance of your business today or soon.

An ethical SEO company highlights the following metrics:

1.Marketing ROI. 
2.The volume of traffic attracted. 
3.Cost per action (CPA). 
4.Visibility in search results. 
5.Positions for specific search terms. 

And most importantly, these indicators are as valuable as a spherical cow in a vacuum for physicists.

Source:The Daily Omnivore 

Spherical cow

The most productive comparison will be with competitors, which you can get with the help of the Serpstat rank tracker. The reports will show clear dynamics — if you are growing compared to other market players, your marketing team is doing everything right; if not, it's time to change your approach to business promotion. 

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Inflexible pricing policy

Sometimes, you see ads like "We will bring your website to the top 3 of Google for $1,000" or "$100 for each keyword." Honest SEO vendors do not do this. The right approach is to pay for working hours when performing certain tasks. 

We have already mentioned above that there are no two identical cases and that search algorithms are constantly changing, making it difficult for experts to work. Therefore, even the highest-rated SEO companies cannot know how much time they will have to spend on a particular job. 

In addition, the same approach to all areas of promotion is a sign of dishonest SEO. You have to admit that promoting a website for the query "used cars in NYC" is harder than "auto parts for sale cheap in North Dakota." If SEO consulting firms put the same price tags, at best, you are overpaying for low-volume queries, and at worst, you won't get the desired result. 

Black-hat methods

It is the most dangerous type of SEO cheating. Search engines are far from perfect. There are always loopholes in their algorithms that allow dishonest companies to promote their business quickly. But tech giants like Google are constantly working to eliminate these problems and restore balance. 

Unethical SEO companies use the following methods:

Source: Mockingbird Marketing

Black-hat-cat

Turning to the dark side of web links, copywriting, or technical SEO can give you short-term benefits — a strong boost in traffic in the first few days or even weeks. But in the long run, the outlook is not encouraging at all — it can lead to a significant drop in rankings or even a search engine ban.

In another article, you will learn what promises SEO vendors can make to you. If you see the above-mentioned items in the list of works, it's better to terminate cooperation right here and now without waiting for a negative reaction from search engines. 

Non-transparent relationships

The best SEO firms allow their clients to continuously monitor the results of their work. They provide full access to Google Analytics or distribute roles by creating separate accounts for employees and clients using the Serpstat solutions for agencies

If you want to know the status of a project or get a certain metric, a great SEO company will never say, "Wait until we generate a report." They will simply provide a link to a specific page of the analytics service and explain the meaning of each metric.

If a contractor doesn't want you to monitor their work, they are likely to do it extremely poorly. And this is at best, and at worst, they are using dark SEO. So, you need access to full analytics immediately — before it gets too bad.

Let's keep this our little secret

Manipulating behavioral factors

One of the examples of unethical SEO is companies that hire people and use bots to perform certain actions on the website. In this way, they improve key metrics such as traffic volume, depth of website research, and bounce rate. But we have already said that these methods belong to black-hat SEO. 

Such “bad SEO” leads your website to get a large number of visitors but a minimal level of conversions. First, it does not improve the company's financial results but increases the cost of the contractor's services. Secondly, search engines will sooner or later recognize cheating and impose penalties against violators. 

Source: Backlinker

Google-penalty-meme

If you see the use of bots or fake accounts in the list of services, immediately reconsider your agreements with the SEOs. However, using black-hat techniques is not always so easy to recognize. Top SEO consultants advise contacting people who left their contact information but did not complete the conversion. Find out what exactly affected their decision. You can also use a survey form, for example, in a pop-up window that appears when you try to close a tab. 

Failure to keep promises

To begin with, highest rated SEO companies never promise their clients the moon. They create optimistic, realistic, and pessimistic scenarios and honestly warn about the risks and limitations in specific situations. You can learn more in the article on how to choose a good SEO company.

However, many top companies for SEO promise clear results in their advertising campaigns, such as "We will get 1,000 subscribers in a week," "We will reduce the cost of a lead by 30%," etc. Usually, these are not empty words — top SEO companies clearly understand their capabilities.

Still, this doesn't mean you should trust your contractor without question. Monitor the work of your search engine consultants. If the results of their work are slightly behind the promises, this will be a reason for a discount, and if they do not comply with the advertisement at all, it will be a reason for urgent termination of the contract.

Pinocchios

Ineffective strategies

Another feature of the highest-rated SEO companies is that they never rely on limited tools. Rather, it's about multichannel marketing, which includes SEO, contextual advertising, affiliate programs, collaboration with influencers, and even offline business promotion methods. 

The best SEOs will not just offer to optimize texts and generate a certain number of links. They will create a comprehensive strategy that includes:

Source: Business2community

Meme

Top companies for SEO always think about plans A, B, and C, and, if necessary, further in alphabetical order. If one strategy doesn't work, another one replaces it. If a marketing campaign is successful, experienced search engine consultants know how to scale it up and take it to a whole new level of engagement. 

Promoting themselves instead of the client

It's a mistake that even a great SEO company can sometimes make. Instead of focusing on their client's success, they create a good case for their portfolio. This usually leads to a focus on short-term goals. SEO business representatives try to get the desired results at any cost without thinking about what will happen tomorrow.

What-is-narcissism

One of the qualities of a good service provider is the ability to think ahead. Successful SEO brands build a strategy that lasts for years. They also know when to use effective methods that will give excellent results but will be completely invisible in their portfolio.

When choosing an SEO agency, pay attention to its reviews. You need a company that aims for long-term cooperation. If they make it a habit to abandon their clients halfway through, you are unlikely to succeed with them.

5 Features of a Good SEO Company

At first glance, it may seem easier to understand all the intricacies of SEO yourself than to find the top SEO company to promote your business. But in reality, it's not that hard to recognize an honest contractor. Let's figure out what the highest-rated SEO companies have in common.

SEOmeme

1. Do not promise too much

It is difficult to predict the effectiveness of SEO and impossible to guarantee. Therefore, recommended SEO companies always set limited goals. Sometimes, they have to restrain the ambitions of clients who make overly large-scale plans. In addition, they develop different scenarios for business promotion and warn about possible risks. 

2. Provide honest information

By choosing the right SEO company, you can always control its work. You will be given unlimited access to analytics services. If necessary, agency specialists will generate additional reports and explain the meaning of important metrics. The best SEO specialists also use high-quality software.

3. Always keep in touch

Your contractor doesn't have to respond 24/7. But top companies for SEO respond quickly to customer requests within their business hours. Simple questions are usually resolved within 30-60 minutes, consultations are provided throughout the day, and complex reports take up to 2-3 days to generate. When you receive information quickly, you can be sure it is fair and correct.

4. Offer transparent communication

SEO companies from the list of those recommended by experts are always ready to tell you about the intricacies of their work. They may not share exclusive knowledge with you, but they will tell you what tasks are included in the business promotion plan, how long it will take to reach the goals, how many people are currently working on the project, and how much money has been spent from the budget. 

5. Really increase rankings in search results

Although SEO is time-consuming, high-quality SEO services produce results from the first weeks. When you turn to real experts, you will see your rankings start to rise. This process is not always fast and stable, but the overall positive dynamics will be a great sign. 

FAQ

First of all, it's the contract. One feature that makes an SEO company great is maximum honesty and transparency. If all the promises made by the agency representative are fixed in the contract, you can count on the result or a refund. You should also pay attention to online reviews and recommendations from colleagues. Try to choose companies focusing on long-term cooperation and not abandon their partners halfway to success. 

The main risks are loss of money and lack of results. However, dishonest representatives of SEO businesses who use black-hat methods can also create other problems. Using such tools often leads to search engine penalties, such as forced ranking downgrades or even a complete ban.

Black hat SEO refers to practices that increase a website’s ranking in search results by violating search engine policies. It carries substantial risks and is generally not recommended. Instead, white hat SEO, which aligns closely with search engine guidelines and prioritizes user experience, is considered safer and more effective.

Here are some common black hat SEO tactics that should be avoided:

  • Keyword stuffing. Overusing keywords in your content can lead to penalties.
  • Blog comment spam. Leaving irrelevant comments on blogs or social media just to create backlinks is not recommended.
  • Article spinning. This involves changing an original article just enough to avoid plagiarism detectors.
  • Negative SEO. This involves using unethical tactics to sabotage a competitor’s rankings in search engines.
  • Hidden text or links. Incorporating hidden text in your website pages and blog posts is considered deceptive.
  • Cloaking. This involves showing different content or URLs to users and search engines.
  • Irrelevant linking. Linking to sites without relevance to your content can be seen as a manipulative practice.

Remember, while these tactics might provide short-term gains, they will likely harm your site’s reputation and ranking in the long run. It’s always better to focus on white hat SEO tactics, which are ethical and sustainable.

While technically, using black hat SEO techniques isn’t illegal, some black hat SEO tactics cross the line into illegal activity. For example, website hacking and stealing intellectual property are both illegal. 

It’s also worth noting that using black hat SEO tactics can ban your website from search engines.

They don't promise too much, provide honest feedback, and maintain transparent communications. Of course, among the features that make an SEO specialist a good partner is a tangible increase in website rankings. Top specialists always work for the result. 

Let's sum up

The choice of partners always starts with studying their commercial offers. The priority will be given to companies offering tangible results but not promising too much here and now. One of the key features of successful SEO brands is a realistic approach.

The second point on the list is to read reviews and testimonials. Remember that you need a reliable partner to create a long-term marketing strategy. If a company tends to refuse clients frequently, it raises certain suspicions. 

And when you get to signing a contract, first study its details carefully. It should contain accurate information about the goals, lists of tasks, and deadlines. A sign of a great SEO specialist is a maximum of specifics and a minimum of vague phrases.

Of course, your prudence shouldn't turn into gullibility even at this stage. You should have access to an analytics service. Control the lists of planned and completed tasks, view reports, and evaluate the dynamics of key metrics. If you have any suspicions, ask the contractor for advice — they should explain the need to use certain methods and warn you of possible risks.

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