Black Hat Tactics That Lead to a Manual Action

Austin Mahaffey
By Austin Mahaffey

There are a lot of tip and tricks floating around on the internet about how you can increase traffic to your website and improve your search engine optimization (SEO). But as you navigate the world of SEO, it’s important to be aware of black hat tactics which aren’t permitted by Google and may lead to manual action.

What is a manual action? Glad you asked. This is when search engines like Google have an actual human review your site, after being flagged as suspicious by a bot, to ensure it follows all quality guidelines. If it doesn’t, your site can be demoted in search rankings or possibly removed entirely from search results.

Before we look carefully at various tactics that could get you in trouble, let’s define exactly what is Black Hat SEO? Unlike white hat seo tactics which are in line with Google’s terms and conditions, black hat tactics are SEO efforts which manipulate Google’s search rankings through unnatural on-page and off-page tactics.Ironically, most of these tactics are nearly impossible to benefit from because of how intuitive Google’s search algorithm is. However, they have been utilized and websites have been penalized as a result.

Now let’s take a look at common Black Hat SEO tactics that could lead to a manual action.

Link Schemes

A link scheme is any link, or group of links, intended to manipulate Google’s ranking algorithm which includes link networks and unmarked paid links. A link network is a group of webmasters who trade links to one another for mutual benefit. These links often aren’t relevant to what is on the page or exude characteristics that are seen as “unnatural” by Google. This is a flag for Google because links are the number one ranking factor in the search algorithm so a lot of irrelevant links, or unmarked paid links, can throw off the algorithm’s accuracy.

If you are going to provide links on a page, ensure that every link is relevant and backed by thoroughly written content. Be aware that too many links on a page can be flagged as the sign of a link scheme. The same is true for a backlink profile that does not have a diverse number of domains linking to it.

Related: What Are Link Penalties? And How to Avoid Them

If your backlink profile has a large amount of links from very similar domains, that can be seen as a link scheme Google. When Google catches one domain with a link scheme they will follow the links to see where they link out to and penalize others involved in the scheme. So be careful who you link with to avoid unknowingly being involved in a scheme.

You’ll also want to add a nofollow tag to any paid links. This tag instructs search engine bots that the link should not influence the link target’s ranking in the search engine’s index.

Product Review Links

Black hat SEO practices like this are extremely relevant at the moment as Google is cracking down on perpetrators of this offense. Seen as a form of unnatural link promotion, this is the act of trading product for links and reviews. For example, if you are provided a free product as an influential blogger in exchange for writing a review and linking back to the product site this would be considered fraudulent in the eyes of Google.

It’s important to understand that providing or accepting free products is not the problem. And written reviews of that product are permitted without either party getting in trouble. The problem arises from domains benefitting from receiving inbound links as a result of giving out freeproducts. If there are links in a product review, they must be tagged as nofollow.

Auto-Generated Content

This is content which is generated by a bot as opposed to a human. Auto-generated content is relatively easy to detect by both humans and other bots. The phrasing usually seems awkward and has an unnatural flow of sentences. Typically the content will read overly formal as well. Not only could this type of content lead to manual action with Google, but it will also lead to poor engagement on your site. Visitors will easily notice that something about your content is off and will likely leave your site as a result.

Irrelevant Redirects

Irrelevant redirects occur when a user is expecting to see a piece of content based on their search query, but instead are sent to a web page that is completely irrelevant. Usually this happens using a 301 redirect, or a permanent redirect which passes 90-99% of ranking power to the redirected page. Back in 2006, German automaker BMW was penalized for utilizing redirects in this way. They were ranked for the search query ‘used cars,’ but clicking on the search result sent you straight to their home page full of brand new beamers.

 

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Doorway Pages

In many ways similar to a redirect, doorway pages are web pages with little or no content that exist almost solely to redirect traffic elsewhere. The page is duplicated multiple times across a website and is based on a high search volume query. This tactic spams the search engine using all thesedifferent pages, but in reality they all ultimately send visitors to the same page. As a result, the website seems to have a lot of pages about a specific topic when really the site only has one legitimate page of information.

Hidden Text And Links

Hiding text or links is exactly what is sounds like. It is, unfortunately, the common practice of making a link or text white so it blends into the background of a site. When search engine bots crawl pages for content, they do not read it like you and I so they are able to read this hidden content. This strategy allows websites to add a lot more content and links which would otherwise be too daunting and cluttered for a human to handle when landing on that page.

Related: How to Get Your Website On Page 1 of Google

But the hidden text and links can help improve ranking without hindering the user experience. Aside from changing the font color, text and links can be hidden behind images, off the page, by setting the font size to zero, or even hiding a link in a period or comma. However, it is best to avoid such tactics.

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing, one of the most common black hat techniques, is extremely easy for humans to identify since it is the act of using the same keyword multiple times in a sentence, paragraph, or throughout a page. Humans find this annoying, but a search engine bot just counts the number of times it sees the keyword. This was a highly utilized tactic back when search engine rankings were keyword based so the more the keyword appeared, the better the page’s chances of ranking for that keyword specifically. However, times have changed and rankings are no longer keyword based so this tactic is not only risky, but somewhat irrelavant.

Scraping

Scraping is the internet version of plagiarism and is extremely frowned upon. The act of stealing another site’s content and saying it is your own, is not only morally wrong, you will get caught by Google if you do it frequently enough. As bots read various sites they can detect duplicate content and when they do, they flag it to Google for (you guessed it) manual action.

UGC Spam

User Generated Content (UGC) is just as it sounds: content created by users or visitors to a site. As a result of this definition, UGC spam isn’t usually the webmaster’s fault as spammers commandeer the comments section and linking to their own websites.

Unfortunately, when this happens a search engine bot is unable to make the distinction between all of your relevant links within the published content and the irrelevant spam links in the comments so you could be flagged for this. An easy solution? If you have a comment section, or even reviews, available on your content make sure you have a plugin that will tag any link provided in those sections as a nofollow link.

If your site is ever flagged as suspicious, be sure to check out Google’s Manual Actions Report. This page lists known issues on your site and provides information to help you address the problem. In addition, if your site’s ranking is affected by a manual spam action, Google will also notify you by email and in the message center.

 

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Austin is an SEO project manager and account manager who has been with PDM since 2015. Austin has a passion for entrepreneurship, which he received a bachelor's degree in from Point Loma Nazarene University. Using his passion for business development, Austin focuses on leveraging a strong Organic traffic to help sustain overall business growth. Austin is also known as the best ping pong player in the office as he easily defeats his coworkers on a daily basis.