Quick Wins Never Win - A Lesson in Black Hat SEO

Lewis Davie
October 5, 2018
Online Marketing
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Quick Wins Never Win - A Lesson in Black Hat SEO

Lewis Davie
October 8, 2018
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Black Hat SEO – Unscrupulous techniques & strategies used by web marketers to try and improve search rankings.

Recently, I was asked to export and sort through some contact form data for a client. There were thousands of entries, ranging from completely legitimate enquiries to nonsensical garbage. As I set about deleting the spam - offers for Ray-bans, tales of deceased Nigerian princes, even emails comprised entirely of lorem ipsum text - a common advertisement emerged from many of the messages:

"We can get your site to the top of Google."

A small worry crept into my head. Not about our clients getting inundated with spam (we have plenty measures in place to stop them receiving it), but how the average online business owner might respond. Here's one example from the data I was looking through:

I am Moses Johnson and I'm reaching out to see if you're interested in getting a business boost on your website.
I have helped out in a lot of sites to launch like a rocket,making massive revenue gains in a short time frame. I have conducted some case studies from my own work and, if you want, I can share them with you as examples to get a better understanding of how this is done. I chose to contact you because, as I scanned your site, I found that there is an opportunity to have some pretty quick wins with it that would increase traffic and revenue as fast as some of my best case studies. If you're interested in finding out more,let me know the best time to contact you and we can talk.
Best Regards,
Moses Johnson

"Launch like a rocket"? "Massive revenue gains in a short time frame"? "Quick wins"? It all sounds too good to be true, because it is. If you've spent a bit of time online, or have a contact form on your own site, you're probably quite adept at spotting snake oil salesmen like this. But consider someone who has opened an online shop for the first time, isn't terribly technologically inclined, and lacks a spam filter on their emails or site. An email like this could seem like an attractive proposition, especially when the recipient doesn't know where to start in making their website more appealing to search engines. 'Moses' might not really exist, but he's certainly eloquent, and similar cases often go on to mention various SEO terminology to make them seem like they know what they're talking about.

Is our (likely fictional) friend Mr Johnson a scammer? In truth, it's hard to tell. He could be an honest trader, simply trying every Wordpress-installed site he can find, offering his services. (Doubtful.) In a worst-case scenario, he could be attempting to gain admin access to websites, in order to shut its users out and demand a ransom. Whatever the reality, the message is spam, and should be flagged as such.

And yet, there's always that lingering doubt that what he's promising may still be possible. This behaviour isn't limited to spammers, either - plenty of real, legitimate SEO companies and freelancers put forward an enticing sales pitch that promise those "quick wins" in a "short time frame". When you hear the message often enough, you start to believe it can be achieved.

A History Lesson

Before Google refined its algorithms to deliver the excellent search results we're now accustomed to, its methods of ranking pages were slightly more crude, and as a result, much easier to exploit. Keyword stuffing, hidden text, spam linking, manipulating domain authority through redirects, and any number of other sneaky techniques could be employed to help push websites to the top of search pages. This type of 'Black Hat SEO', as it's called, used to be quite successful, but thanks largely to Google's efforts a number of years ago, they have managed to vastly reduce the impact of these underhand tactics, and punish the offending websites (sometimes going as far as striking them from searches entirely).

Nevertheless, it has to be noted that occasionally an SEO trick will work that gives a website some measure of accomplishment in search rankings. While this can be very beneficial in the short term, it's still ultimately ill-advised. For one, Google issues updates to its search techniques regularly, so a page could potentially achieve top ranking then fall below the top 50, all within one week. And there's the element of survival bias in play - for every story about a great growth hack, there will be thousands of failures.

So when a company tells you they can make your website shoot to the top in no time at all, alarm bells should be ringing in your head. What they propose might work, and you may see your traffic skyrocket. But keep in mind you're running a risk; if underhand tactics are in play, your website could suffer greatly if Google gets wise.

At Vital Hike, we believe there's no magic wand to getting great positioning from SERPs. Short-term solutions are never long-term ones, and if you want your online business to be truly successful, you need to invest in quality content, thoughtful marketing, and understanding of the keywords and metrics you need to gauge success. This is particularly evident at the launch of a new website, where traffic may initially dip slightly as Google examines your new site. It can be tempting to throw money at the problem and apply quick fixes, but experience has shown us time and time again that careful consideration and targeting the right audience results in even more traffic and conversions than before.

To any business who needs a digital partner who can deliver great long-term strategy, don't hesitate get in touch. To businesses considering going the 'Black Hat' route, please consider my words of caution. It's a dangerous game.

And to Moses Johnson, if you're reading this: I have a way of getting your sites to the top of Google.

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