Search engine ranking can make or break many companies. For those companies, expert search engine optimization (SEO) services that succeed in achieving a Page 1 or 2 search result for prime keywords are invaluable. Unfortunately, a few unethical SEO companies know this and take advantage of companies desperate to improve their position in organic search results.

Many factors go into determining a site’s search engine ranking, and optimizing one or more of those factors can often result in a considerable rise in rank. Optimizing all of them can earn top search engine ranking. However, there are ethical ways to optimize a site (White Hat SEO) and unethical tricks (Black Hat SEO) that often work better and usually cheaper for the SEO service provider to execute. Unfortunately, the unethical practices are very likely to be eventually discovered by the search engine company — usually after the website owner has paid off the SEO provider for a job well done. When the tricks are discovered, the website will undoubtedly be heavily penalized, either by sending it to the bottom of the search results for a long time or deleting it from their results altogether. For a site that depends on the Internet for customers or sales leads, the impact of getting caught using Black Hat tactics can be bankruptcy.

To protect themselves, site owners must first accept a central truth about SEO: no one can guarantee search engine ranking on popular search terms. On the other hand, attaining a Page 1 search engine ranking on an unpopular search term is easy, but worthless. The leading search engines change their search algorithms regularly; the Number 1 site today will not necessarily be the Number 1 site tomorrow. Achieving and maintaining a high rank on a popular term requires an ongoing effort.

Secondly, site owners need to understand the differences between Black and White Hat SEO services, and know how to spot which is being performed on their websites. The difference is not always instantly apparent. Surely, some SEO tactics are clearly unethical, but others are debatable, while others still are not unethical but they are also ineffectual in raising the site’s search rank. While an exhaustive list assessing all potential SEO tactics is beyond the scope of this article, owners should be aware of several Black Hat practices that are seen more frequently than others.

Keyword Stuffing

Search engines like sites that mention the search term repeatedly; it indicates a focus on the topic. However, search engines have become better at distinguishing good, informative content from low quality content that serves no purpose except to repeat the keywords over and over.

Bold Text or Links

Using bold fonts to emphasize keywords and keyword links can make a search engine assume the site has very relevant and detailed information about those keywords. Overuse of the strategy can have a positive effect in the short term, but if the search engine decides it was done in an intentional effort to deceive, the site will be penalized for the long term.

Hidden Links

Search engines like sites to which many other sites link. Thus, site owners want to place links to their sites on the sites of others. Black Hat SEO companies accomplish this without obtaining permission from the host site. They have many different ways to hide links on a page without it being readily apparent to the owner or visitor. For example, a font color that matches the page background can be used and the text can use a tiny font size so that there is no way a casual observer can see the keywords on the page.

Domains with Duplicate Content

Search engines love content — because searchers are looking for content. One dishonest tactic is to post the same content, with only the keywords changed, on multiple domains or subdomains. Typically these sites are brokering the same service, such as plumbers, exterminators, car rentals, etc., and merely change the city name to attract new searchers. Again, short-term results are possible, but the long-term risks are unnecessary.


Rather than taking risky shortcuts to manipulate search engine results, the better solution is to simply create an informative site with a good experience for users. The sure bet is to create great original content that makes others want to link to and visit your site.

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