Black Hat SEO in 2024: What It Is & How to Avoid It

SEO is highly competitive; everyone wants to reach the top. That means some people are willing to try anything to get ahead.

5 mins to read

Updated: January 24, 2024.

“Black hat SEO” gets its name from black hat hackers. These malicious cyber criminals commit fraud and theft on an unprecedented scale. 

The SEO equivalent isn’t as bad, but it’s still a set of bad practices that try to cheat search engine results pages (or SERPs). SEO is highly competitive; everyone wants to reach the top. That means some people are willing to try anything to get ahead. 

Why are Black Hat Techniques Bad?

They’re unfair. Business ethics matter to customers and are necessary to keep employees motivated

Plenty of companies don’t care about business ethics at all. They want to do anything they can to get ahead—so Google, the king of search engines, stepped in. It uses the “helpful content system” to measure user satisfaction. If a page scores higher in the rankings, Google tweaks the results to push it to the top. And they penalize black hat creators, including removing them from the lists entirely

Even the most unethical web content creators should avoid these practices. It’s in their best interest. 

Black Hat Techniques to Avoid 

So, what does black hat SEO look like? Some of them seem like genuinely clever tactics. Some bloggers or content creators might have tried some of these tools and not even realized it. Companies concerned about their SEO health should consider an audit and make changes to comply with SEO best practices

AI Content

AI was one of the most significant tech controversies in 2023, and the debate shows no signs of slowing down. Language learning models developed to string word associations together with billions of combinations broke new ground for writing and content development. 

At first, Google planned to penalize AI content on principle. Accusations of plagiarism plagued early AI-produced content. Google later revised its stance to hold content produced by AI to the same standards as human writers—is it useful? 

Other types of SEO seek ways to cheat that system—to get people onto pages that have no value whatsoever as a way to boost ad revenue. 

Backlink Purchases

Backlinks are links to one website from an entirely separate website. When Google reads a link to site A on site B, it figures site A must add value to users of site B along with its own users. Because it’s more valuable, it rises in rankings. 

The owners of website A might feel tempted to charge websites B, C, and D to stuff their websites full of links to site A. 

Google’s requirements say sites that contain backlinks must disclose their paid relationship. Sites legitimately link to other pages with helpful information, and a secret backlink purchase undermines the integrity of that understanding for the reader. 

Web designers can remove paid backlinks or de-index the links. This process, which they can accomplish with the click of a button, tells search engines to ignore the link. A de-indexed backlink no longer counts in the page’s rankings, which brings it back down to a more realistic level.

Link Farming

Since backlink volume drives a site up in rankings, some websites had a bright idea: to generate more links through any means necessary. 

Blog Networks 

A company that runs multiple blogs or websites (or has close partners) might feel tempted to form a blog network. The same organization controls the entire site, so they can place as many backlinks as they want, wherever they desire. 

This interconnected network creates a feedback loop of sites that boost one another’s rankings. It requires none of the hard work necessary for legitimate (or white hat) SEO practices. 

When Google locates this network of backlinks, it chooses to penalize every site involved. 

Spam Comments 

Other sites with a smaller footprint spread the word through any means necessary. They post their backlinks in comments on other blogs and social media. Backlinks aren’t inherently bad. Google often uses them as a way to measure how helpful a site is to web surfers. The logic goes like this: the more pages that link to a site, the more valuable it must be for its audience. 

Spam links fake that usefulness by spreading backlinks to as many pages as possible. Comments on blogs and social media with these links often have nothing to do with the content whatsoever, but their presence fools Google’s bots into thinking the linked site has more value than it really does. The algorithms boost the spammer site’s rankings even though the content doesn’t merit that reward. 

This is one more reason forum moderators should be vigilant against spam. Not only do they maintain higher site quality, but they also keep their competition from unethically exploiting their site. 


A website that cloaks shows one page to search engines but a different page to humans. Websites can identify bot visitors by their IP address and direct them to an overly-optimized page filled with nonsense keywords. The more keywords they have, the higher the rankings they appear. 

Human visitors are more likely to find the site than the competition since the bots see a litany of keywords and send the page to the top. But instead of the high-quality site, the bots expect, they find a page designed like any other. 

Hidden Content

Bots are smart, but not always smart enough. Web designers who make hidden content fill the background, margins, or other parts of the site with text that blends into the background. Users focused on the visible web content won’t see this text, but the search engines do. They drive the website, overpacked with information that may or may not matter, higher in the rankings based on information that doesn’t exist for regular users. 

Search engines try to boost pages that provide information for users and users alone. This unethical practice circumvents that system and conceals more useful pages at readers’ expense. 

Keyword Stuffing

An SEO writer who commits stuffing spam with the same keyword over and over again. Their text becomes repetitive and obnoxious. Readers hate it, but the bots that look for every possible keyword variation love it. The approach violates internet content ethics because it creates content tailored to unearned results instead of readers. 

Other forms of keyword stuffing include:

  • Long lists of phone numbers 
  • Long lists of cities, states, provinces, and counties that the webpage is trying to reach 

Google likes keywords, but it cares about utility more. So it penalizes any site it catches stuffing keywords at the expense of content. 

Redirects and Bait-and-Switch 

Bait-and-switch creators begin with legitimate quality content (that they might have stolen from somewhere else). They might also leave outdated but well-performing content on their site, such as expired promotions. 

In either case, Google may direct the user to unuseful content. Like many other black hat approaches, Google knocks the site that uses this approach down the rankings. 

Schema Abuse

A schema is a code format that helps search engines read websites. Developers can choose the information that appears on the results page before users ever click on their site. That’s helpful information to display, and Google appreciates that thoughtful utility. 

But not all schemas have value. Schema markup crammed with keywords can send a site to the top, just like keyword stuffing. And just like keyword stuffing, bad actors create content that has no value. 

Alan + Co: Providing Data-Driven Marketing 

Alan + Co follows all SEO best practices. In the US, we’re right next door to the tech giants who make the rules. We share a language, a border, and a belief in high-quality human-developed content. 

We’ve made great strides in business growth in a variety of industries, from tech to finance to mental health. We understand how seriously you take your content and will treat it with the gravity it deserves. Follow our blogs for more information to help you decide if Alan + Co is right for you. 

October 23, 2023

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