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Does Black Hat SEO Work?

I’ve noted before that Google Analytics has some often overlooked features for the blogger. My favorite being it’s ability to generate story ideas. When my well is running dry, I just take a look at what search terms users have landed on my page by using. Today’s: “Does Black Hat SEO Work?”

Of course it does, that’s why it exists and that’s why they can charge so much. That’s why even self identified white hat SEO companies or companies that don’t identify how they operate use black hat tactics. The problem isn’t that they don’t work, it’s that they work too well. Therefore, they are often quickly unearthed and can lead to long-term problems.

The story that introduced Black Hat SEO to the layperson was definitely JC Penny’s engagement of a black hat SEO company and it’s eventual backfiring. JC Penny’s SEO firm placed links on over 2,000 pages linking to JC Penny with appropriate keywords. The particular tactic they used was “paid links.” Or, simply when you pay a site to place a link to your site on their page. Often this is noticeable because the link will be completely incongruous. This tactic led to the site out ranking nearly every other retailer for relevant search terms like “Dresses” or even “Samsonite.”  This lasted for the entire holiday season of 2010. Interestingly, Google did not catch this one, The New York Times did. I’m not sure who in the organization saw it first, but my money is on the style editor.

Once the jig was up, JC Penny had to pay. Black hat SEO isn’t illegal, but Google was standing ready to punish them. According to the Grey Lady, just over a week after discovery, the average search term ranking for JC Penny’s selected keywords went from #1 to #52. Betty’s Beauty Barn in Minot, ND was out ranking them. Ouch.

They were found out, and that’s generally the way it works. If your website is appearing higher in search results than it should be, the people below you are going to look and wonder “Hey, where did they come from?” And you can be sure there will be no shortage of webmasters eager to toss your sits face down into Google’s Sandbox.

Not only does it make you look bad if you are exposed, even if you didn’t know about it, it can also hurt you in the long run. When a website is exposed as having used unethical SEO techniques the site is removed entirely or manually adjusted in search engine results. So, your site has gone from #2 on the second page, to #10 on page 57. And getting back isn’t easy.

The other thing to keep in mind is "who is bearing the risk?" Your SEO company doesn’t take on any risk (unless you negotiate a really good contract). They get paid to move your site to the top. If you do or don’t get busted, they get paid either way. But, if you do get busted, the site you have invested in and the traffic you had previously legitimately earned is going to be semi-permanently damaged. You’ve wasted money and now you have to spend more money undoing the damage that’s been done.

If you want SEO make sure you’re going to someone who’s practices you understand and who you can trust. The best way to determine who you can trust is to get educated. Go back and reread the articles from SEO week. These will give you a basic understanding of SEO tactics, the good ones.  The ones that build quality organic traffic over time. The ones that Google explicitly endorses. The ones that will earn you good traffic.

Does black hat SEO work? Ultimately that’s up to you to decide. It’s risky, the traffic quality is low and the results are temporary. Me? I use white hat. I’ve spent too much time and too much energy on this website and the book to kiss my traffic goodbye.

Join The Conversation

  • Sep 6 Posted 5 years ago JBird (not verified)

    Great post. The thing about this to me is, it really isn't that much more difficult to do things legit. I loved the idea of getting content ideas from Google analytics. That's a new one for me. Thanks for sharing Bro. 

  • Sep 6 Posted 5 years ago Ryan (not verified)

    Thanks for making this point short and concise you really have hit the nail on the head and made the facts clear. Your points of long term damage and the cost of trying to reestablish your company back in the search engines is a difficult one to swollow. I cannot believe even these large companies get dupped by these tactics. Its good to know it's not just marketers getting dupped by false promises.


  • Sep 6 Posted 5 years ago what is seo (not verified)

    It is very important to keep patience in SEO, because as JIM said earlier, there is not quick way to get higher SE ranking. It always takes a lot of time. I have seen that some sites uses black hat method and they ranked well in a glance. I had a smile to them. After few days, their sites were nowhere found in google neither yahoo. lol

  • Sep 6 Posted 5 years ago Aaron Eden (not verified)

    Chris, thanks for sharing that tidbit on JC Penny.  I remember reading this article last year of this guy who lost something like $4M because of shady link building practices that the company he hired has done... and Google penalized his site for that.  I think that many are missing the whole point of being online these days, that Content Rules!  You may know some tricks and game the may or may not be caught... but in the end, it's your reputation on the noose.  Unless you're auditioning for the Idols, there's just no way for you to get that super stardom overnight; you have to work hard for it by sharing valuable content to your online community.

  • MarketMeSuite's picture
    Sep 6 Posted 5 years ago MarketMeSuite

    It's the same as "black hat Social media marketing" - get followers fast tools get you followers, but they are incredibly low quality.

    Thanks for the article, interesting read.

    ~Tammy, CEO @MarketMeSuite

  • Kaloyan Banev's picture
    Sep 6 Posted 5 years ago Kaloyan Banev

    Agree, with you black hat works, even the "big boys" are using it. It all depends on personal skills and deep understanding of the latest technology. If it is done properly, results can be impressive.

  • Catherine K's picture
    Sep 6 Posted 5 years ago Catherine K

    Hi Chris,

    I so much enjoy reading articles about this topic because online fraudsters are one of my pet hates! Black hat SEO seems to only work for the fly by nighters in most cases. If we want to build a long term asset in our website, only white hat ethical methods will stand the test of time.

    I just wrote an article on my site about web ethics - and SEO ethics.  I think we just need to look at our ethical reputations and what having Google, and visitor loyalty and trust means to our businesses long term.

    Nice article, thanks



  • Sep 6 Posted 5 years ago netiquette

    Black hat SEO works or the term would not exist. Using techniques designed to fool search engines is bad netiquette. Based on my experience good content is the best search engine optimization technique.

  • Sep 5 Posted 5 years ago Exabytes (not verified)

    Black Hat SEO. Ofcourse it work but don't get caught by Google wish will bring your domain to Google Sandbox and get kick out from the Google Listing. 

    Make sure you play safe and smart. Even you do like to have a quick result...stay grey rather than totally black. 

    Don't build too much link at a short time. Then everything will be fine. 

    Build a quality and do follow link is better than 100 link that you spam with black hat. Think twice when you going to black hat. 


  • Jim Zamichieli's picture
    Sep 5 Posted 5 years ago Jim Zamichieli

    There is no quick and easy way to increase your rankings, it will take a period of time. The key is to have great content which entices people to visit your sight.  If you have great content, be patient, and you will get the desired results the white hat way.

  • Sep 5 Posted 5 years ago Chris Sanger (not verified)

    I'm glad this story is up here, otherwise no one would be reading it!'s SQL hosting has crashed! If you visit the site, please keep in mind that performance might be horrible, or nonexistant. Hopefully will be back up tomorrow, either way I'll be moving away from go daddy. Anyone have any suggestions? 

  • Sep 5 Posted 5 years ago @LStacey (not verified) Could you have rammed any more keywords in there? :p You are absolutely right though. Agreed on every point.

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