SEO in general is not exactly encouraged by Google, because in essence it’s a way of playing the system and presenting your website in a certain way to exploit the ranking algorithm for profit. On the other hand, so-called “white hat” SEO is not really an issue because it’s mostly focused on delivering a better user experience. Whether this is done with the best intentions or not, it will usually have the same results. Google is happy as long as your website is becoming more user-friendly and providing better answers, because this continues to support its own traffic and revenue streams.
However, “black hat” SEO is the flipside. This is what some people immediately think of when it comes to search engine optimisation, and it has been blamed for giving the whole industry a bad name. SEO was originally much easier than it is today, since Google was much simpler, and this was especially true if you were happy to use underhand techniques. In fact, many companies offering SEO to clients still employ some truly bad strategies based on “black hat” advice, and a lot of it doesn’t even work on Google at this point.
Some outdated strategies may be honest mistakes, but in a lot of cases they appear to have been done deliberately to mislead Google. Many of these were once technically acceptable, at least until Google figured out how to detect and punish these crimes against search.
For example, keyword stuffing was once a sure way of getting your webpage noticed for given terms, but it pretty quickly became a sure way of getting penalised and marked as spam. Unfortunately, many website owners still seem to think it’s a brilliant idea, and cram their content with as many instances of the same keyword as they can, before wondering why their positions may be lower than a site with actual quality content.
Hiding keywords on a webpage is an even worse variation on this. By formatting text in such a way that it isn’t visible to users, but it still appears as content in the code of the page, the idea is that search engines will pick up on the keywords being used without having to go to the trouble of weaving them seamlessly into the writing. Since this is inherently misleading, Google started picking it up and penalising it long ago, but for many black hat SEO specialists this is still one of their main strategies, which puts their clients at risk.
Unnatural link building is also a major black hat technique still very much at work today, despite the increasing sophistication of Google’s algorithm and its ability to detect it. Some SEO companies will put very little care and attention into their link construction, basically using their own network of spam sites to link out to their clients, or even placing links on the clients’ own sites to each other. This all gets messy quickly and rarely yields good results.
There are many more issues with SEO techniques that are far from up to date, and in fact we can think of too many to go into! Suffice to say that underhanded techniques are still being sold to clients and used on many websites inappropriately, but we can expect to see Google continue to tighten up on these offenders.