Everyone loves a good shortcut or get-rich-quick scheme, but most of us are reasonable enough to know when something is too good to be true. Not too long ago we would hear about SEO tactics that could get a site to the top of Google in a matter of weeks using tools, automated methods, and keyword strategies. Even some of the more prestigious SEO companies would use such tactics as keyword stuffing, and for the most part, shady SEO tactics were cheap, fast, and they worked reliably. Until, one day, search engines like Google wised up to the black hats, and even the gray hats, as we began to see a slew of algorithm updates and other efforts against spam and black hat behavior around 2009-2012. The release of the Panda and Penguin updates, in particular, led to the penalization of thousands of sites, and caused many SEO firms to change their approaches altogether.
Since then, the past five years have brought a strong trend towards legitimate, white hat SEO and content marketing strategies that provide sustainable, long-term results and zero risk of penalization. Aside from this fundamental chain of events, here are four inherent reasons why black hat and shady SEO tactics just don’t work like they used to:
1. Search Engines are Too Advanced, and They’re Only Getting Better
Imagine a building with some of the smartest people in the world packed into cubicles and working all day long to maintain a search engine that can detect spam from a mile away. This huge force of intelligent professionals is working diligently to make sure search results are giving visitors accurate and useful information. One could say that we’re talking about Google, but search engine development goes even beyond their world-famous headquarters in Mountain View, California.
When you really stop to think about how advanced the technology is and how far the companies behind these search engines have come, it seems almost ludicrous to imagine any marketer or SEO specialist outsmarting these people. The inevitable realization that black hat is no match for those performing good, white label SEO has driven so many former black hats away from that type of thinking, so any remaining gimmicks are vastly outnumbered by developers working to thwart black hat tactics.
2. Visitors are More Savvy, and They’re Only Getting Smarter
Search engines aren’t the only ones who are getting smarter. Visitors are also much more savvy and are therefore less likely to want to click on a cleverly placed ad or fill out a survey in exchange for a piece of content. Even legitimate companies are having a hard enough time getting people to pay for their content because of how many alternatives and workarounds consumers have available at their fingertips.
Tricking the search engines is only the preliminary step in the black hat approach. The end prize is duping the visitor into clicking on an ad or falling into a landing page trap. As web users become familiar with the gimmicks that are primarily designed to exploit them, black hat marketers are seeing increasingly low conversion rates.
3. The Web is Evolving Away from Spam
People don’t like spam. Nobody likes being bothered by pop-ups, requests for email addresses, and other gimmicky nonsense that comprises the arsenal of most black hat SEOs. This dislike is instinctive and because of that it’s not going to disappear any time soon. As such, we can expect to see the internet become a more legitimate and trustworthy place as advancements in cyber security and search engine ranking continue to unfold. With Google weeding out spammy tactics left and right, there’s really not that many fish left in the pond, so any remaining black hats are standing out like a sore thumb.
4. Results Aren’t Worth the Effort and Risk
There was a time when webmasters and aspiring entrepreneurs would spend day and night looking for the next shortcut or technique they could use to generate more ad revenue and traffic online. These people took loopholes to the next level, looking for ways to trick search engines and visitors in order to increase their bottom line. About 7-10 years ago things like that worked online because there was such a large group of people uniting in back alley black hat forums to share these exploits and tactics they found to get around the standard white hat way of doing things, which as mentioned, is typically much slower in terms of how long it takes to achieve results.
Flash forward to the present day and, although there is definitely still a black hat component to the web, especially related to torrents, gambling, adult sites, etc., for the most part such activities have been confined to these “bad neighborhoods.” As we implied in reasons #3 and #4, during the past decade most people who have done black hat have gotten caught or penalized in some way and have now transitioned to white hat, or at the very least, grey hat. That leaves a very small minority of black hats left, which further weakens their collaborative capacity. Meanwhile, search engines and white hat agencies are only getting bigger.
It Was Only a Matter of Time
Since all technologies are continuing to advance at a relatively predictable rate, it’s not surprising that Google and other search engines have refined their algorithms and practices to eliminate the majority of spammy tactics by now. In fact, many black hats that were doing well with such techniques just five years ago were already acknowledging that they were lucky to be operating during what was clearly a “wild wild west” era of the internet.
As we head towards 2020 and operating systems are trending towards all activities being locked down within app interfaces, it seems as though the days of rogue programmers and shady developers are phasing out. The other factor to consider is that legit SEO is almost always preferable, and so most people who use black hat to gain initial momentum online eventually have aspirations of switching to the white hat approach in the long-term.