Feature Article (Pub: March 07) Black Hat Search Engine Optimisation by Paul Rudman

Ever wanted that coveted top spot in Google so badly that you'd do anything to get it? There are all kinds of tactics and practices that can be applied to websites in order to artificially elevate the search engine placements; you are now entering the world of 'black hat search engine optimisation'. This term refers to the various methods used which are not considered ethical by the search engines themselves, and generally involves trying to fool them to some degree.

There are numerous methods available - this article will no doubt spawn more sequels than Rocky - so keep coming back to find out more.

At this time I would just like to point out that I am not criticising or condoning black hat SEO techniques, it's just an article of interest. However, if you do follow any of the methods mentioned in this piece - or those of any subsequent articles - then I won't take any responsibility for what happens to you or your site's search engine ranking placements!

Blog Spamming

Blog's are huge, anyone who spends any time on the internet will know all about the blogging phenomenon that has swept across the internet in the past 3 or 4 years. The relevance to blogs as a black hat technique relates to the fact that search engines love blogs; they are content heavy with very clean code (people looking for ethical optimisation techniques take note), and often they have very good link popularity as bloggers often link to each other - thus increasing the standing of your blog in the eyes of search engines, particularly Google.

As soon as your site becomes popular you can be sure you will become a target, and blogs were - and still are - no different. The tactic of blog spamming usually involves a spider script trawling the internet for blogs, and then posting or commenting on the site. This content will appear instantaneously on the page, accompanied by an optimised hyperlink back to the blog spammers' website(s).

The logic of this approach was simple: that the more links you have the better, so what better way to get loads of quality inbound links for free than spamming 50,000 pages on 5000 blogs? Who can blame the optimisation expert for trying to exploit what amounts to an SEO 'free lunch'?

And it did work for a time, as sites would get good rankings and link popularity would increase. However, the knock-on effect of this was that blogs would be taken offline, due to a combination of blog spammers using up all the bandwidth and posting generally unpleasant content and links.

Blogs strike back

So the blog spammers had arrived and they were winning. So what did the search engines and blog owners do to fight back? Each one of the aspects mentioned below is probably an article in its own right, so apologies for the brevity, I'll have to send you to sleep with the in-depth details another time.

The Turing Number

You've all been to a site where you had to type in the letters and numbers in the graphic image haven't you? this is known as the Turing number, and is generally used on e-commerce websites, but is also used on some blogs; you have to complete a 'turing number' field entry before you can post a comment on the site. The reason for this is that spiders and spambots cannot interpret the digits in the image, so as a result they cannot post on the blog.

The Turing number is a very good solution to the blogging spambot problem.

rel="nofollow" tag

This was a clever one, and one that the spambots and black hat gurus didn't see coming. The search engine fellows all grouped together and decided that a good way of preventing spambots and blog spammers was to not prevent them from visiting sites - as they knew this was impossible - but instead to offer bloggers a method of destroying the value of the link the spammers were trying to get.

When you insert the rel="nofollow" attribute into a hyperlink, then search engine spiders understand that this means "Do not assign value to this link", so in effect it's worthless. Again, as with the Turing number, problem solved.

One aside to mention is that if you ever embark on a link building campaign for your website, do make sure that the site that posts your link does not use this rel="nofollow" tag when linking to your website, as that link is worthless. An example of how the tag looks is <a href="http://www.linktoyourdomain.com" rel="nofollow">Linking text</a>

Restricted publishing access

This approach is a bit of a shame as it does take the interactive element out of a blog, but you can understand that getting hundreds of links posted to your blog each day, promoting mainly illegal activities, can become stressful after a while, so the answer for some bloggers has been to restrict authoring to blogs so that only people with usernames and passwords can post - or even in some cases just the author.

I'm far from convinced about this approach as, yes it would work, but by the same token a true blog has a daily rant from the blogger generously spiced with lashings of sage advice, or written sniggers from blog readers. Hopefully at this point in time most bloggers are using the first two methods to beat the spammers instead of this rather more draconian approach.

The end...?

Having just written about blog spamming as a black hat search engine optimisation technique I've realised there's more to all this than I thought, so I'll definitely have to come back with parts 2, 3 and 4 on this issue.

One point I would make in summary is that I've personally used blogs as the method of choice for the black hat spamming technique, but basically anything you can post a link to your site on is a target for this method, such as forums, wikis and URL redirect sites. I've even seen someone deliberately visit a website 15 times so that their URL appeared in the websites' log stats which were published on the site!

I hope you've found this article a useful introduction into some of the darker arts of SEO.


Paul Rudman is the director and head of optimisation at CommerceTuned, he's been involved in developing search strategies and search engine optimisation for 7 years.

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