When it comes to SEO, there truly is a light side and a dark side. The most common names for these two unique sides of SEO are white hat and black hat. White hat refers to doing everything “naturally” and within Google’s specified guidelines for search engine optimization. Black hat, as you can guess, is the exact opposite—search engine manipulation is the name of the game. A few examples of this manipulation are buying links, cloaking, spinning content, widget hacking, spamming, and negative SEO. All of these tactics can have a quick, drastic benefit when it comes to ranking inside the search engines. However, with this boost comes the risk of being penalized just as quickly. Below we will cover what these penalties can look like and just how dark you have to be to be at risk.


Ranking Reduction

If you are just beginning to dabble in the dark side of SEO, you may experience a decrease in ranking placement. In detail, this means that if your website “Home-Made Sith Treats” was ranked on the second page, you may see your rank take a dive to the 7th or 8th page. This is fairly common and is not always due to knowingly gaming the search engines. This punishment is a search engine’s way of calling out something that appears unnatural in some way, and it can come from thin or weak content as well as a rapid gain of low-quality links. Similar to a Storm Trooper, you may be going with the flow of others and be unaware that you have moved into the dark side of SEO. Fortunately, you still have a chance to change sides if you want.


Ranking Removal

When you become a little more entrenched in dark side tactics, you might begin to see complete rank loss. This is where you lose ranking for a keyword entirely. To demonstrate this, let’s say you were ranking on the 1st page for the keyword “Chewbaca songs,” and suddenly this rank is gone. You are nowhere to be found. This is most likely a warning sign that you have been caught trying to manipulate a certain keyword in order to rank for it. Usually practitioners of the dark side target large money (short-tail, high traffic) keywords. Yet, just like getting your hand caught in the Tauntaun jerky jar, this is a clear sign that you are entwined in dark tactics and the search engines know it. Similar to Boba Fett, you know which side of the force you are playing for. The reasoning may not be too sinister (money, time, ease). However, it doesn’t change the fact that you are aligned with the dark side.


Partial Exclusion

Once you become a Supreme Commander of the dark side, you’ll likely experience great loss with partial exclusion. This specifically refers to part of your website being removed from a search engine’s index. Let’s say you have a 60 page website about pod racing. If search engines see certain parts of your site dealing with tactics of a dark nature, you may soon see only 10 pages in the search engines. This is detrimental not only to any rankings you have for those other 50 pages, but also to any hopes of getting those pages ranking again. This is a path usually chosen out of false promises or dreams. It often has some great rewards, but very quick losses. Darth Vader was enticed by a lot of promises that had no fruition, and eventually he regretted his greed. Unfortunately, in both the force and SEO, once this path is chosen there really is no going back.



If you ever find yourself a true Emperor of the dark side, you most likely dedicate all of your SEO efforts to the manipulation of search engines. This in itself can have big, short-lived wins that carry just as much risk and potential for loss. Imagine you have a giant website that sells light saber parts and accessories. You use dark methods to quickly gain rankings in search engines. With this, you see a jump in traffic and sales. Then, just as quickly as it began, you see an abrupt loss in traffic and sales. When you check the search engines, you find that your site is nowhere to be found. This, most likely, is the result of your website being removed from the search engine’s index. You have no chance of ranking or of being found outside of direct visitors who know your website URL by heart. To say this is a business or website killer would be an understatement. The tactics necessary to gain power and rise in the search engines is alluring, but the loss is great. Just like the once-reputable Senator-Palpatine-turned-Darth-Sidious, you will also look sinister and lose any good reputation you once had, both in person and online.


Organic Traffic Loss

In conclusion, the dark side can seem like a great way to achieve quick rankings and traffic. Most of these tactics promise considerable reward with little to no penalty. However, as explained above, the consequences are severe in the form of rank loss or complete website exclusion, both of which can have a lasting impact on any business or website. At the end of the day, you have to look at the appeal of the dark side with a grain of Tattooine sand. Like the Death Star, black hat SEO methods may appear glorious and indestructible at first. But, despite the short-term gains you may achieve, the long-term losses could prove your ultimate destruction. You also have to consider the loss of branding and the negative association your business can receive from such questionable tactics. So save yourself the time and anger by staying away from the dark side of SEO. And, as always, may the force be with you!


Colton is the former Director of SEO Strategy at Boostability testing and defining the products and processes that make Boostability's customers successful. He was part of Boostability for over 8 years. Colton loves hanging out with his family and gaming. He runs a personal blog over at www.coltonjmiller.com where he discusses gaming, life, and SEO.


  • M Andrew Eagar, April 6, 2015 @ 10:23 am

    Great post Colton. It is sad that some website owners get sucked in with the seemingly endless “benefits” of black hat SEO. The truth is it is never worth it to do black hat SEO. You will spend more money getting yourself in the good graces of Google that you will never make an ROI

  • Josh, April 6, 2015 @ 12:24 pm

    One of my websites is almost 100% fueled by organic searches. If my rankings for specific pages were ever harmed by my own “dark side” tactics, it would mean the ruin of my site. Very few people know the URL by heart, so I’d probably have next to zero traffic. Ouch. Fortunately, I know the “light side” ways and always do my best to practice them. Great article, Colton!

  • Lindsey Potter, April 7, 2015 @ 2:57 pm

    Such a clever article! Just as we know the light side will always defeat the dark side, we know that white hat SEO will always defeat black hat SEO. It is silly that some people still think the dark side has a chance to come out the victor. (Especially with Google as the guardian of the universe.)

  • Caz*, April 16, 2015 @ 9:23 pm

    We are some serious Star Wars nerds at Boostability. I think this is a great topic! Good job Colton.

  • Colton Miller, April 17, 2015 @ 8:05 am

    We kind of like star wars 🙂

  • Colton Miller, April 17, 2015 @ 8:06 am

    Thank you sir!

  • Colton Miller, April 17, 2015 @ 8:07 am

    We love our “Guardian of the Universe” ha ha ha

  • Colton Miller, April 17, 2015 @ 8:08 am

    Thanks Josh, I appreciate the comment! It is all too sad to see how many people fall prey to the dark-side hoping they can spur results.

  • Colton Miller, April 17, 2015 @ 8:09 am

    Do you think anyone can truly recover once they go all the way to the dark-side?

  • Maria Williams, April 17, 2015 @ 2:36 pm

    Another great post from @disqus_vAkkvoEht8:disqus !! When I started working here one of the websites I was working had black hat all over the website .. pretty scary if you ask me haha !

  • Colton Miller, April 20, 2015 @ 2:32 pm

    That is very scary and something some people are even unaware of.

  • M Andrew Eagar, April 21, 2015 @ 9:13 am

    You know, your question reminds me of a story. A story of a good boy named Anakin who dabbled in the dark side for a time. He was so dark that when he told his son Luke that he, Anakin was his father, his son screamed “NOOOOOOOOOOOO”.

    Anyway, I guess my point is that at the end, Anakin turned to the light
    side and brought balance to the force. He of course almost immediately
    died after, but I think the point is made, that yes, you can go back to
    the light side…but at what cost.

  • Colton Miller, April 21, 2015 @ 10:22 am

    Fantastic story, I wish I knew more… 🙂

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