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.
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.
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.
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!