5 Black Hat SEO Warning Signs

Before we begin let me just explain to those that don’t know what I mean when I use the term “Black Hat SEO”.

The comparison of White Hat vs Black Hat originates from old Western films where the good guys would wear white hats and the bad guys black. And how does this apply to the world of SEO?

White Hat SEO agencies (like us here at Fruitbowl Media) are the good guys, improving your website’s ranking in the search engines by using every option available, but without breaking the rules. Black Hat SEO on the other hand uses techniques which break the rules.

And the rules are set by Google. And Google is kind. Here’s 5 early warning signs that you may be dealing with a black hat SEO agency.

1. Over Emphasizing Meta Keywords

Meta keywords appear in the head section of a web page and are not displayed to the end user. They should be a short list (normally 10-15) of keywords and phrases that describe the main themes of the webpage.

Back in the days of Altavista or Lycos this kind of made a difference. But anyone with a bit of sense soon figured they could stuff all their targetted keywords into this meta tag, and boom! They ranked number 1.

No decent search engines care about these anymore – in fact there’s some research over at SEOmoz to suggest you should delete the tag altogether as all it does is show your competitors the keywords your going for.

if your SEO agency stuffs your meta keywords, run a mile!

2. Non-human Readable Meta Descriptions

As before, the search engines of old paid attention to the meta description and looked for relevant keywords. Now, its no.1 purpose is to explain to the user, in easy to understand and clean english, what the page is about.

Google will highlight the search term if it appears in the description in bold, but it doesn’t affect the actual listing position.

If an agency changes your meta descriptions to just be a list of keywords and phrases that makes no sense, you’ve got yourself a black hat.

3. Hidden Content

There are many ways to hide content on your website but one of the simplest methods is to colour the text the same as the background, therefore it’s hidden from the user but search engines can still read it.

There are other techniques such as using hidden input tags in forms or hiding text behind images but using any of these methods will result in your website ending up in Google’s sandbox.

And spending a term in the sandbox can cost you thousands of pounds in lost sales.

4. Link Farms or Spammy Content Networks

Any SEO worth their salt can tell you that incoming links are the backbone of any good SEO campaign. As far as to say some agencies consider link building an entirely separate service to SEO (we don’t, thats just dumb).

Again, older search engines could be fooled by getting links from “spammy” websites. Without going into detail, just know that these websites would stand out a mile to a user, filled with hundreds of links to other websites.

If your SEO agency tells you they have a “network of websites to build an instant incoming link profile” run a mile. Not only do these links add no value (and are therefore a rip off) but in a “post Google’s Panda world” having links from link farms will actually flag  your website onto an inspection list (which is bad) and could end up in a trip to the sandbox.

And as we’ve said, the sandbox is bad.

5. Doorway Pages

A doorway page is a web page that has been specifically created and optimised for a high-traffic keyword. But the user never gets to see this page, because as soon as they land on it they’re automatically redirected to another web page, which usually has nothing to do with the original keyword. Search engine’s algorithms are continually improving and web pages such as this are removed very swiftly.

Followed by a trip to the sandbox.


These are 5 of the tamest Black Hat SEO techniques. There are much more aggressive techniques, but we don’t really want to blog about them because we don’t want to be seen promoting or educating about them.

This post isn’t meant to be an education into Black Hat, but a few pointers to watch out for. You should always aim to go with an ethical agency, following Google’s rules. Its the best way to ensure you’ll never get penalized in future updates!