If you run a website, you probably recognize the phrase search engine optimization or the more widely used acronym, SEO. This means building your website around rules and guidelines set out by search engines, primarily Google.

Websites that follow these rules engage in white hat SEO. Unfortunately, some websites take a more cavalier attitude toward those guidelines. The website or an SEO company behind the website embraces black hat SEO.

Not sure what black hat SEO consists of? Keep reading for a quick guide that will help you spot if your site uses this approach.

Black Hat Basics

Companies that offer white hat SEO services focus on providing long-term benefits for your website and business. That generally translates into a focus on people, with user experience and quality content taking a leading role.

Black hat SEO only cares about the short-term. A core objective is for a website to draw enough traffic that it justifies any longer-term penalties. A common secondary goal is for a website to generate enough sales that everyone makes a quick and tidy profit.

This typically comes at the expense of the people who visit the website, which you’ll see more of in the next section.

Black Hat SEO Strategies

Businesses often use a handful of common SEO tactics when they try to game the search engine results. Keyword stuffing comes in right at the top of the tactics list, likely because it’s an easy tactic. Content that uses keyword stuffing routinely reads as a robot wrote it for other robots.

Link cloaking is another common tactic. That’s when you mask a longer link, such as an affiliate link, with a shortened link to track visitors.

Another common offender is content automation. In this context, content automation means changing someone else’s content just enough that it won’t trip plagiarism scanners. It often involves software that rewrites — poorly — content.

Pitfalls of Black Hat SEO

The most obvious pitfall of black hat strategies is that search engines catch on to these tactics and strategies very quickly and take decisive action. Search engines will occasionally warn website owners that a tactic or content violates their policies. In those cases, you can take down the offending content or remove the tactic.

More often than not, search engines will drop the ban hammer on an entire site. The website simply disappears from search engine results. This can prove catastrophic for legitimate websites that used questionable tactics or got bad advice from an SEO company.

To Black Hat or Not to Black Hat

For almost every business in the world, the choice between white hat SEO and black hat SEO isn’t a real choice. Black hat tactics will obliterate your online presence.

That’s a death knell for any business in an age where people use your online presence as a sign of legitimacy. Whatever short-term profit or attention black hat techniques get you, it can’t offset the long-term profitability of showing up in search results.

Looking for more tips for your website? Check out our Digital Marketing section.