Why Does ‘Black Hat’ SEO Still Work?

We’ve all heard the pronouncements from Google that the days of ‘black hat SEO’ are gone. Every update from Google seeks, they say, to punish sites that use spammy, shady tactics. Every update places a premium on creating content, a great UI, legitimate link-building, and authority-buildling strategies.
So…if this is true, why does black hat SEO still sometimes–maybe even most of the time–win?
Winning at SEO: Defined
Before we state that black hat SEO still sometimes ‘wins’, we must first define what ‘winning’ at SEO looks like.
It really isn’t complicated.
Winning at SEO means ranking high. For example, if you search a keyword, anyone in the top 3 for that keyword is winning. If you are on the bottom of the first page or lower, you aren’t winning.
Pretty clear.
Are Black Hat Techniques Really Winning?
Yep.
We’ve read several stories about black hat tactics producing results. This is after the most recent Google update.
I’ll give you an example that hits close to home:
LogMyCalls typically either ranks at the bottom of the first page or top of the second page for the all-important keyword ‘call tracking.’ There are several companies–really good companies–that rank ahead of us.
At first blush, this is unsurprising because we’re the new kids on the block. We’ve only been around for a little over a year, and some of our competitors have been around for 20. They have more domain authority and substantially more backlinks etc.
But didn’t Google lead everyone to believe that producing unique, effective, fresh, quality content was the most important thing? Didn’t they say that social sharing of that content is critically important?
If that’s true, we should be blowing our competitors out of the water. We produce more content, and people share our content more regularly. That’s based on actual data.
(Obviously, our content strategy is working for traffic, but in terms of ranking for critical keywords, it hasn’t worked as quickly).
So…what’s the deal?
The Plot Thickens…
A few weeks ago we decided to start analyzing our competitors’ backlinks to figure out where they were all coming from.
What we found disturbed us.
We found that the majority of backlinks going to a few competitors’ sites (not all competitors) were utterly spammy and, at least, gray hat. I want to state clearly, that we don’t blame them for this. We’re not disparaging them. After all, these links, when they were created, likely weren’t gray hat.
For example, we’re talking about paid links, links on totally unrelated sites, links on fake directory sites. We’re talking about link farms.
According to Google these are inappropriate SEO techniques for which you will get hammered and punished.
So why haven’t they been punished by Google? Why isn’t Google giving credence to content, quality, and UI like they promised? Why aren’t they holding sites accountable when they have scores of bad links?
Again, I’m not blaming any of our competitors for doing this. Heck, if it works, we should start doing it too. (And if it works, it, by definition, isn’t black hat anyway).
Instead, I’m asking aloud, why does this stuff still work?
It is Happening Your Industry Too
If you analyze the companies that rank ahead of you for the keywords that are important for you, I GUARANTEE that you will find at least a couple (maybe a lot ) that have a ton of sketchy links.
Why does ‘black hat’ SEO still work? I invite your comments.

We’ve all heard the pronouncements from Google that the days of ‘black hat SEO’ are gone. Every update from Google seeks, they say, to punish sites that use spammy, shady tactics. Every update places a premium on creating content, a great UI, legitimate link-building, and authority-building strategies.

So…if this is true, why does black hat SEO still sometimes–maybe even most of the time–win?

Winning at SEO: Defined

Before we state that black hat SEO still sometimes ‘wins’, we must first define what ‘winning’ at SEO looks like.

It really isn’t complicated.

Winning at SEO means ranking high. For example, if you search a keyword, anyone in the top 3 for that keyword is winning. If you are on the bottom of the first page or lower, you aren’t winning.

Pretty clear.

Are Black Hat Techniques Really Winning?

Yep.

We’ve read several stories about black hat tactics producing results. This is after the most recent Google update.

I’ll give you an example that hits close to home:

LogMyCalls typically either ranks at the bottom of the first page or top of the second page for the all-important keyword ‘call tracking.’ There are several companies–really good companies–that rank ahead of us.

At first blush, this is unsurprising because we’re the new kids on the block. We’ve only been around for a little over a year, and some of our competitors have been around for 20. They have more domain authority and substantially more backlinks etc.

But didn’t Google lead everyone to believe that producing unique, effective, fresh, quality content was the most important thing? Didn’t they say that social sharing of that content is critically important?

If that’s true, we should be blowing our competitors out of the water. We produce more content, and people share our content more regularly. That’s based on actual data.

(Obviously, our content strategy is working for traffic, but in terms of ranking for critical keywords, it hasn’t worked as quickly).

So…what’s the deal?

The Plot Thickens…

A few weeks ago we decided to start analyzing our competitors’ backlinks to figure out where they were all coming from.

What we found disturbed us.

We found that the majority of backlinks going to a few competitors’ sites (not all competitors) were utterly spammy and, at least, gray hat. I want to state clearly, that we don’t blame them for this. We’re not disparaging them. After all, these links, when they were created, likely weren’t gray hat.

For example, we’re talking about paid links, links on totally unrelated sites, links on fake directory sites. We’re talking about link farms.

According to Google these are inappropriate SEO techniques for which you will get hammered and punished.

So why haven’t they been punished by Google? Why isn’t Google giving credence to content, quality, and UI like they promised? Why aren’t they holding sites accountable when they have scores of bad links?

Again, I’m not blaming any of our competitors for doing this. Heck, if it works, we should start doing it too. (And if it works, it, by definition, isn’t black hat anyway).

Instead, I’m asking aloud, why does this stuff still work?

It is Happening In Your Industry Too

If you analyze the companies that rank ahead of you for the keywords that are important for you, I GUARANTEE that you will find at least a couple (maybe a lot ) that have a ton of sketchy links.

Why does ‘black hat’ SEO still work? I invite your comments.

7 Responses to Why Does ‘Black Hat’ SEO Still Work?

  1. Kayleigh Dlapa June 18, 2013 at 6:32 am #

    Good read, and I agree. I’m almost in the same boat with our newly launched website – http://www.eepowersolutions.com. Since it is new – we lack domain authority and backlinks, yet have the best content in our industry. Our major competitors are using black-hat practices and ranking higher.

  2. Faten Hodroge June 18, 2013 at 8:55 am #

    It is no surprise that established websites have a long headway over new websites. As an owner of 10 years old online business and 1 year old business, I feel the joy and the pain of this reality. And we are also finding it very hard to to rank our new business. It is going to take time.

  3. Mike Andrews June 18, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    Great article. It mirrors my thoughts so closely I could have written it myself. Our primary competitor has tens of thousands of links, 99% of which now could be considered black hat by Google’s current definition. Did they lose SERP rankings following Penguin/Panda/et al? No, they didn’t! So what gives???

  4. Will June 21, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    Aren’t these competitors who employ black/gray hat SEO techniques at serious risk of being demoted as Google continually tweaks its algorithm? Playing by the rules and creating great content seems like the smartest long-term strategy.

  5. Andy Harris June 23, 2013 at 6:46 am #

    I think the issue here is that those companies who do ‘the right thing’ with sites now, are suffering because Google hasn’t caught up with all the ‘old stuff in the system’.

    It seems really unfair to businesses that are putting effort into good content and promotion. It’s as if Google are saying “be good boys and girls and, if you’re still in business in a few years – when many of you won’t be because you’ll not have got enough traffic – then you’ll be in a better position once we’ve weeded our garden”.

    A sceptic though would say that it’s in Google’s interest to let existing sites, that aren’t perceived to be junk sites, keep that positioning, because it forces other companies down the Adwords route.

    How good would it be if Google had a simple form to complete, that tracks your IP address, and lets you put in a url of a company that you think is using outdated SEO methods (i.e. black hat), and when their system detects enough comments about those companies, then they start to look into it in more depth.

    It’s an ongoing and ridiculous situation and will make companies look at Google in a completely different light. I just find it really sad that other search engines (e.g. Bing) don’t have the guts to completely weed their gardens and encourage smaller businesses to start using their engine.

  6. Mattan Danino August 30, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    Black hat SEO is working now but for short term. If we want to be in business and want to perform well in Google ranking we should use Pure white hat SEO techniques.

  7. K Handel September 4, 2013 at 1:02 am #

    I am a small freelance web designer in a big city. I’ve had my website for 12 years. I have struggled to get on page one of Google, but there is a lot of very knowledgeable competition.

    I offer good informational content and add new content at least once a week. I buy backlinks, Google+ followers, Facebook page likes and shares, Youtube views, Twitter retweets and traffic (both organic and Alexa).

    I now rank number one on page one of Google for the search term “mycity web design”. I have been number one for almost a year now. I am beating out all of big web design / SEO firms.

    I also have a keyword domain with different web content that ranks number one on Bing and Yahoo.

    Am I “cheating” in the eyes of White Hat SEOs – hell yes. Am I making lots of money? Yep. Will it last forever? I don’t know, but I made it through Panda and Penguin, so I am hopeful…