What Is Black Hat Link Building? Risks and Ethical Alternatives

11 min read
30 Jan 2024
Picture of Adam



Link building has long been a vital SEO tactic for improving a website’s reputation and rankings by collecting backlinks from external pages back to the website.

However, some extreme link-building approaches violate search engine guidelines and should be avoided. This post will look at “black hat” link-building techniques, why they are risky, and ethical alternatives.

TLDR: Black hat link building uses manipulative tactics like private blog networks, hacked sites, etc., to artificially inflate a website’s backlinks. Although it can increase rankings quickly, the consequences after Google finds out are severe. Consequences include loss of traffic, lower search visibility, and reputation damage.

You’re better off focusing on creating high-quality content to earn links naturally over time. Ethical alternatives include networking with industry sites, guest posting, broken link building, and local SEO optimisation.

What is black hat link building?

Black hat link building is an SEO technique that doesn’t follow Google’s rules to artificially inflate a website’s link profile and fool search engines. The sole focus is to get backlinks at any cost rather than earning links naturally through quality content.

These tactics manipulate external signals like link count to improve rankings without improving site quality. They provide little value to users.

Search engines also understand this, so they have been further developed to detect and penalise many black hat tactics. However, some websites still risk using this tactic.

Why do people build black hat links?

Here are the five main reasons why people still do black hat link-building.

It used to work

Back in the day, SEO was all about quantity; sites could buy 1000s of spammy backlinks and see results quickly. Marketers took advantage of this, and Google quickly started punishing sites that built lots of spam backlinks in the form of Google Panda and Penguin updates.

Although Google has continuously improved its algorithm to detect and punish black hat links, many people still believe this tactic is practical and risky in exchange for the opportunity to increase rankings.

Lack of knowledge about SEO

Many people do black hat link-building because they do not understand SEO and genuine link-building strategies. They only know they need many backlinks to reach the top of Google.

Therefore, when they hear black hat SEO service providers offering backlinks at low prices, they immediately agree without even verifying the quality. As a result, their website is targeted with spammy links, leading to a very high risk of being penalised by Google.

Not being aware of the level of danger

Many people do black hat link-building because they are not aware of how dangerous it is. Most of them know that Google can penalise websites that use black hat links, but they think that they cannot be detected.

It is that wrong thinking that makes them recklessly try black hat linking. Many people also believe in the promise of some black hat service providers to ensure Google does not detect them. That makes them even more subjective, and they continue to use this malicious link.

Intentionally used for harmful purposes

Finally, a small number of people intentionally use black hat links to sabotage competitors. They are willing to accept being penalised by Google if their competitors are seriously affected.

The driving force behind them is rivalry and unfair competition in business. Instead of focusing on improving the quality of their website, they sabotage others with toxic links. This is a negative SEO that Google is aggressively fighting against.

What are the most common black hat link building techniques?

Here are some of the most common black hat link-building techniques you may encounter:

Private Blog Network (PBN)

A private blog network is a network of websites created to provide links to other websites to improve their visibility. This tactic can still have some impact if used skillfully. 

It works because black hat SEO buys expired domains with existing website authority. Then, recreate these domains and the content. They can use redirects to ensure that any domain names are not lost any link.

Website owners often build these sites using content farms or AI-generated content. This allows them to quickly and cheaply fill their sites with original content, making them appear authentic.

Most people who own PBNs use techniques to hide them. Owners can block crawlers from popular SEO tools so competitors cannot see the site. They can also host websites under different plans to hide the connection from Google.

Link Farms

Link farms are websites that exist primarily to sell links to other websites, usually PBN websites.

When Google detects that a website is part of a PBN, all links from that website will lose value. At this point, the PBN operator may sell links on the link farm to make money.

Although buying and selling link farms is not heavily penalised, Google will thoroughly remove the value of those links. If you use links of this type, your website may be manually penalised.

Blog Comment Spam

Some black hat SEOs use automated bots to mass spam comments containing links back to their website.

Blog comment links are almost always nofollow, meaning they have no value. However, they can bring some referral traffic to the website.

There’s nothing wrong with commenting on blogs you follow and adding relevant links. However, using automated bots to generate thousands of comments is against Google’s guidelines.

Google doesn’t add much value at all to blog comment links anyway.

Add links to user-generated spam

In addition to blog comments, black hat SEOs also abuse forums, social networks, and directories to include links in user-generated content.

Usually, this spam content will be of inferior quality. It can be automatically generated using an AI content generator. It will also be filled with links with keyword-matching anchor text pointing to mostly unrelated pages on the site.

Having these links pointing to your site is fine when done sparingly and in a way that benefits readers. However, it becomes a problem when people spam these sites with low-quality content to create hundreds of links back to their domain.

Add a link to Plugin or Theme

This type of link building is where the person wanting to build links creates a plugin or theme that the website owner can install on their website.

The person will then add a link to their website in the plugin’s code. Whenever someone installs the plugin, they automatically link to the target website. If the plugin is successful, this can lead to many links.

Sometimes, that person will speed up the process by taking over a plugin with many installs.

Hacked websites

This is the most extreme black hat link-building strategy. Especially when people hack into other websites and add links to existing content.

Hackers often target old blog posts with vulnerabilities because it is unlikely that the owners will check these pages. Links will always stay in the content until someone finds them.

It’s easy to see why hacking is attractive for black hat SEOs. Once they’ve hacked into a website, they can add a virtually unlimited number of links and have complete control over elements like anchor text and the pages they add links to.

It will be difficult for web admins to find the links if they are careful with how they do it. And if the sites the hackers infiltrate are high quality, the links can be effective.

How to Avoid Bad Links and Create Quality Backlinks for SEO Ranking

Avoid Bad Links

  • Check site metrics first: Relevancy, Domain Authority (DA), Link type, Spam Score (SS)
  • Avoid irrelevant niches, low DA, and high SS

Create Quality Backlinks

  • Make a list of relevant sites
  • Check metrics (DA, SS, etc.) 
  • Pitch relevant guest post ideas  
  • Write stellar content 
  • Ask to submit guest post URL in Search Console
  • Focus on positive metrics like relevancy, quality content, low spam score

Read this article for more on how to avoid bad links and create quality backlinks for SEO ranking

What are the risks of black hat link building?

Engaging in black hat link building may seem appealing on the surface because it can quickly improve ranking factors like backlink count.

However, like any unethical shortcut, black hat tactics carry hidden dangers beyond just being “wrong.” Specifically:

Search Engine Penalties

Google uses automated algorithms and human quality checkers to detect black hat practices. For example, Google’s RankBrain AI helps identify unnatural link patterns.

If found to violate the guidelines, sites will face consequences including:

  • Rank drop: Being moved down or entirely removed from high-value search results pages.
  • Reduced traffic: With lower visibility, website traffic can drop by 50% or more overnight.
  • Manual review: Flagged for human review before restoration, extending the penalty period.
  • Permanent site removal: In rare cases, Google removes sites from appearing in search results without the possibility of appeal.

Reputation damage

In addition to the direct algorithmic impact, being caught for black hat SEO damages a brand’s reputation. If discovered, users, partners, and customers may view such behaviour as unethical and untrustworthy.

Even if you escape the algorithmic penalty, the damage to public perception still exists, and these damages will stay with you for a very long time.

Waste of resources

Black hat link-building techniques, to a greater or lesser extent, require time, money, and effort. So when the punishment happens, All that effort will be wasted, and you will return to square one. Even worse.

Recovering from penalties requires removing all offending links, improving site quality, and submitting a reconsideration request. If successful, you may eventually be reinstated – but the financial and opportunity costs of the sanction process are still severe.

How to Recover from a Google Penalty?

Here are the main steps to recover from a Google penalty:

  1. Identify if it’s a manual or algorithmic penalty. Check Google Search Console for manual actions.
  2. For manual penalties, follow Google’s instructions to fix the issues.
  3. For algorithmic penalties, review recent algorithm updates and fix any impacted issues on your site through technical SEO audits and improving content.
  4. Clean up toxic backlinks by disavowing or removing spammy links.
  5. Submit a reconsideration request for manual penalties once issues are fixed.
  6. Monitor rankings and traffic to track recovery over time. Complete recovery can take 10-30 days for manual penalties or up to 6 months for algorithmic.

Read this article for more on how to recover from a Google Penalty.

How to Find and Remove Spam Backlinks?

Identify Spammy Backlinks:

Use Semrush to flag backlinks from low-quality, unrelated, or paid link networks. Also, check manually for irrelevant backlinks.

Remove Spammy Backlinks

Manual Removal

  • Contact the web admins of the linking sites and ask them to remove the links
  • Provide details of exactly where the link is
  • If there is no response, send a follow-up request

Use Google Disavow Tool

  • Only disavow links you can’t get removed manually, if you think they are significantly harmful. Remember, Google will just ignore most spam backlinks.
  • Upload to Google Disavow Tool to tell Google not to count those links

Keep Monitoring

  • Schedule regular backlink audits to catch new spammy links early
  • Address new toxic links as they appear

Read this article for more on how to find and remove spam backlinks

What are the ethical alternatives to risky black hat tactics?

Regarding link-building, choosing sustainable and ethical methods over black hat tactics is crucial for long-term success. Luckily, many effective white hat link-building strategy options will build a strong foundation for your website’s SEO without risking penalties or compromising your reputation. Here are some key strategies to consider:

1. Focus on creating high-quality content

  • Publish informative, engaging, and valuable content that naturally attracts links from other websites. This could include blog posts, infographics, guides, case studies, videos, or other formats relevant to your audience.
  • Conduct research and provide unique insights into your industry. This makes your content more likely to be shared and cited by others.
  • Optimise content for relevant keywords without keyword stuffing.

2. Build relationships with other websites

  • Network with website owners and other bloggers in your niche.
  • Participate and interact in online forums and communities related to your industry.
  • Guest posts on high-quality websites with relevant audiences.
  • Offer to collaborate on content creation with other sites.

3. Promote your content actively

  • Share your content on social media platforms.
  • Submit your content to relevant directories and aggregators.
  • Reach out to influencers and journalists in your field.
  • Run email marketing campaigns to promote your content.

4. Utilise other white-hat link-building techniques

  • Broken Link Building: Recommend your content as an alternative to broken links on relevant sites
  • Mentions without links: Find websites that mention your brand or product without linking to you and reach out to request a link.
  • Local SEO: Build citations on local directories and claim your Google My Business listing

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Black hat link building techniques seem appealing as a shortcut to improving search rankings quickly. However, these tactics violate search engine guidelines and risk more severe penalties than what you receive.

So, it’s best to focus on high-quality content and ethical white hat strategies to earn links naturally over time.

Let’s talk if you need help making the most of this ethical link building strategy.

Written By
I've worked in digital marketing for 10+ years and founded 3 agencies. I am the CEO of Lakewood media Limited and our digital marketing agency contactora.com. I also head wphelper.io, a support and maintenance company and fuunction.io, our premium design and development agency.I currently spend my time developing strategies for digital marketing, covering everything from SEO, PPC, lead generation, email marketing, analytics and conversion optimisation. My role is to ensure our agencies are at the forefront of the industry so we can provide the best solutions and remain agile.I also manage the daily operations at our parent company, where I enjoy the business side of running a group of agencies.
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