If you know your Western movie tropes, you know how the symbolism works: The guys in the white hats are the good guys. They do things the right way, even if it isn’t easy. The guys in the black hats are the bad guys. They do things the easy way — and it always seems as if they’ve got the upper hand because the easy way does work — for a while.

But the guys in the white hats always come out on top in the end because — sooner or later — the bad habits of the guys in the black hats come back to haunt them.

Well, search engine optimization (SEO) has its black hats and white hats, too. And just like in the movies, you’d better place your money on the guys in the white hats to win because those “black hat” SEO tactics are doomed.

What is Black Hat SEO, Anyway?

Good search engine optimization techniques take time. The algorithms that Google uses are complicated, sophisticated structures and they aren’t easily fooled — especially for long. However, there are SEO methods and companies out there that promise things like “SEO hacks to boost your rankings overnight.” They know the tricks that will temporarily fool the search engine crawlers into providing you with a higher rank in the search engine results pages.

But these kinds of results won’t last. Not only that, they can harm your business in the long run.

What are Black Hat SEO Tactics?

It might be easiest to define black hat SEO by explaining what it isn’t. Black hat SEO isn’t good content that actually helps the consumer or viewer learn something, discover something or feel entertained. Black hat SEO isn’t the process of carefully building quality backlinks and a strong foundation through your social media networks. Instead, black hat SEO consists of:

1. Keyword Stuffing

Taking a particular keyword and filling up an entire page of content with those keywords in random, irrelevant places. The text usually feels like spam and the reader feels cheated — because it is spam and they are being cheated.

2. Doorway Pages

These are pages that just link you to more pages full of irrelevant content and links that don’t mean anything to the reader. They’re confusing, frustrating, and — again — more spam. They create a lot of backlinks, but they’re basically useless to the viewer.

3. Buying Backlinks

There are all kinds of websites that will sell you a backlink to your site — but when they have no relation to what you are offering, the connection is hollow and they aren’t earning you any kind of quality leads or connections.

4. Cloaking

This is the practice of delivering content that’s geared to the spiders that search engines use to crawl the web and put pages in categories, without regard to the actual people that might be reading those pages.

What are the Dangers of Black Hat SEO?

We called black hat tactics a “honey trap” because what it does seems like a sweet deal at first. The shift of focus from the end-user to the search engine can give your business a temporary boost in the search engine results page that feels great — until:

1. You Get Penalized by Google

Well, frankly, all the search engines will eventually penalize you, but Google can be particularly rough. Just like the bad guys in a Western movie, your short-sighted antics can get you kicked straight out of Dodge City in the end. Once Google catches on to your tricks — and it will catch on — your website can be dropped really low in the search results or banned entirely. Good luck finding customers then.

2. You Lose Credibility With Your Clients

As a small business owner, you need the trust and respect of your customers or clients if you want to grow. You aren’t going to gain their allegiance with a lot of spam. You need to be seen as an expert in your field — not another annoying website they have to sift through to find anything of value.

3. Your Return on Investment Will Plummet

Quality content really is king — and that’s been the rule in online marketing from the start. You can get a meteoric rise overnight from the money you pour into black hat SEO, but your long-term search engine results page rankings depend on the quality of the content you’re putting out there. Eventually, you stand to lose more than you invested.

4. You Can Lose Your Current Customers

Think about your own buying habits for a second. What happens if you start going to a website that becomes unwieldy, full of spam, and difficult to navigate? You bounce right out of there and search for a similar product or service elsewhere. That’s exactly what’s going to happen to your business if your customers see your pages filled up with spammy black hat SEO content.

Wrapping it Up

As a small business, you definitely don’t want to end up penalized for bad, black hat SEO when you’re putting out a good product and delivering good service. You simply can’t afford to forget that your online presence is very much part of your overall reputation these days.

Yes, white hat SEO takes time. It doesn’t promise — or deliver — immediate results. But it does build your business a solid foundation on the internet and a social presence that will help your business grow and define itself. The guys in the white hats always win — trust us.