The world wide web is a volatile frontier where new trends emerge and fizzle out in a dizzying pace. Data is flooding the gates and there’s no stopping it, technologies like the semantic web is trying to hold its fort so that we can try to make sense of it.

For example…

If you Google search certain keywords like "how to build backlinks", you just might see articles that was created 2-5 years ago. Is that still relevant today?

However, one thing that has remained constant is the need to invest time and resources in SEO. Despite the crucial role of SEO practices, it is still the most understood aspect of internet marketing. Back in 2004, the search engine was the new Wild Wild West where marketers could easily spam their way to the top of SERPs.

Over the years, Google algorithm updates such as Panda, Penguin and Pigeon have streamlined the search engine landscape and shown that staying on the good side of Google’s quality standards, and avoiding the techniques that cross them, is important in 2017 and 2018.

Why Bother With SEO?

A recent survey published on Search Engine Journal says 93% of all internet experiences start with a search engine. The same study shows that SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate compared to outbound marketing techniques such as direct mail with a measly 1.4% close rate.

A similar study on SEO published by Smart Insights says that organic search accounts for over 95% of all search result clicks with paid search accounts for only 5% of all traffic. In addition, 57% of B2B marketers’ surveyed say SEO performs better than any other marketing initiative in generating leads.

Despite the importance of SEO, most people go with the cheapest route. Why? It is possible that there is a misunderstanding, misconception of how easy or difficult it can be? Why bother growing organically when you can pay for marketing?

Technical SEO as well as best on-page practices, keeping up to date with the latest algorithms are essential to having your keywords consistently ranked.

The Rise of Black Hat SEO

Many of these SEO services offering low (or even mid-tier) prices attract potential black hat SEO. Since most people want to rank #1, these services are promising rankings within one month based on their quick and easy implementation of SEO. With increasing competition on almost every platform, most website owners are desperate to get higher rankings. Such high ranking supposedly leads to more traffic which translates to higher conversion rates.

This is what has spawned black hat SEO which is now a fully-fledged industry.

Black hat techniques can take your website to the top of SERPs ranking within a short time. But when Google catches up with you they often administer tough penalties ranging from devaluation of some web pages or even deindexing your site.

Most if not all of these techniques are found on low-cost services such as Fiverr and Upwork. Don’t get me wrong, there might be some good and genuine SEO services, but then again, the majority are willing to cut corners for just $5 or whatever the highest bidder will pay.

While you might be able to find quality SEO services from these places, you’ll have to do your due diligence. Yet most reviews you read to see if their work is good or not are based on incentives providing free additional gigs to write a review before you realize none of the techniques they’ve used worked. I am hoping that these techniques mention can help you understand what to avoid and save you time and money.

The Worst SEO Practices to be Aware of in 2017:

1. Using negative SEO

This is a popular SEO practice today with many companies offering it in their packages. The idea is to try and beat your competition by reporting or sending low-quality backlinks to their site with the target being a specific web page. This is known as negative SEO.

Google controls 75% of the search engine market and once they take down your competitor’s website, yours will rank higher and attract more users. However, once Google finds out — and they definitely will — their penalty will be hit your site. While competitor research is an integral part of SEO marketing, you should only use the insight you get to enhance your strategy and not devalue your competitor’s website.

Any reputable SEO Expert would not even dare to perform such tasks. Discuss the strategies and tactics they are willing to perform and if they provide any examples of previous work. Definitely check their competitors and see if this black hat SEO strategy was used or not.

Backlink building as a core tenet of SEO cannot be overemphasized. This is what drives webmasters to pay for links — a practice that Google has repeatedly advised against. While links will boost your site’s ranking on SERPs for a target keyword, the focus will not be on the quality of content and this is the main reason this is flagged as a black hat technique today. Most of these links are from low-quality and/or off-topic websites which is a good sign that they were not built naturally. This is the main reason Google advises against this SEO practice.

On Fiverr, you might see hundreds of paid backlink gigs that incentivize you to purchase 100,000 links for just $5 or PBN and social bookmarking. While some social bookmarking are still relevant such as Reddit, Digg and Delicious, most are just not worth it or do not really work. To help you understand, these links won’t give you any juice for ranking your site.

As an experiment, I recently purchased PR backlinks with high ranking and was provided 59 domains that have nothing to do with my site. As an experiment took the risk to actually see what the results would look like.

Here is the list of links they provided:

And after one month, here are the links that have been detected via WooRank. One good quality link and two low to no quality link juice were detected for the site.

Link auditing in WooRank

For $5, you can’t expect much, but using these links that have nothing to do with your product/site will be detrimental to your credibility and reduce its ranking on search engines.

With Google constantly tweaking their Penguin algorithm, links from related sites are worth much more than any paid links from low quality or unrelated sites. SEO freelancers who provide this type of link building service are mass producing their services and automating them.

Quality will always rule over quantity of linking domains.

I was a bit curious if this service was provided elsewhere and how popular this service is today.

I posted fake proposals on other platforms to see just how many SEOs are still promoting this type of services. Whether it is automated or people copying and pasting their templates, most so-called SEO experts provide the same type of service. So it does not look like it’s going to stop.

If you are looking to hire an SEO consultant and for best practice, mention that you don’t want these type of services, even though many of them will still respond to you with these generic templates. Anyone who says they can provide .GOV and .EDU backlinks, STAY AWAY!

3. Cloaking pages? An even worse SEO technique

This is one of the most popular black hat SEO techniques in 2017 and for obvious reasons. Cloaking is the practice of presenting one page to the search engines and building an entirely different page for human users.

For an in-depth explanation cloaking, check out Google’s video about it here.

This black hat technique is used to rank highly for particular keywords by building for bots ensures higher ranking but people arriving on the page will not get quality content. Most affiliate marketers use cloaking link techniques to cover their affiliate IDs, prevent hijacking by other affiliates, brand the URLs with their own domains, etc. And as far as we know, there's no problem with that and Google doesn’t penalize affiliate links. But if you are cloaking them, make sure to add nofollow attribute just for best practice.

What your SEO provider might do with cloaking?

If you are paying your marketer for traffic, this might also be one of their tactics to send traffic to your site. Some services claim they have a number of domains purchased throughout the years with high traffic that they will direct their traffic to your site.

Fake traffic to show off their portfolio or impress you to keep coughing up money.

Even worse, there are some services who pings Google Analytics to show massive traffic being sent to you but in reality, none of them went to your site. Good on paper, with no results. Which might not harm your SEO, but your Google Analytics will be tainted with junk sessions and you won’t be able to use your data to identify important factors. They might also use this to lower bounce rate, creating artificial pings to lower the average percentage.

Cloaking, in essence, is trying to game the system and this is what makes cloaking one of the worst SEO practices to avoid today. Your SEO strategy in 2017 and towards 2018 should be focused more on providing value to users — not just ranking. Search engines are now smarter and if you get caught out, the high ranking you have enjoyed for a short time will instantly disappear.

A simple solution is to build landing pages to help drive specific keyword and user intent which you can then use for PPC and for those pages to rank.

4. Keyword stuffing for SEO

This is one of the oldest tricks in the black hat SEO book and has remained popular well into 2017.

This technique hinges on the importance of keywords as a search ranking factor. By filling a web page’s content with keywords, a webmaster hopes search engine bots will rank the page higher. This used to work but today, algorithm updates (Panda) have made the search engines very smart.

Google hates keyword stuffing because it seeks to manipulate its relevancy algorithms. When you exceed keyword density beyond about 1.5%, you risk heavy punishment. As such, use keywords naturally and strategically to give users a good experience on your site.

For more, check out Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

5. Spamming comments for links or engagement

The need for high engagement levels and an opportunity to earn free backlinks has made spam comments one of the most common black hat SEO techniques today. Even with platforms like Disqus providing some level of removing spam comments, we still see this being performed.

The popularity of blogging and social media networks has seen webmasters engage automated spam to leave comments on target platforms. Not only does this lead to poor user experience for the target pages, it also gives a bad impression to keen readers. Today, you are dealing with a more informed internet user who knows all about spam.

Search engines will also easily catch on to the fact that these links all have the same anchor text and surrounding text, leading to a possible link penalty.

6. What? Poor content still exists?

That content is king in SEO marketing is an undeniable fact. In one blog survey carried out by Marketing Sherpa, content distribution was reported to have led to a 40% increase in the blog’s revenue and an astonishing 2,000% increase in the blog’s traffic. The important role of content marketing has led to related black hat SEO techniques including duplicate content, spun content and automated content.

With so many writers, everyone’s bidding low and we see less and less prominent writers today. Anyone can pay someone $5 for an article and call it a day. One prominent example is fake news sites, which Google is acting against. Ethical considerations aside, these sites use scraped, plagiarized and spun content to populate their pages, leading to a poor user experience. For this reason, Google classifies them as SEO practices to avoid.

As a webmaster, it is advisable for you to stay on top of search engine algorithm updates to learn what you should integrate into your SEO campaign and what to avoid. Go through our SEO Guides and keep in tune with our blog for more best practices and how-tos.

Want to check your SEO implementation? Run a free SEO audit on your site or start a free trial today.