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  • How your competitors may be outranking you with black-hat SEO techniques


    Black-hat SEO has been around as long as search engines, and many of the SEO techniques that were previously seen as white-hat and used by many, have gradually moved through the grey area to black-hat.

    While many of these techniques are now likely to cause you more harm than good, it’s frustrating to still see sites benefitting from old school black-hat tricks in a post-panda/penguin era.

    Comment Spam and Track/pingback

    This is something that we are all familiar with – you write a blog post and get lots of attention from people saying how useful they found it, only to find that their name appears as a suspicious keyword and they have added a link back to an unrelated website. It then becomes clear that the sole motivation for making the comment was for the link.

    But the worst part about this is that, despite this form of spam being the main reason for Google to release the no ‘nofollow’ tag (which prevents any value from being passed through links), comment spam still appears to be working as well as ever.

    Some examples

    In the case below, the offending site ranks on page one for the term ‘Karen Millen Outlet’ – a brand that often has results removed after complaints are filed under the US digital Millennium Copyright Act. The exact same comment appears in over 560 posts:

    karen millen spam

    I found that many of the spam links appearing on various blogs included terms such as “Louis Vuitton bags” and “Hermes Outlet”. So, I did a quick search for “Hermes Outlet” and found this page ranking at number 3 http://chrisweaver.co.nz/hermes-bags-outlet-online-5179.asp. This page is pretty horrible, with a huge amount of keyword stuffing and a very poor design. It doesn’t appear to have been live for long and has 566 backlinks that were built in the last 9 weeks, almost all of which are through comment spam.

    comment spam

    While many of the linked sites above are no longer live, it’s surprising how many of them do rank for the linked terms. For example, one site – sellyourcatsdirect.com ranks on page one for the linked term ‘sell used catalytic converter’. Catalytic converters contain precious metals, so this industry is big business and black-hatters are cashing in.

    HR Software

    One particular area that I found has adopted this kind of spam is the HR software industry. For example, if you search “Pingback: HR Software” you will find hundreds of unrelated blog posts containing hundreds of spam links that point to a number of sites that succeed in ranking in the top positions for the term “HR Software”.

    pingback spam

    The same goes for spam comments. I searched “HR Software Says” “reply” (based on the format of a blog comment) and quickly found posts containing comments with exact match anchor text links to the same HR websites.

    hr software spam

    Payday Loans

    Next, I looked at one of the most competitive keywords in search – ‘Payday loans’. The number 1 & 2 organic results were: http://www.ocics.co.uk/ and gayhomestays.co.uk/

    payday loans spam


    After clicking both of these results, I was presented with the same content, branded as ‘Monkey Payday Loan’ on different domains (although gayhomestays.co.uk/ redirects to http://www.discopaydayloans.co.uk/)

    monkey payday loan

    So, at this point, any users that aren’t paying much attention believe they have landed on a website called ‘Monkey Payday Loan’. After entering their details and clicking ‘Get Cash’, they are redirected to the real site – https://www.monkeypaydayloan.co.uk/ (which does not appear in Google’s index), then after filling in your personal details you are redirected again to the loan provider via a referral link, so visits are tracked and commission is paid.

    However, after checking again a day later, these sites were no longer ranking and had been completely removed from Google’s index. I did some further searching and found that http://www.ocics.co.uk/ was previously ‘The Oxford/Cambridge International Chronicles Symposium’, and still has links from several Universities, which would no doubt have helped it to rank, based on their high authority.

    I also found several other domains with the same ‘Monkey Payday Loan’ content, for example www.autovana.net, so I’m expecting this site to make a brief appearance in the same space in the not too distant future.

    This is hardly a long-term strategy, but such a highly searched term is likely to generate thousands of pounds a day, so I’m quite sure that the spamming will go on!

    To summarise

    While this type of link building is still helping many sites to rank, it’s only a matter of time before they are caught out, so we would never recommend making it part of your SEO strategy.

    If you make genuine comments on industry related blogs that include real comments from others, then add a link back to your site (avoid messing around with the anchor text), but stay away from sites that accept suspicious looking comments.

    If you’re concerned that one (or more) of your competitors is taking part in black-hat activities, there are ways to report them to Google – https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/spamreport although this isn’t necessarily going to work, so don’t expect them to be penalised instantly.

    google report spam


    Please share your experiences of spam techniques that are still in use!


    Sam Gooch is a Digital Marketing Consultant at White.net. Sam studied BSc Computing at De Montfort University which included a one year work placement at PepsiCo UK. After graduating in 2008, Sam started his career in online marketing at a finance comparison website, then moved on to manage the organic search strategy at Forest Garden Ltd in 2011 and finally landed at White.net in 2013, where he now manages one of the SEO teams, working with a number of high profile clients. Sam specialises in technical SEO and currently holds the Google Analytics Individual Qualification and Adwords advertising fundamentals qualification. Sam enjoys travelling, cycling, cooking, and is partial to the odd game of table tennis.

    4 Responses to “How your competitors may be outranking you with black-hat SEO techniques”

    1. SEMbyotic says:

      This is a particularly frustrating issue. You want to take the high road and stay white-hat, while your black-hat competitors are taking business away from you. One of our clients has a competitor that is outranking them for a key term and I can tell by looking at OSE that it’s all due to pingback and comment spam. Have you had any luck reporting those sites or do you have any advice for a white-hat SEO that is trying to compete against these black-hats?

    2. Sam Gooch says:

      Hi SEMbyotic,

      I’ve seen this many times before – it’s hard to believe that pingbacks and comments are still outsmarting Google! I’ve also had clients asking me “why we can’t do this” and my answer has always been to give it time and Google will come through….still waiting Google!

      As for the spam reports, I did see one competitor disappear from the results several weeks after their spam comments were highlighted, but it’s hard to say whether this was as a result of the report.

    3. brian says:

      Unfortunately Google does nothing about these blackhat seo tactics. I have a competitor who hacks into other high PR websites, and places hidden links to his own site (which is full of scraped content). I have reported him numerous times to Google, but they still rank him No. 1 in his niche. Meanwhile, honest whitehat linkbuilding is incredibly hard because of you produce good content, people just steal it and repost it rather than link to you.

    4. Sam Gooch says:

      Thanks for your comment Brian.
      It’s disappointing that we’re still seeing these old school tactics and Google is still rewarding them! Very frustrating that while Google is moving forward, it’s still unable to catch these black hats out.

      Lets hope the expected Penguin will finally knock them out of the search results once and for all!


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