Down The SEO Rabbit Hole: The State Of Black Hat SEO In 2014

(update: I’ve added a video version of this post at the bottom)

Alice Looks Down The Rabbit Hole

Alice Looks Down The Rabbit Hole

The phrase falling “down the rabbit hole” comes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Going down the rabbit hole is how Alice gets to Wonderland.

Much like Alice, if you jump into something without looking you can end up in a lot of trouble.

In this post I want to look at how much harder it has become to trick your way to top search engine rankings. As you’ll see, it’s a long way to the bottom of the SEO rabbit hole in 2014!

Introduction: Why We Love Short-Cuts

Throughout human history we’ve had a love for taking short-cuts. If a short-cut succeeds, it saves time and effort and quickly becomes the new way of doing the original process.

As humans competed initally with other animals for food, and, later, with each other for resources, it was important that if there were a short-cut to a laborious process, it was found. Hence, we’re always looking for short-cuts and ways to save time and energy. The best anecdote I remember on the subject was the boss of a factory saying to an employee that he always gave the most difficult job in the factory to the laziest employee because he’d either find a short-cut or quit. Either way, the boss won. :)

Short-Cuts As A Part Of SEO

In the race to the top of the search engine results, short-cuts were taken. Way back in time, it was easy to fool Infoseek, Altavista and Hotbot by a few well-placed keywords. Time passed and Google saw the end of the old short-cuts, and the arrival of a new one… backlinks. With a few well-placed backlinks, you could get traffic aplenty from Google, for a while. Eventually, Google got tired of the manipulation and fought back with Panda to weed out low-quality content and Penguin to see off those with poor backlink profiles.

As the SEO short-cuts of the past disappeared into the mist, we have to ask ourselves whether there’s anything to be gained searching for new ones. According to the rule of “opportunity cost”, by doing something you risk the gains that could’ve been made doing something else. Time is finite and if every short-cut you take leads to a dead end, you’ll make no gains.

Do These SEO Short-Cuts Work In 2014?

Of course, there are always people promising short-cuts. Invariably they are also trying to sell you something. So, let’s follow the logic of people still trying to beat the search engines. Now that simple keyword stuffing and cheesy backlinking doesn’t work, what do people say does work? Well, firstly, there’s the “I can rank on page one of Google within 48 hours” concept. It’s barely worth mentioning, but for those of you who don’t know, people who claim that they can quickly rank on page one of Google are almost always referring to grabbing a spot on Google’s search engine results pages for a brand new video submitted to Youtube or an article picked up as “news” and which features in the “news” section of the results page. While the claim that they can get on to the results page is true, the problem is that the results don’t stick and your ranking will disappear as quickly as it appeared.

OK, so you want a page that sticks on the first page of the search results for your chosen keyword. Right. The first concept people will sell you on, if they’re old school, is to use “Web 2.0 properties” to backlink your “money site”. The reason they do this is that they consider Web 2.0 properties such as Squidoo, WordPress.com, Wikipedia, Hubpages etc to be immune to the bad backlink profiles that will get your “Mom and Pop” website slapped by Penguin. So now you need content for all your Web 2.0 properties. No problem, I’m sure “spinning software” will help. Then you’ll most likely want to make your Web 2.0 properties “more powerful” by backlinking them, right?

Again, no problem, there’s also software to help you build backlinks. Hooray.

So now, everything works and you get rich, right? Wrong. What happened, when people used Web 2.0 properties to backlink their money sites was that Google got suspicious and from 2008 to 2013 almost all the big Web 2.0 properties decided to make the outgoing links from their websites all “no-follow“, meaning that no benefit from those webpages you built on Web 2.0 properties flowed to your money site. Of course, that meant all the backlinks you built were worthless too.

Controlling The System: The Bottom Of The Hole

So, what to do? Well, if you want to continue down the rabbit hole, you decide you need to bring those Web 2.0 pages under your control. While you can’t control what Squidoo or Hubpages do, you can go one better and build your own network.

So, you buy a lot of domains, host them on different webhosts because different “C-Class IP addresses” are best and use whois privacy to avoid a footprint. You then need content. Lots of content. I guess you could pay for a ghost-writer, but that’s expensive, so perhaps you could spin “PLR articles”? You also need to build backlinks, a lot of them, to your multiple sites.

If you need to register at places such as forums to get a link on a forum profile page, or comment on a blog, you’ll need software to do all the registering and email validation and captcha breaking because that can slow a guy down. Of course, we’re not talking a low-cost enterprise anymore, what with the domain costs, multiple hosting fees and money for all the software. Hopefully there’s a bottom to this rabbit hole, and you’ll make some money. It does seem like a huge organisational effort though, keeping track of posting content, creating links and making sure you don’t leave a footprint, especially if you do a link wheel or pyramid to super-boost your links.

You know, getting Google to recognise and index some of those forum profile links and blog comments can be tricky. You may also want to backlink them so that they get indexed and count as backlinks to your network sites which then promote your money site. So now you’re backlinking the backlinks to your backlinks, right?

Oh, and one final thing… are you doing all that for just ONE money site? That seems a bit risky, carrying all your eggs in one basket. Why not have several private networks, working in isolation, to promote several money sites?

All this pre-supposes that Google would consider any link you can create in such enormous volume as worthy of any notice at all. And if they don’t count those huge volume third-tier backlinks, you won’t get your second-tier backlinks indexed, which is a problem because they won’t then be able to power your first-tier network of sites and they, in turn, won’t power your money site. So, is it really all just a house of cards?

Of course, while you’re doing all that, you’ll be wondering if the opportunity cost isn’t greater than that of just writing quality content and doing the kind of low-key self-promotion that real businesses do online.

What do you think? Is “Black Hat and linkbuilding” the way to go in 2014? What about White Hat SEO, or buying traffic? Are you struggling to decide where to place your efforts for the best return on investment? Please leave a comment, below, and share the post if you liked it. Thanks.


About Neil_Shearing

I've been an Internet Marketer since creating and selling my first ebook in 1997. As a former scientist I like to test money-making ideas, then simplify and share them. Apart from this blog, I can also be found on many social media sites. Click here for a list.
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19 Responses to Down The SEO Rabbit Hole: The State Of Black Hat SEO In 2014

  1. Tim says:

    Perfect timing as I was literally researching these short cuts when your email arrived. Now what to do…

  2. Tom Jay says:

    Love your article. Makes sense and for me justifies that I did not pay for what I am constantly being offered. However my problem with Google slapping my SERPs remain as I have some backlinks from the past which are very bad but I have not enough skill to get rid of them myself, neither the money to pay someone to do it.
    Never mind still like what you are doing.
    Tom

  3. Paul says:

    Hey Neil, how did you get inside my brain? I’ve been mulling over all of the above for the past month or so. My question to you is this “Is there a legitimate answer”? If so…what’s it gonna cost me?

    • Hi Paul,

      Personally, I won’t be going down the black hat route, so I can’t help you if you want to go in that direction. However, I do have ideas and concepts for improving a website’s search engine rankings over time and will do follow-up blog posts shortly. The posts will, naturally, be free. :)

      Neil.

  4. bret says:

    Very well done Neil. Brief, yet conveyed with an in-depth perspective. It’s a great comfort to have your dedicated efforts lighting the way once again. Excellent report.

  5. Great Article Neil – very thought provoking. How do we get out of this hole?

  6. John says:

    Very interesting post. So what do you suggest we do by way of SEO? If I remember right, you are coming up with a new SEO course…is that out soon?

    Btw, there is a $5000 course (being promoted on the Warrior Forum as well) that teaches building a private blog network, among other things. Plus, they teach how to sell local SEO consulting. Apparently many students make 5 figure monthly incomes. They promise quite a bit. Any comments on this?

    Thanks!
    John

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for your comment. Traffic is either gained through black hat SEO, white hat SEO, social media or paid advertising, all of which have become more competitive over the years. I think the days of being able to trick Google for traffic are over, unless you’re willing to dedicate your existence to it. I will therefore be laying out what works and what I suggest doing, most likely in a series of free blog posts and perhaps an SEO book.

      I haven’t seen the course you’re referring to, but if private networks are so valuable and cutting-edge, why are they teaching others how to do it? Are they cashing out before private networks stop working? Perhaps there’s an even more fiendish black hat plan around the corner… :)

      Neil.

  7. Chris says:

    All true Neil, but we still need to look at what actually works at present and private blog networks DO work, regardless of how we might ethically feel about them.

    The bigger question is whether we should still put as much effort into Google as with the massive overdependence on aged authority sites now the Google search engine itself is becoming almost irrelevant. Product query? Well, we just know how that first page is going to pan out. Health question – same. Science question – same. Odd factoid – it’s easiest just to go to Wikipedia direct on that one.

    Pretty soon surfers are going to suss the same thing and stop bothering to use a search engine at all. Google are making the SERPs so boringly predictable that they’re engineering themselves into self-imposed redundancy. Perhaps that’s the next project to get shuttered by Larry Page.

    • Hi Chris, yes, I agree with you that, at the bottom of the rabbit hole, private blog networks work. I was more interested in how much effort goes into creating them, maintaining them and keeping them hidden. Just the other day I saw Jerry West offer a free plugin which prevents crawlers and linkbots from analyzing your websites. The idea was that these crawlers and linkbots allowed your competitors to reverse engineer your link network and then they could “report” the network to Google. So now you have to worry about Google uncovering your network either directly or indirectly via your competitors tipping them off!

      You’re right about Google squeezing organic results out of the index. I recently saw a screengrab of a SERP for a commercial keyword with nothing but ads above the fold. If it’s indicative of the direction Google is moving in, it’s a bit scary.

      Neil.

  8. sue says:

    Neil, you are so right, just finished an email about press releases and its not the first one I’ve got this week. Things are confusing in SEO and it is difficult to know what really does work. I’ve decided to listen to myself a little more and not buy into whatever the “latest” method is. Great article

    • Hi Sue, yes the “press release” seems to be a hot launch, I’ve received a few emails about it. I’m not sure the actual press releases will bring any exposure or valuable links, unless the sender gets lucky and an actual journalist picks up their story and mentions it in a reputable online news site. It could theoretically happen I guess. In any case, issuing press releases is not a new concept, so I don’t see where the fresh marketing angle is. Admittedly, I didn’t look beyond the mention of being able to issue 30 press releases a month, which sounds like quantity instead of quality.
      Neil.

  9. Kris says:

    The sad truth is that we all look for these shortcuts because good sites don’t rise to the top simply because they are good. Sure, a few big sites can dominate most industries, but “mom & pop” sites struggle, even with good content, good products, etc. Most people don’t have $1ooo’s of dollars to blow learning PPC – assuming it’s even affordable for your industry – so a $50 link pyramid, WSO, or other service sounds appealing. or write a legitimate guest post. Use a legitimate directory. Do it again, and again. Then you get “whacked” by Google and one day it’s all gone entirely…

    That’s my story. And I’m sure it’s the same for many others.

    So now I have to “move” my content to a new domain? That’s akin to moving your mom & pop store because the big box stores hide your store. Sucks. Really sucks. Sure, you gotta do what you need to do in order to survive. But for Google to keep giving a moving target is hard for those of us who work online part time. I know, it’s their site and they can do whatever they want. But they’re not just a “site” and more. They’re a public service.

    How ironic that now I have to build another site just to get my content noticed. Isn’t there some sick irony in there? Is that really what’s best for users? And the web? A few bad links >>> site drowns >>> new site >>> next Google rule >>> site drowns >>> new site…

    Oh well, end of my rant. Great post. Thanks for listening.

  10. Tom says:

    It seems at this time, that the best approach is to offer quality content, and slowly build quality links, mostly by hand. Link wheels and all the other tricks are not working so well. And would require an investment as noted in your article that may not be worth the money you pay to get you to where it might benefit you. Thanks for your thoughts on the matter.

  11. Neil, I enjoyed your article and there is no doubt we are all attracted by the golden carrot that promises us fast results. With Google being the dominator and rule maker it would seem that we simply publish valuable content and then we get to take our share of the gold. I don’t agree with Blackhat strategies just like I don’t believe in simply doing transactions. Build relationships and serve people with value. Shortcuts are like lottery mindsets, good luck with that. So what is your solution since you have been in the game since the beginning?

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