Some niches are overrun with businesses using strategies that go against Google guidelines. You would be surprised to know how easy it is for those sneaky sites to hack SERPs and appear within the top positions in Google organic search results.
It goes without saying, most of their manipulations are link-related because that is precisely what Google considers a ranking signal. For instance, you can easily jack up your ranking positions by purchasing 1.39K referring domains and, as a result, begin to harvest the fruit of this cumbersome labor — precisely 3.9K in organic traffic on a monthly basis (based on Ahrefs data).
Ahrefs Main Dashboard
And, if you are still unsure as to whether this can happen naturally or not, the anchor texts below should shed some light:
Ahrefs Anchor Cloud Report
Usually, natural anchor text includes words like ‘here’, ‘there’, or simply a URL. However, in the case above, the majority of anchors come from a keyword ‘rank tracker’ that a certain site wanted to rank for in Google. Your keyword cloud has to stay balanced without being overly saturated with commercial keywords.
I had to hide the second anchor phrase in the table above because it uncovers the URL of a “conning” page. I can tell you one thing: it is a well-known SEO tool.
The Good, the Bad, and the Evil
If there is good, then there is evil because things need to be balanced. Black Hat SEO practices have been around for a while now, and it doesn’t seem like they are going to cease to exist. Google has been trying to stop black hatters from attacking weak websites, but not much has changed. There are quite a few shady strategies that include but are not limited to, doorway pages, creating Private Blog Networks (PBNs), auto-generated content, buying links, and so on.
PBNs is one of the most effective SEO strategies because it can skyrocket your rankings. For some of you who are still unsure how to feel about using PBNs for link building, hear me out: it is a dangerous strategy even though it is favored by many, many people.
One of the most popular examples is purchasing a whole bunch of expired domains that contain links to relevant projects and then cross-linking them to one another. After that, with the help of web archiving, old content gets rolled out and all the links are replaced.
A PBN is a risky business for a very specific reason: Google penalizes any domain using links coming from a PBN. So if they find out you are doing it, there is no begging for mercy.
Not only is building PBNs a shady activity, it is also very costly and time-consuming. The cost of development and network maintenance is another reason why you should not be using PBNs, unless you have both of these commodities in unlimited quantities and don’t know what to do with them.
If You Have Been Hacked, You Could Be a Part of a PBN
Hacking is a truly sophisticated craft; you will not even notice anything suspicious when checking your site files’ stability. So if the webmaster isn’t good at what they do, these alterations can remain operative for a very long time.
Here are few things you can do in order to detect if your site was added to a PBN:
1. Keep track of your backlink profile.
This action should never be underestimated because it prevents spammers from thriving. In most cases, they will build low-quality links or redirects, and it is in your best interest to know when someone is creating links or redirects to your website. You can use tools like Ahrefs or the SEMrush Backlink Audit Tool to manually check if someone is building links to your website.
2. Use Google Webmaster Tools.
Set up email alerts in case Google suspects that your website has been hacked. Keep in mind that the search engine may take a while before detecting suspicious actions against your site, so rely on this option only as a backup strategy. The Fetch as Google tool is very useful since it enables you to find out what the search engine sees when indexing your site. You can (and should) set up a Google alert for the words site:domain.com. With this strategy, you can locate suspicious titles and page descriptions of your webpages. Google will instantly notify you about any new content the search engine indexes. If something seems shady, you can take action without delays. You can set up such alerts on the Google Alerts.
3. Try to locate new pages with unusual content or that return a 404 error.
These indicate that the search results probably direct to suspicious websites. Screaming Frog is a great tool for this.
4. Check the search results your website is listed in.
Compare the pages you get when you type a query into Google with those you get by typing the query directly into the browser.
Surviving In The Modern World of SEO
Search engine page results for keywords that drive conversions get a lot of search traffic that oftentimes consist of sites with non-organically generated links. If you are trying to break into these pages it will be very hard without following the same black-hat strategies.
But if you are eager to get this kind of organic traffic, I am going to share a couple of totally legitimate hacks that you can use in order to stay on the positive side.
Look for non-competing sites that rank within the top two pages in SERPs for the most expensive and searchable keywords.
SEMrush can be of great help in finding these pages.
SEMrush Keyword Overview Report
In Keyword Analytics, under the Overview tab, type in a keyword that you want to analyze, and you will get a list of domains and how they rank in Google. For example, here are the top 10 sites that appear in Google US for the keyword “digital marketing conference”:
Top 10 results by the keyword "digital marketing conference"
If you want to check a much longer list of keywords, then the best way to do it is not manually. I would recommend using SEMrush API, which allows you to get an extensive list of domains automatically. After you get the list, you need to filter out your competitors. The next step would be to find articles that could feature or mention your product or service. Depending on your current situation, this can be implemented with either no or minimal budget. If you have some financial resources available, then I would suggest buying some ad space in an eye-catching area of those sites that aren’t interested in updating their ranking content.
2. Consider other traffic sources.
If you can’t get much organic traffic, it is not the end of the world. Yes, organic search can bring you great users, along with multiplying traffic from one single search query (because the search market is growing). However, you need to have a decent daily flow of users that will be converting into clients. If we are talking about short-term goals, then here is what you should do:
Explore other channels your rivals are using.
To do that, check out tools like SimilarWeb or SEMrush. On a side note, some time ago I had access to SimilarWeb’s insights, but ever since they increased their prices, I just can’t afford to pay as much as $10,000 for their solution. So I switched to SEMrush Traffic Analytics. It doesn’t offer any data for mobile, but for some niches, mobile traffic doesn’t really bring that many visitors and conversions.
Regardless of whether you’re going to use SEMrush’s or SimilarWeb’s insights, you still need to work on getting a list of domains that are sending the most traffic to your competitors, because that is another way of onboarding new users.
Moving further with your research, you can use Ahrefs or Majestic to analyze what specific pages are referring traffic to your rivals’ domains. Recently, I have done some research looking for the best backlink analysis tool, and my article should help you pick the right tool for your backlink analysis endeavors. Ideally, you need to add your link on the specific pages sending traffic to your competitors. Often these pages or posts have already generated some good organic visibility and that is why they send so many visitors to other sites.
Email marketing is always a great option.
I recommend researching complementary products or services. Team up with companies and send email blasts promoting/endorsing/mentioning each other. This will bring an immediate boost in sales and allow you to invest in a long-term SEO strategy.
Don’t forget about using remarketing to effectively convert new users that didn’t make a purchase but did visit your website. Also, you need to design a special landing page, which is another way of increasing your conversions. Think of email marketing as a paid channel because the conversion processes are nearly the same.
3. Concentrate on a channel that hasn’t been used by your competitors (and that could become your blue ocean strategy).
For instance, I have noticed that not a lot of companies use video content, and I am certain that this type of content has the best engagement and conversion rates. So, if your rivals aren’t focusing on YouTube, then you should take advantage of it and begin asserting your dominance there. Meanwhile, they are totally obsessed with the idea of getting organic visitors no matter how, and you could be enjoying a stable flow of traffic from YouTube.
And by the way, YouTube videos do happen to appear in organic Google search results!
Based on my own experience, using PBNs will make you regret you even thought about it, but for some, this will only make sense if you try it yourself.
Always make sure you are in complete control of your backlinks profile, meaning stay alert to all potentially spammy actions that might be targeting your site. Set up Google alerts to help you respond to changes quicker, because time is a very precious commodity.
Always acknowledge the dominating presence of your competition, but find your own way of keeping your rankings high by finding your rivals’ unoccupied channels or other weak spots.
While I have witnessed instances where black hat SEO techniques did yield fruitful results, those results did not last long. Search engines are invariably updating their algorithms to better locate shady schemes, and it is becoming harder and harder for hackers to manipulate search results. If enduring SEO results is what you are hoping for, then play it safe. There are certain SEO ethics that you might want to stick to ensure an effective online marketing strategy.
Following Google’s guidelines and rules may be time-consuming and costly, but the pay-off and the elimination of risk are well worth the effort.