Black hat SEO. Say that in a group of internet marketers and you'll receive a wide range of reactions.
Some people cringe at the very mention of the word. Some people love being called this name.
Why is it so polarizing?
Because despite what a "white hat" wants to believe or think, black hat techniques work. It's the reason Matt Cutts has a job. (Although I am sure if spam didn't exist, he'd be just as successful doing something else!) It's why Google and other search engines have to create "guidelines" on what they consider to be ethical methods to use on the web to make it fair and balanced for everyone.
But we all know that isn't true.
Big brands have immunity to Google penalties. Remember BMW, JC Penny and Rap Genius? They all did black hat techniques, got a tiny slap on the wrist, and were quickly back in the index.
Because it looks bad on Google if a well-known brand doesn't appear in the SERPs. This is how the black hats even the playing field.
Before going any further, let's make sure we know the difference between a spammer and a black hat.
Black Hat: Someone who blatantly goes against Google's guidelines to get ranked
Spammer: Someone who emails you crap everyday, or redirects you to a crappy site
You see, black hatters have a code of ethics. They aren't going to hijack an .edu site to inject their links. That's what spammers do. Make sure you understand the difference between the two. Black hatters are about making money (tons of it) and doing it in an automated way. Spammers will use every exploit available to them and have no ethical line to cross in order to achieve their objective.
Black hatters find the weaknesses in the algorithm and exploit it for the short time that it's open. This presents the rest of us with great opportunities.
The currency of the Internet
No matter what you read about anywhere, links are and always will be the currency of getting ranked. You can publish the secret to life, but if no one links to your content, it will never be found.
Automation: Google hates black hatters because they typically find ways to automate a process that traditionally takes a lot of time to be successful. Remember when forum signatures were a quick ticket to #1? Black hatters were doing that for 18 months before Angela's Links was ever published.
Since black hatters are great at automation, it means they can also crank out the links in volume.
Guest posts are now fully on the radar of Google, and while I personally think guest posting is great if done for the right reasons, the black hatters (the good ones) have already moved on to the next "loophole" that's working right now.
Next up for Google
A current method that will soon be crushed by Google? User-created content promotion sites like Scribd, Issuu, Docstoc and Slideshare. It's very easy to create a profile, upload a PDF or powerpoint, and get some of that crazy link juice flowing to your site.
Black hatters love automated tools. Instabots, auto followers, likes and shares and views on YouTube can all be automated for a price, and if it gets your content ranked, who's going to care besides the noble people who think that "outing" SEO techniques are a good thing.
Black hatters are the reverse engineers of the Google algorithm. I can already hear those people complaining about this. But here's the thing. Google scrapes your content from your server and decides if they will rank your site. If you do everything right and play by their rules, you might be able to get one piece of great content ranked in a few months. Otherwise, your content will get pushed into the pile of content slush that is "good" but not "great" and therefore, not worthy of a first page ranking without any help.
Private networks. Yes, we know Google just killed the Anglo Rank network, but they made the mistake of advertising it. You know the best way to keep a secret?
Don't tell anyone.
The great black hatters all have their own private networks of once-expired domains that they are leveraging the traffic or domain authority on to get that all important "aged domain" factor to impact their own sites. And the best part is, those private networks are probably more white hat than you'd think, and their money site will probably be one of the most properly optimized sites you will find on the web.
By paying attention to what the black hatters are doing, you can use that to your "white hat" advantage. Since user-created curation sites like Scribd and Slideshare are really effective right now, be sure to create a profile on each and upload your best stuff. If you truly offer high quality content, you will survive any Google algorithm update.
This is just one of the many reasons to keep your eyes on the black hats.