Blackhat SEO Hidden Links article updated 2014.
I has working on one of my high content websites free-recipes.co.uk that targets Free Recipes: was in the process of upgrading from around 11,000 recipes to over 100,000 using WordPress as the backend (added almost 160,00 recipes to a database and in the process of making them WordPress compatible)!
Checked SERPs on Google.co.uk and my website is 1st for Free Recipes, but on Google.com it’s around 12th. Not a big surprise I’ve pretty much neglected the site for over a year (despite it making a lot of AdSense revenue, soooo busy with SEO clients, rarely find the time for my own websites) and it’s PR has dropped (PR4 down from PR6) so needs more TLC (Text Links and something beginning with C :-)).
Updated 2014: my sites SERPs are worse now as not worked on the site in years.
Blackhat SEO Hidden Links
I checked the 1st page in Google.com (freecookingrecipes.net) and it’s PR7 (which is very hard to get to PR7).
Thought I’d check the sites backlinks see if I can get a few of those links to my recently updated recipe site (35,000 recipes and growing making it attractive link bait).
Assumed I’d find some directories, reciprocal links and related sites that I could approach for links. Was very surprised to find hidden text links from quality high PR sites like these-
and many, many more, screenshot below
Which explains the PR7 and the page one Free Recipe SERP.
You can see one of the hidden image links in the screenshot below, I loaded one of the sites above and viewed source (text file).
Does Google Follow Hidden Links?
What is happening here is someone has added a hidden link (image link) in the form of a small 1 pixel x 1 pixel image that during the normal viewing on the page won’t be seen or clicked on by visitors (or seen by the owner either). But Google and other search engines will find and follow the hidden links and give it a boost in the search engines for having quality links using keyword rich anchor text or alt text.
<a href="http://www.freecookingrecipes.net"><img src="/images/dot_clear.gif" hspace="0" vspace="0" border="0" alt="recipes"></a>
It’s a very old blackhat SEO technique that is very easy to spot and when Google stumbles upon it will take action.
Based on the quality of the sites that hold these hidden links I’m sure the owners are unaware of these hidden links and so do not deserve a Google penalty (have emailed over 20 of them to warn them to remove the hidden links ASAP).
Unethical SEOs and Web Designers
I’ve seen a lot of hidden links in my time, but these are by far some of the best sites (quality wise) I’ve found them on. What’s probably happened here is an SEO consultant or web designer hired to work on these sites has taken advantage by adding a hidden link to one of his own websites or another SEO clients without informing the owner!
As an SEO consultant who wants his clients to do well I’ve never added a link from a site I’ve worked on. My job is to gain my clients better rankings, not be paid to improve my own sites rankings by adding hidden (or visible) links from their sites. If someone wants to give me a PR7 link I’ll do the SEO work for free :-)
Be aware if an SEO or web designer adds a link to a site of theirs from your site it is taking SEO benefit away from your site. This means your site will have a little less Google juice for no beneficial return (if the SEO/designer gives a discount for the link, fair deal). You’ve paid them for their work, you should not be paying them over and over again, if you find links like this on your site (hidden or visible) I’d strongly advise removing them.
There’s also a risk of a Google penalty for having these links as well, since Google doesn’t care if you are complicit in adding the links, it’s your website so your responsibility for every linked added from it. Might look like you are selling links for example.
Should I use Hidden Links?
To anyone reading this considering adding hidden links to/within their sites.
This blackhat SEO technique does work, but it is very easy to spot (I found it by accident) and eventually Google will penalize some/all of the the sites involved. Might take 3 months to a year for Google to act, but trust me when I say they will eventually act and there’s a damn good chance when caught your site will never recover. Look at the site I’m referring to above it’s going to be a victim of it’s own success, number 1 for Free Recipes Google will find this one. 2014 SEO update: Check the Free Recipes SERP in Google, despite the site in question still having a high PR (PR6) it’s not in the top 100 for the free recipes SERP: looks like a Google penalty kicked in.
Before becoming an SEO consultant I used blackhat SEO techniques on my first website (used to sell lingerie and adult toys). The site was banned from Google about a year after purchasing it. I’d put a LOT of time into that site and that was all thrown away when Google rightly banned it for blackhat SEO techniques.
In the short term I made a lot of money from the site, but currently the site makes no real money and considering what I made short term to what I could have made long term (could still be making money today) had I not used blackhat techniques I’ve lost at least £20,000 a year in lost profits and that assumes I couldn’t have built an even more popular site long term!
Better to build a site with (safe) white hat SEO techniques and reap the rewards for years to come than cut corners and risk loosing all Google traffic for short term gain.