When Social Media SEO Strategies Toe The Black Hat Territory

Social Media SEO

When one speaks of search engine optimization today, it immediately includes optimization via social media. Social media SEO is one of the most talked about topics today. It is the most practiced and researched by SEOs, and also the most in-demand service for any leading SEO company.

It is not difficult to understand how social media can help promote a business or a website, that’s why even clients who are not very knowledgeable about SEO would nevertheless ask for their optimization plans to extend to social media.

So much is the integration of social media in SEO today that the latter is no longer deemed complete if the former is lacking. Consumers and audiences will always be looking for ways to contact their favorite brands, sellers, and so forth through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest, among others.

This is something that SEOs understand, that’s why one of the first things they do for a client is to create social media accounts for their website or business.

But just like SEO though, social media optimization is also rapidly growing and optimizers are also starting to develop strategies that are bordering on being—if not outright—“black hat.”

Say What?

Social media black hat strategies are variations of the black hat SEO that Google has been fighting against for as long as we can remember. Recall that Google defines black hat SEO as webspam intentionally designed to manipulate search rankings. Google’s ranking algorithm isn’t foolproof even if it does get updated so many times in one year.

Search engines may get smarter as the years pass, but people will always manage to find some loophole or develop methods that will circumvent the rules.

The same principle is at play in black hat social media. There are just too many opportunities to do some form of manipulation to be ignored for the sake of fair play.

Some people even do some of those practices without fully understanding that they are already committing technical fouls. Consider the following strategies and see if you are already doing black hat social media yourself.

Creating dozens of ghost/fake profiles

Fake profiles

Ghost profiles are already in dusty, outdated SEO manuals. SEOs use them for blog commenting, communicating with other webmasters, and many other things. Creating multiple profiles is actually a lot easier now thanks to social media.

The process of signing up for an account takes only minutes, and the moment you are registered the network will automatically recommend people for you to befriend. It’s only a matter of time before a ghost profile can amass hundreds of friends, which is always the first goal of ghost profiles.

Even before the targeted number of friends/followers has been achieved, a ghost profile can already funnel traffic into a main website. There are companies that believe multiple accounts, each with its own profile background and from different age demographic, can bring in traffic and possibly gain customers from different segments of the market.

This can be argued as a mere marketing strategy and not exactly black hat. But who’s drawing the line here? The point is creating fake profiles is definitely a black hat strategy.

Buying friends or contacts

This is the social media equivalent for buying links. In website-to-website link building, SEOs work on getting their links in related, high ranking websites that can give them valuable link juice.

In social media, everyone is free to post and advertise links on their page, on other people’s walls, on fanpages and so forth (unless direct promotions are prohibited and moderators are on watch to remove links posted by random people) so traditional link buying is pretty useless.

What some companies do instead is pay people to become their fanpage fans or direct contacts in various social media platforms. See, the number of members or friends is one of the important measures of credibility in social media.

Isn’t it that when you look for profiles of your favorite celebrities on Twitter or Facebook, you go for the account that has the most number of followers or friends?

Spamming profiles and fanpages

Spam is everywhere, social media sites included. These go hand in hand with fake profiles. Social spammers haunt popular fan pages or the walls of celebrities and people who have so many active followers and readers.

They then post a random message plus a link leading to who-knows-what site. These posts are often off-topic, intrusive, and rudely interrupt ongoing discussion threads.

Real people absolutely hate these spammers and many have even retaliated against their unwelcome intrusions in the form of permabans.

That’s actually the bright side here. The people have the power to get rid of spammers by banning or reporting them to the Facebook and Twitter administrators.

It is quite mollifying to know that that tiny report button can bring down majority of the spammers. Hopefully spamming isn’t something that you do in your own social media optimization plan. Surely there are more tasteful methods than this.

Black propaganda

There are those who resort to distasteful social media tactics and set out to deliberately destroy the image of their competition. These are dirty, unfair, underhanded, and unethical.

But one can’t deny the cleverness of it all. Again, with the aid of a fake account, it is so easy to pretend to be an irate customer of a competitor or goad the moderator into a heated argument.

If not a fake account, there are those who would pay real people to say negative things about the competition and make a lot of noise on their wall. There have been reports too of posers using a brand’s name or icon, and using it to send people into porn sites and other bad neighborhood websites. That’s deliberate sabotage!

It is difficult to pin down businesses that are doing this extreme black hat strategy because one cannot just point fingers and accuse others. However, we can be sure that this has been done in the past already.

The sad thing about black hat social media is it is difficult to identify a guilty party, much less penalize them. The most that can happen to them is get their social media accounts suspended.

Compare that with the penalties Google has in store for violators of the Webmaster Guidelines, and you’ll definitely see that the motivation to abide by the rules is higher in the non-social media SEO venues.

Hopefully the social media sites will get better and better at weeding out black hat SEO strategies on via social media, and in handing out penalties for those who are caught doing it.

Emma-Julie Fox writes for Pitstop Media, a Vancouver based SEO company. Pitstop Media has been helping businesses across North America successfully increase their search visibility. If you want to invite the author to guest post on your blog please contact www.pitstopmedia.com

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  1. Ankit says

    Hi Emmaj
    Excellent post. Social media is great but it’s not for all businesses. Should the shoe polishing company down the street get into this? I believe in certain industries, social media works well and in others not so well. We cannot take everyone and throw them into one basket. But one thing is for sure, social media is a signals in the algorithm. Still dont lead media overhype the social media thing..it is what it is..
    Thanks share it.s
    Ankit recently posted..Dubai – A Portal To Exquisite Grandeur And Immense PleasureMy Profile

    • Emma says

      Thanks for the comment Ankit. Of course, social media marketing is not there for anyone. Probably the shoe polishing company you’re referring to doesn’t even have a website or twitter account. However that doesn’t mean having a website won’t help. For them, guerrilla marketing or street marketing will probably work better.

      The question is, should they actually try it first, or drop it even before even thinking about online marketing?

  2. TimTim says

    In July 2012 Americans spent 74.0 billion minutes on social media via a home computer, 40.8 billion minutes via apps, and 5.7 billion minutes via mobile web browsers, a total of 121.1 billion minutes on social networking sites. And after this can someone have any doubts that Social networks don’t swallow our time and money?

  3. Chimezirim OdimbaChimezirim Odimba says

    The truth about SEO and internet marketing as a whole is that it is NOT different from life itself. There are people who will stop at nothing if there is the promise of real cash for their actions. Now this is what is also happening with SEO in its various forms.

    Black hat social media seo isn’t going to stop No matter how hard the networks crack down on them. They’ll only change their tactics. Just like crime in the real world, they can be combated and reduced NOT eliminated — More so, when there is a LOT to gain for such unethical practices (And there’s No risk of jail time).

    • Emma says

      Chimezirim, you are totally right. As long as there will be direct monetary benefits tied with e-SPAM (this includes social media) this things will never stop. But I think everybody’s duty to play fair.

  4. Dara Khajavi says

    This is a great post. I sincerely believe in the importance of honesty. I believe that my clients want honesty and that they deserve honesty. In the end, it is very easy to prove dishonesty in a social media campaign. I think businesses need to review their ethics priorities.

    • Emma says

      I think profit comes before ethics in many businesses. After all the nature of a business is to make money, however many businesses (and I am talking more about b2b) forget that long term business means good relationships with clients and that can’t be accomplished by hiding and lying to them.

  5. Iteire ApollosIteire Apollos says

    Social media has really become important in search engine optimizations. I thinks it cool because it’s a way to get to real people.

    • Emma says

      You are right Iteire! Social Media is not only becoming an increasingly important element of SEO, but also opens several more doorways of traffic for a website or blog. Brand engagement of course goes without saying.

  6. Khaja moinKhaja moin says

    These days SEO does not stand for Search engine optimization, it stand for Social Engagement Optimization, and I`m happy that quality wins the race.
    But as these fake profiles started increasing on social networking sites the problems arises.
    I don`t think it would stop. Because these are done by so called SEO agencies and you can`t expect them to use their personal names to promote clients site. (As they have lots of clients to promote).

    If these companies realize about not to spam then some thing can up.


    • Emma says

      You are right, it may not stop. But an important thing that everyone needs to realize is that fake profiles and spam defeat the very purpose of brand engagement. Having said that such tactics still find their place in Black Propaganda.

      Of course, we can always hope that just like Google got smarter, social media sites will get smarter at detecting spam and black hat social media tactics too.

  7. SamuelSamuel says

    Definitely stay away from such bad practice!

    Everything on the internet can be taken to the extreme and quickly be corrupted.

    Social media engagement is the secret to success on the social media sites…

  8. SamSam says

    Yes this is very true if you want to get good result from your site/blog then you should make numbers of account on popular social media sites and then you can see how result will come out in favor of you.

  9. Soren SjogrenSoren Sjogren says

    Facebook spammers: really annoying. In 2011 I created a Facebook page for a book I wrote on my experiences as a combat leader in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fans were generated through sharing exclusive content (pictures and chapters of the book prior to release) and advertising on Facebook. Today these fans generated with pure white hat techniques are still interested in the stuff I share on the page.They also help thwart spammers. I rarely have to remove spam comments myself. Thankfully, and as you mentioned, social media users are already tired of spammers.

    • Emma says

      Great points Soren! White hat tactics always get better returns in the long run. After all, brand engagement can only be achieved with real people, not fake profiles:)

  10. rahul says

    These days SEO does not stand for Search engine optimization, it stand for Social Engagement Optimization, and I`m happy that quality wins the race.

  11. rahul says

    These days SEO does not stand for Search engine optimization, it stand for Social Engagement Optimization, and I`m happy that quality wins the race.

  12. Eric says

    The way I look at this is the the whole SEO black hat is cat and mouse game. The sad thing is it actually does work until you get caught. But like Chimezirim Odimba share it’s like life.

    Look at the pro athletes like Lanc Armstrong just this week was caught for doping. Just like cat and mouse game. It’s everywhere in life. The bad or wrong way trying defeat the right way.

    Nice Post!

    Eric recently posted..Hi and Low This Weeks Blogging ExperienceMy Profile

    • Emma says

      Thanks for your comments Eric! You are right and well the mouse can’t keep running away forever:) Hopefully, social media sites will catch up sooner than later. As Soren pointed out, if you have genuine fans and social goodwill, spam can be thwarted.

  13. Narender ChopraNarender Chopra says

    Well Social Sharing is an important factor for SEO but if done in a wrong way , it may lead to Negative SEO. Very nice points you have described dear Emma .

  14. SarahSarah says

    This is the way that gives you so much benefits like increase marketing strategies, page rank, visitors, and other more. All this result in your site becomes popular and get business also. So it can be most useful in the internet marketing specially for SEO. So try it now! I use it daily.

  15. Tumsehi.comTumsehi.com says

    Hi Jane
    It is extremely interesting for me to read that post. Thanks the author for it. I like such topics and everything connected to them. I definitely want to read a bit more on that blog soon.
    Thanks for post it.

  16. SonaliSonali says

    Actually I social media is one of the best way to promote our product. I am using it for over 2 years now but Inever yet tried using google + since I don’t know to do promote in it. Thanks for the information. I will also try google +.

    • Emma says

      Thanks for your comments Sonali. G+ is actually a great tool for businesses. If you have a personal page, maybe you can start with setting up G+ Authorship and adding interesting people to your circles. Joining communities is also a great way to network on G+.

  17. RahulRahul says

    amazing post…today almost in every business social media is used..almost every business man is aware of the SEOs….and this is growing…i like to read this post…thanks for the information…

  18. AshleyAshley says

    Never really heard the term black hat and social media used together, but I like it. As you said you no longer have the option to ignore social media as part of your SEO, but those using black hat techniques are ruining it for everyone. Just look at twitter alone, there are tons of sites dedicated to selling fake followers and spamming everyone in between. They are degrading the user experience of everyone who is using the white hat techniques. I know that they are working to combat the spam, but as always, the spammers will adapt to new techniques.

    • Emma says

      Thanks for your comments Ashley. Yes, we may not be able to stop spammers right now, hopefully social media sites will get smarter. Of course spammers can adapt too, but if you look at the bigger picture, its clean white hat tactics focussed on engagement that offer the best social media results in the long run.

    • Emma says

      Great point Saad! Admittedly, white hat tactics like community involvement take time and effort, but the rewards are usually well worth everything.

  19. sheshnathsheshnath says

    Hi Emma,
    A great and well written post that describes the role of social media in SEO. Thanks a lot for such well written post :)

  20. BhupendraBhupendra says

    Though there are websites those sell fan page likes but these likes are not that useful because when it comes to post something in your fan page they really don’t work. So guys don’t buy fake likes. Having 500 real users is lot more than 10k fake users.

    • Emma says

      Well said Bhupendra! I agree. Fake likes and followers may make your profile look good, but they are of very little use when it comes to actual engagement or even driving traffic to your website for that matter.

  21. Shathyan RajaShathyan Raja says

    Nice article. Useful strategies which are needed to be implement in 2013 which would really be useful to bring reputation for our blog.

    Social Media and Search Engine Optimization are the only two things which dominate and we need to drive some strategies to over come it

    Thanks for Sharing.

  22. JoyJoy says

    Thanks for the share, Jane. Though some here kind of made me sad, but I believe that it meant well in some point. Thanks for sharing!

  23. surajsuraj says

    I am surprised, People uses social media sites to improved search engine ranking. Many bloggers are creating many fake accounts to getbacklinks.

    • Emma says

      Indeed people do that. But, in the long run it’s always better to use white hat strategies, as those are the techniques that help you engage with real people and drive actual traffic to your website.

  24. StaceyStacey says

    Social media is definitely the soul of SEO. It works like a well-oiled machine when used properly. Thank you for sharing this information with us.

  25. LeeLee says

    Hi Jane
    From what I am reading on your post it looks like googles next update will probably have a few surprises I. It for the social media scammers. Or if not the next one I am sure it won’t be long. But like you say there is always people working out ways of keeping ahead of the next algorithm update.

    Very informative thanks lee

  26. AnnieAnnie says

    The thing you are talking about is absolutely correct. But i dont think there is any harm in promoting your business through social media. Creating fake persons is a bad thing but if you can promote it through your friends then why not do it.

  27. KellyKelly says

    I had a nice time reading your informative post, Jane. I agree. It would be better to maximize the use of those social sites andany other ways we can do to make the most of out of what we love doing. Thanks for sharing! :)

  28. Imran KhanImran Khan says

    Most people do share g+ links as well for voting each other which may also violate the rules of G+ and have seen many people get ban for that..!!! and Some people really create lots of facebook profiles and fill their account with friends limit till 5000 even get near 50000 subscribers which may benefit as well but still it’s not encouraged by most Professionals …!

    • Emma says

      Good points Imran. The problem with fake profiles is that they make your page look popular, but don’t do anything for engagement or even content distribution.

      Thanks for your comments.

  29. ClaraClara says

    Thank you for the very informative post Emma. That’s the downside of technology for you,this black hat strategy may be a bit on the dishonest side of things, but it is definitely an effective marketing strategy.

    • Emma says

      Actually, the effectiveness of Black Hat is limited, and just like spammy sites went down with Google’s updates, social spam too is unlikely to have a very long shelf-life. Then again lack of engagement can be a huge downside of black hat strategies.

      Thanks for your comments.

  30. sachinsachin says

    Yes Social media is very much required for every blogger. It plays a major role in traffic. Some bloggers don’t have page rank but still they are getting better traffic from their social media sites. Thanks for this information.

  31. Tumsehi.comTumsehi.com says

    This is a really cool program and I think I want to try it. The hardest part of my day is focusing on everything that has to get done and actually doing them. This approach my help me get through the day smooth and actually on time.

  32. JulidarmaJulidarma says

    Hello Jane. I like your post. Social is one of the main source of my site traffic. Without socila media it need longer time to popularize the blog.

  33. RabitaRabita says

    This article explains very well about the SEO strategies and alignments. This give idea to make the off page SEO to the website. I hope i well increase page rank to my website. Thanks for share this post.

  34. madonamadona says

    Great article. I agree, Social Media has become very important part of SEO. I think,white hat seo is better than Black hat. It gives real traffic.

  35. Michael KohnMichael Kohn says

    I believe that social media spam is a profitable practice for a few and a waste of time for many.
    I continue to do tests on social media and possess some “ghost account” but certainly not to spam or black hat

  36. SonaliSonali says

    Great article for SEO Strategies Toe The Black Hat Territory. I’m totally agree with Spam is everywhere, include social media network. All are great points.

  37. Emma says

    Indeed Spam is. Hopefully, we will see updates from social networks targeted at dealing with black hat and spam this year.
    Thanks for commenting.

  38. Julia SpencerJulia Spencer says

    It’s a pity that today it seems to me that the number of fake profiles on social networks is much higher than real ones…And we don’t know with who we communicate
    Thanks a lot for such an urgent post!

    Julia Spencer’s recent post.. Reasons to Send Email Newsletter On a Regular Basis

  39. amely hopesamely hopes says

    Thanks for making this point very clear as so many of us thinks that Social media strategies are purely white hat but they are not the best example is the bots which are providing likes,fans ,views,followers etc and other stuff like this

  40. Emma says

    Thanks Amley! Glad you found the post useful:) There’s black and white in everything. While black hat may provide some short-term benefits, it’s white hat techniques that involve creating great content and actual engagement that help brands and businesses stand out in the long run.

  41. GauravGaurav says

    Well, everything has its pros and cons. One may be pleased to see the huge number of profiles following them ( fake ones will just increase the number), but in reality he isn’t as popular as it appears as as the number of real people interested may be pretty low.

  42. RahulRahul says

    Hi Emma, I agree with you that buying friends or make fake profiles is not a good practice and it will be like cheating with your own business but if you can use social networking without doing such things and it helps you then there is no harm in using it.

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