I’ve noted before that Google Analytics has some often overlooked features for the blogger. My favorite being it’s ability to generate story ideas. When my well is running dry, I just take a look at what search terms users have landed on my page by using. Today’s: “Does Black Hat SEO Work?”

Of course it does, that’s why it exists and that’s why they can charge so much. That’s why even self identified white hat SEO companies or companies that don’t identify how they operate use black hat tactics. The problem isn’t that they don’t work, it’s that they work too well. Therefore, they are often quickly unearthed and can lead to long-term problems.

The story that introduced Black Hat SEO to the layperson was definitely JC Penny’s engagement of a black hat SEO company and it’s eventual backfiring. JC Penny’s SEO firm placed links on over 2,000 pages linking to JC Penny with appropriate keywords. The particular tactic they used was “paid links.” Or, simply when you pay a site to place a link to your site on their page. Often this is noticeable because the link will be completely incongruous. This tactic led to the site out ranking nearly every other retailer for relevant search terms like “Dresses” or even “Samsonite.”  This lasted for the entire holiday season of 2010. Interestingly, Google did not catch this one, The New York Times did. I’m not sure who in the organization saw it first, but my money is on the style editor.

Once the jig was up, JC Penny had to pay. Black hat SEO isn’t illegal, but Google was standing ready to punish them. According to the Grey Lady, just over a week after discovery, the average search term ranking for JC Penny’s selected keywords went from #1 to #52. Betty’s Beauty Barn in Minot, ND was out ranking them. Ouch.

They were found out, and that’s generally the way it works. If your website is appearing higher in search results than it should be, the people below you are going to look and wonder “Hey, where did they come from?” And you can be sure there will be no shortage of webmasters eager to toss your sits face down into Google’s Sandbox.

Not only does it make you look bad if you are exposed, even if you didn’t know about it, it can also hurt you in the long run. When a website is exposed as having used unethical SEO techniques the site is removed entirely or manually adjusted in search engine results. So, your site has gone from #2 on the second page, to #10 on page 57. And getting back isn’t easy.

The other thing to keep in mind is "who is bearing the risk?" Your SEO company doesn’t take on any risk (unless you negotiate a really good contract). They get paid to move your site to the top. If you do or don’t get busted, they get paid either way. But, if you do get busted, the site you have invested in and the traffic you had previously legitimately earned is going to be semi-permanently damaged. You’ve wasted money and now you have to spend more money undoing the damage that’s been done.

If you want SEO make sure you’re going to someone who’s practices you understand and who you can trust. The best way to determine who you can trust is to get educated. Go back and reread the articles from SEO week. These will give you a basic understanding of SEO tactics, the good ones.  The ones that build quality organic traffic over time. The ones that Google explicitly endorses. The ones that will earn you good traffic.

Does black hat SEO work? Ultimately that’s up to you to decide. It’s risky, the traffic quality is low and the results are temporary. Me? I use white hat. I’ve spent too much time and too much energy on this website and the book to kiss my traffic goodbye.