Black Hat SEO: If Your SEO Agency in Singapore Is Doing This, Stop Your Campaign With Them Immediately

Before you hire an SEO agency in Singapore, you need to be knowledgeable about the tips and tricks of the trade. You need to know the right questions to ask, the signs to look out for, and the black hat SEO techniques used by unscrupulous SEO companies looking to make a quick buck.

If you don’t, you run the risk of hefty penalties, de-indexed websites, and a massive loss in rankings that can cost thousands and take years to recover from. You also need to know what your expectations for your agency are, so you can avoid any disappointments.

In this article, we will cover the warning signs you need to be looking out for with your agency, as well as some of the black hat techniques they use and the consequences for using them. Without this knowledge, you may run the risk of paying the wrong agency to cause you nothing but SEO grief.

9 Signs That Your SEO Company in Singapore is Doing It Wrong

While you can always ask the agency about their SEO practices, you can’t necessarily trust everything they tell you.

However, there are some easy to spot signs that the SEO company could be engaged in dubious practices. Within the first few months of the contract, keep an eye out for the following things as they could mean trouble.

Sign 1: They Don’t Ask Any Questions

A good SEO company in Singapore should ask you some key questions. After all, SEO is going to be a collaborative effort between you and the agency you hire.

Most qualified SEO companies will ask you for the following things:

  • Access to your Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and/or Google My Business Page. A good agency will need access to these things in order to provide the best possible results. All three of these Google services offer valuable information or can be edited to increase your online presence, so if an agency is doing its job right, they will need access.

 

  • A list of your target keywords. If an agency is going to help you rank for a specific keyword, they’ll need to know what those keywords are and it always start with a proper SEO keyword research.

 

  • Either editor or admin access to your CMS/website. In order to properly manage your content and update your site’s SEO, any worthwhile agency will need to have a level of access that allows them to work on these things.

 

  • Any past penalties, audits, or work. If you have past audits, these can be used to find any black hat techniques that were used on your site, something your SEO company should want to know about. A good agency will also want to learn if you have any penalties to fix and should be interested in any past work done to your site to help pinpoint where improvements are needed.

If none of these questions are asked, there’s a good chance they are engaging in blackhat SEO. This is because, without access, the SEO company’s options are limited. In this case, they are likely just adding questionable links and other actions that could hurt your ranking in the long run.

Sign 2: Traffic to Your Website Starts to Fall

Traffic Dropping

While a drop in traffic does not always mean that your SEO company is engaging in shady practices, it should raise some red flags. This is because a large sudden drop in traffic could indicate that Google’s algorithm has penalized your site. So when this happens, you need to figure out why.

One of the first things you need to check is if Google enacted any changes to their algorithm around the time of the drop. See what these changes are and if they could be responsible for the drop.

You should also look into the changes your SEO company made around the time of the drop. See if they engaged in any dishonest techniques that could result in a penalty. Once you have narrowed down the potential issue, ask what steps your agency is making to remedy it.

Sign 3: You Get the Dreaded Manual Penalty

Manual penalties can be triggered by manual changes that were made to your site. They differ from the algorithmic penalties, which are given out by Penguin and Panda, in that they are handled by Google reviewers who assess your site’s adherence to Google’s guidelines.

Your site can receive a manual penalty for the following reasons (these are some of the more common reasons but this list is far from comprehensive):

  • User-generated content that’s loaded with spam
  • Strange and irrelevant links coming from your site
  • Content that’s loaded with popup ads
  • Website appears to be hacked
  • Content that’s short and unedited for errors and quality
  • Buying backlinks
  • Cloaking keywords
  • Stuffing keywords throughout your page
  • Content has either low or no added value for users
  • Backlinks from low-quality pages
  • Sneaky redirects
  • Content that has been republished from another website

If you are given a manual penalty within the first few months after hiring an SEO company in Singapore, it’s time to start asking questions. However, you shouldn’t jump to any conclusions too quickly, as not all manual penalties indicate that you are working with a shady agency.

It’s possible to be penalized for things like poor website security or a lack of scalability to mobile devices, which your agency may not be responsible for. Either way, any penalty should raise your suspicions and have you asking why.

Conduct a careful investigation into the exact cause of the penalty. If you find that your agency’s practices are the culprit, you may want to consider hiring a new company.

Sign 4: No Deliverables to Show

If you are working with a trustworthy SEO company in Singapore, they should be able to demonstrate it. Showing you the SEO practices that they use is a common way for an agency to prove its worth.

This is especially useful in the first few weeks and months with an agency. This is because it can take more than 4 months for you to see actual results, such as a rise in ranking. So if you can’t judge your company based on results, you can ask them to show you the following to ensure you are not just throwing money away:

  • Off-page optimization - This will include things like audit backlink profile, local citation, the building of high domain authority backlinks, reverse engineering your competitor’s backlinks, disavowal of low-quality backlinks, and content creation and optimization.
  • Technical audit - For audits, they should provide keyword mapping, an SSL certificate check, XML sitemap optimization and submission, fixed duplicate HTTP/HTTPS errors, and robots.txt optimization.
  • On-site implementation - Some on-site implementation you should check includes schema markup/structured data implementation, meta title and description copyediting, internal linking, and image optimization.

Sign 5: They Don’t Offer Any Advice

Your SEO company should be asking you to take certain actions with your site. If they are not, there could be a problem.

Any agency that’s going to do a good job will want you to work with them. Optimizing your site is a team effort. They should take the lead by giving you some solid, actionable advice to help you increase your ranking.

Many times, black hat SEO agencies will do nothing more than direct a bunch of low-quality backlinks at your site. If this is their SEO strategy, the company has no need to get you involved with the process.

Sign 6: Loads of Suspiciously Cheap Content

As Bill Gates once wrote, “content is king,” and this is especially true for SEO. One of the biggest determining factors for ranking well is providing quality content that will give Google users a good experience. Pumping out loads of cheap content may appear productive, but it’s going to end up hurting your site.

Make sure that any agency you are doing business with isn’t loading your site with garbage content that will scare your audience away.  If you are providing a bad user experience, this is guaranteed to cause your rankings to drop.

Sign 7: They Keep Their Techniques a Secret

If your SEO company in Singapore is only engaging in reliable white hat SEO techniques, they shouldn’t be shy about sharing them. White hat techniques that are proven to get results are widely recognized and aren’t trade secrets.

So if your company tells you that they can’t give you any details because they are confidential, this should raise some major red flags. If they are doing things right, they should be happy to tell you.

Sign 8: Your Ranking Suffers

Google Ranking Drop

From time to time you may see minor drops in your ranking. This isn’t always something that you need to worry about. But if your ranking keeps steadily dropping over a period of time, or suddenly suffers a massive drop, you may have hired an unscrupulous SEO agency.

One of the reasons for a steady decline in ranking is an algorithmic penalty due to black hat SEO techniques. So if you notice that your ranking is dropping, it’s time to look into what your SEO company is doing. If it does not seem right, you should ask them to stop or find a better agency.

Sign 9: The Wrong Keywords Are Ranking

Ideally, your traffic should be coming from your target keywords. This is in the best interest of both you and the search engine user who’s coming to your site.

However, if any of these three things start to happen with your keywords, you have a problem:

  1. The highest-ranking keywords stop ranking
  2. There’s a significant change in your organic keywords
  3. Traffic is coming from the wrong keywords

Your traffic should be coming from your targeted keywords if your SEO company is doing things properly. And if they are not, your agency may be up to no good. 

Commonly Used Black Hat SEO Techniques

If you notice that your agency is engaging in any of the above practices, there is a good chance they are using black hat SEO techniques. Next, we will cover some of these techniques so you’ll know exactly what you need to look out for.

Sneaky Redirects

A redirect is when a link sends you to a different URL than the one that you first clicked. Black hat SEOs use these redirects to try and game the system. This will commonly involve sending users to one URL and the search engine crawler to another, but this isn’t the only redirect technique used.

Another black hat trick is to redirect from a reputable page that’s loaded with backlinks to a less relevant one. This technique, known as a 301 redirect, is used to transfer the authority of a reputable page to a different one to help manipulate search results.

While there are legitimate ways to use redirects, using one of the above techniques is a violation of the guidelines of most major search engines, such as Google. If you find out your SEO company in Singapore is using sneaky redirects, make them stop or replace them.

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is a commonly used black hat technique that involves loading your content with irrelevant keywords to manipulate your search ranking. Using a ton of keywords that don’t fit, are repetitive, or don’t add any value for your audience all can cause problems.

Google considers the following three practices to be keyword stuffing:

  • Repeating words and phrases in a way that sounds unnatural. An example of this using the keyword “best SEO tools” would be: “For the best SEO tools you want the best SEO tool software. With the best SEO tools, you’ll never need to buy SEO tools again!”
  • A list of phone numbers that don’t add value for the user.
  • Chunks of text that lists the states and cities that your website is attempting to rank for.

Keyword stuffing can get you penalized and any reputable SEO company shouldn’t be engaging in this black hat technique.

Blog Comment Spam

This technique is when you leave your link in the comments of a blog in an attempt to build outside links to your site. This technique is an especially bad idea, as Google’s algorithm is incredibly good at catching blog comment spam.

On top of the difficulties of sneaking blog comment spam by Google’s algorithm, most blogs now make any links that are left in a blog’s comments nofollow by default. But if your site or blog does allow comments, it’s also important to make sure that your users can’t spam your comments either. Google can penalize pages that contain spam even if it’s in user-generated comments.

Cloaking

This technique is similar to sneaky redirects and involves showing your users one page while sending search engine crawlers to another. This practice is used to help a page rank for terms that are not relevant to the actual content that’s displayed. Cloaking helps to disguise the fact that a site is dishing out spam.

It’s never a good idea to pay for links. Whether you are exchanging money or goods, if you are purchasing links for the purpose of manipulating your rank, you are using a black hat tactic. If Google determines that your links were paid for, both you and the seller can be penalized.

Therefore, if your SEO company in Singapore has been putting paid links on your site, you need to have them removed immediately. If, for any reason, you are unable to have a link removed, use the disavow links tool. With it, Google will ignore the paid link when ranking your page.

Poor Quality Content

Any content you publish needs to add value for your users. If it does not, it could be considered poor quality content. This includes duplicate content that was taken from another site. In recent years, Google has become rather good at spotting content that does not add value.

Example of poor quality content (notice the SEO ranking circled on the right):

Poor-Quality Content Example

Example of high-quality content (notice the SEO ranking circled on the right):

High-Quality Content Example

Another sneaky black hat technique that is often used is referred to as bait and switch. With this method, an SEO creates content covering the topic they would like to rank for. Once the chosen topic begins to rank, the content is then switched out with something less relevant.

Your agency should be writing engaging and original content to help attract traffic to your page. If they need to resort to shady tricks using low-quality content, you may want to consider another company.

Link Farms

Any websites that exist solely for the purpose of link building can be considered a link farm. These sites attempt to artificially help a page’s ranking by building tons of shady backlinks to a site. These farms are usually loaded with low-quality and irrelevant content and can hurt a user’s experience.

Modern search engines, including Google, have become rather good at spotting link farms over the years, so using this black hat technique is inherently risky. Avoid using it by creating great content that others would want to link to. It may be more time consuming, but it’ll help you avoid penalties that can take even longer to resolve.

Abusing Structured Data/Rich Snippets

Structured data or rich snippets is code that is written in a format that can be understood by search engines. Using structured data can enhance the appearance of your results in a search engine. This can help by adding additional information into your search results, such as review data, star rating, calorie information, instructions, a knowledge graph, etc.Structured Data

There is nothing wrong with using structured data, and you should take advantage of it. It becomes a black hat technique when you use inaccurate information in your structured data with the goal of “tricking” search engines and those using them. An example of this would be to use a fake 5-star review in your structured data to make your product seem more attractive.

So while your agency should be incorporating structured data into your site, it does need to be factual. If they are using false information you could run into trouble.

Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

Private blog networks are similar to link farms in that they are both used to increase your ranking by increasing the number of backlinks to your site. These networks tend to be made up of authoritative sites and are used exclusively for building links.

When a black hat builds a private blog network, they will usually start by buying an old domain that already has a good reputation. They will mimic the content from the original site and will add backlinks to the site that they are trying to promote. The black hat SEO will build a network of these sites that will link back to their main site, but never to each other.

If a search engine discovers you are using a private blog network (which they have grown quite good at), you’ll likely receive some stiff penalties.

Penalties For Using Black Hat SEO

While there can be some rewards to using black hat techniques, the potential penalties make the practice far from worthwhile. Not only can using these techniques hurt your ranking, but they can potentially cause your website to be de-listed entirely. This can severely affect your ranking and can be difficult to recover from.

In recent years, search engines have become very good at spotting these unscrupulous techniques. While you may see some short-term gains, in the long-term, you’ll always lose.

Some of the consequences you may face by using blackhat techniques include:

  • Lost rankings
  • De-indexed websites
  • Less business
  • Lower traffic
  • Google penalties
  • Bad PR

Recovering from these consequences can take years and cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Below, we will cover some famous cases where companies were caught using black hat techniques.

Forbes Penalized for Selling Links

The popular American business magazine, Forbes, was penalized by Google in 2011 for selling links.

The email sent to them by Google is featured below:

Forbes Penalized Email

According to Google, the company used artificial or unnatural links on their site that were being used for manipulating PageRank. This indicates that Forbes was most likely selling links, a violation of Google’s guidelines. And this isn’t the first time. Back in 2007, the magazine was also penalized for selling links.

Expedia Using Spammy Techniques

Back in 2014, the online travel giant, Expedia, lost a quarter (25%) of its visibility on Google for engaging in black hat SEO techniques. This lead to a 4.3% drop in the share price of the company’s stock due to 20% less traffic visiting the site. All of this damage is believed to be the result of using paid outside links.

The SEO firm Nenad was the first to draw attention to Expedia’s shady practices. And thanks to Google’s constantly updating algorithm, they were quickly reprimanded.

BMW Caught Using Doorway Pages

In 2006, BMW was caught using keyword-stuffed doorway pages to help funnel users to their German website. Google didn’t go lightly on the car manufacturer and completely removed their site from Google’s index. BMW responded by removing the offending pages, after which they were added back to Google’s index.

BMW Doorway Page

J.C. Penny Busted for Using Paid Links

Thanks to some black hat SEO magic, J.C. Penny was ranking at the top of search results for some very valuable keywords. Words such as “bedding,” “dresses,” “furniture,” and “home decor.” The company accomplished this by paying to have thousands of links placed across hundreds of sites, all linking to JCPenny.com.

This earned J.C. Penny a manual action in 2011, which severely hurt its rankings. The company responded by firing SearchDex, its SEO firm. 

How Heroes of Digital Handles SEO

At Heroes of Digital, we solely use white hat SEO techniques. We are the only digital marketing agency in Singapore to have invested in and built proprietary technology (HeroSEO Powersuite) to boost our client's results from every dollar spent. That's why we outperform in our campaigns 94% of the time without having to resort to black hat SEO.

However, while we never engage in black hat techniques, we do have experience in reversing the penalties for clients who have. Below, we will go through a couple of case studies where we helped clients remove penalties:

Case study #1 - Aureus Academy

Problem:

When we accepted Aureus, their biggest problem was a manual penalty they had been given to them by Google. The message was found in their GSC. This resulted in a tank in their rankings due to a lot of paid links and spammy directories.

Solution:

We solved this by manually auditing their backlinks to find the private blog networks and spammy directories that they were linking to. We then emailed each, one by one, for manual removal. We followed up on those emails twice to be certain they were received.

Even then, some didn’t reply. We sent those links to a disavow tool. Next, we submitted for manual reconsideration and waited for more than a month.

 Result:

Thanks to our efforts, Aureus Academy’s manual penalty was removed and their keywords recovered.

Here’s what they looked like before:

 

And what they looked like after:

In the end, we were able to manage a 1231% increase in Google ranking, a 534% increase in organic traffic, and having 86% of their keywords ranked on Google’s first page.

Case study #2 - Only Aesthetics

Problem:

When we took on Only Aesthetics, they had some black hat SEO that had been implemented by a previous agency. The agency had used hidden text and keyword placement throughout their site.

This would certainly lead to a Google penalty if the black hat SEO wasn’t dealt with. However, even without a penalty, it was clear that the tactics were hurting their rankings. The website was also lacking on-page optimization.

Solution:

We solved this by first, removing the hidden text and keyword placements from all of their pages. We then performed on-page optimization for targeted pages. Finally, we built high-quality links to the website.

Result:

This resulted in a 2002% increase in Google rankings, a 51% increase in organic traffic, and 50% of the keywords ranking on page one. Keep in mind, that this was in a very competitive aesthetics industry as well.

Get Your Free SEO Audit Today!

So if you’d like to avoid black hat SEO companies in Singapore, then contact Heroes of Digital for a free SEO audit. There are absolutely no obligations, you simply need to fill out your contacts and we will take care of your free SEO audit.

Once our audit is complete, our consultants will go through it with you and offer our proposed strategies. This audit has a value of up to $500, so take advantage of our free offer today!

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Xavier Tan
Co-Founder
Xavier is the Co-Founder of Heroes of Digital. He started social media marketing and SEM long before it became popular in Singapore. His passion is in helping businesses grow through effective lead generation. He has overseen campaigns for Amara Hotel, NTU, Marina Bay, L'Oreal, and 100+ SMEs.

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