When I started off my career in SEO, I was 16 years old. And, just like most 16 year olds, I didn’t worry much about “consequences.” In my fairytale world, they didn’t really exist.
We all learn to know better as we age, but you have to keep in mind that I was naive. When I started off my journey into the world of SEO, I didn’t worry about Google’s rules… I just did whatever I wanted.
If you fast forward to today, I don’t leverage or practice black hat techniques and if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have dabbled in the art of the dark side. Why? Because if I spent all of that time and energy on legitimate tactics, I would have created a much larger long-term business.
I won’t bore you with the reasons why you should avoid black hat SEO, as you already know them. Instead, I’m going to share with you 7 crazy tactics (with data) that I leveraged as a kid.
You’ll quickly see that I was a really creative kid… and it’s one of the main reasons I do well as a marketer today.
Crazy Tactic #1: TwitThis
What’s one thing that every blog has? Well, of course, every blog has content… but they also have social sharing buttons.
From Facebook, to Twitter and even LinkedIn… you see these social sharing buttons everywhere. But, that wasn’t always the case.
When Twitter first came out, they didn’t have “tweet” buttons. Heck, people weren’t even calling them “tweets.”
So, my team and I created our own Twitter sharing buttons that people could embed into their websites. We called these Twitter sharing buttons: TwitThis (you can see what the original site looked like below)
How did it do? Well, so many people started to embed TwitThis buttons on their site that it caused the website to once have a Google PageRank of 8 and over 54 million backlinks.
As you can see from the screenshot above, the site peaked at 54 million backlinks from 45,000 unique domains. But. what’s more impressive is the backlink profile.
Just look at the image above, you’ll see that the site had 27 .gov and 123 .edu backlinks.
That’s not too shabby… all from just creating a free tool that allowed people to place “tweet” buttons on their site.
The way that I spread the word about it was really interesting. I just went on Twitter, found all of the popular sites leveraging it and I emailed the webmasters something like this:
I noticed that CNN has been leveraging Twitter lately. Have you thought about asking your users to share your content on Twitter so you can get even more traffic?
We actually created a free tool called TwitThis that makes this whole process easy. We provide you with a simple code that you can paste into your HTML so that your website readers can easily share your content on Twitter, which will help CNN get more traffic.
Let me know if you have any questions.
Once I built TwitThis up to a high domain authority site, I was then able to create sub pages that would contain content around many of the popular terms out there and they would naturally rank high, as the site had so much domain authority.
Crazy Tactic #2: Battlefield Bypass
I know what you are thinking… “what the heck is battlefield bypass”.
You’re probably already familiar with the tactic involving buying expired domains. I took a bit of a different strategy when I was younger, I would only buy expired domains that were related to world history, as it increased the likelihood of .edu and .gov backlinks.
One of the domains I acquired was called battlefieldbypass.com. It was a website that used to be related to the Civil War.
When I acquired it, it had hundreds of links and many of them were from government-run websites.
I quickly acquired the site and turned it into an online casino site. Within a few months, the site ranked number 2 on Google for the term “online casino,” which is still a highly competitive term.
On the website, I listed out the top 10 online casinos that someone could sign up for. Every time a user signed up because of my site, I got paid an affiliate commission. The site was averaging $40,000 to $60,000 a month. Apparently, I didn’t do a great job at fine tuning the site for affiliate income, as the person ranking above me was making over $100,000 each month.
A lot of SEOs still leverage expired domains… but very few focus on ones that contain .gov and .edu links, even though they tend to be the most powerful. You also have to pay more for these expired domain names, but I never understood why someone would try to save a few bucks when the difference could mean ranking number 1 versus not.
Crazy Tactic #3: I Can Has Poker?
Have you heard of a crazy cat website called I Can Has Cheezburger? I don’t know how popular the site is at the moment, but it used to generate around 500,000,000 page views a month. Not too shabby for a site that has tons of cat memes.
The audience was so loyal that I partnered with them to run a contest. The contest was a poker giveaway in which one person would win a two-night trip to Las Vegas with $500 in spending cash and free airfare for 2 individuals to and from Las Vegas.
I can’t find the page on I Can Has Cheezburger that discusses the contest (guessing they removed it)… but here is a snapshot:
- Create a funny cat meme related to poker (they have a meme creator on their site).
- Embed the cat meme on your website to enter (the embed code linked back to my poker site).
Within a matter of days, I got over 2000 backlinks that contained the phrase “poker” and “online poker” in the anchor text. I even had I Can Has Cheezburger rotate up the embed codes so that I could make the anchor text more natural.
Within a few days, my rankings shot up to page 7 of Google for the term “online poker.” Within a week, I was ranking on page 2 and, within two weeks, I was ranking on page 1. I probably would have hit the number 1 spot, but I quickly got caught and Google pulled my ranking.
My total cost for the whole contest was under $10,000. Fifty percent of that was what I paid I Can Has Cheezburger for running the cost.
Crazy Tactic #4: WordPress Themes
What’s one thing that all WordPress themes have in common? They have a footer link to the designer.
And, what’s one thing that most WordPress theme designers have in common? Most of them create themes out of passion and rarely try to make money from them. These themes do really well, because the designers care about their work.
So, I thought it would be interesting to pay these theme owners a thousand dollars to release an update of their already popular theme. The reason I targeted existing themes is that when they release an update, it would show up in the user’s WordPress admin and they would just click a button to update the theme.
On the flip side, if I created brand new themes from scratch, there would be no guarantee that people would like the design and install it… for this reason, I only targeted existing themes that were popular.
The site I had the links go to was called Web Hosting Information (I don’t know how, but the site is still up… not sure who the owner is).
At one point, the site ranked in the top 3 results of Google for “web hosting.” Eventually, Google caught on and the site got slapped and the rankings plummeted.
These days, I still use WordPress themes, but more so for branding. I want more people to know me as a marketer, so I pay theme companies to include “marketed by Neil Patel” links within their theme and, of course, each link is nofollow so that I am not breaking Google’s rules.
Crazy Tactic #5: Operation Google Domination
The easiest tactic I deployed was this one. Do you remember Google Pages? It was when you could create a web page using Google’s domain name. That’s right, you could set up a site on “google.com.”
Google Pages doesn’t exist anymore… closest thing I could find is this.
From these networks, I would obtain PageRank 4 and 5 links for around 30 bucks a pop and I would buy a few hundred at a time. In total, I spent $24,990 on paid links.
Within 60 to 90 days, I was on page one for the terms listed above, as well as other competitive key phrases.
The reason this tactic worked so well is that I was building links to Google’s own domain and it already contained tons of authority.
Eventually, Google caught on, like they always do and the pages stopped ranking.
Crazy Tactic #6: My Stat Counter
Are you familiar with StatCounter? It’s the popular analytics tool that was around way before Google Analytics. And, for StatCounter to give you stats, you have to add a counter to your site. The counter also contains a backlink to StatCounter.
Just look at their link profile, they have over 1 billion links. That’s right… 1 BILLION.
To log into StatCounter, you once had to go to my.statcounter.com (that subdomain doesn’t exist anymore). So, I thought it would be clever to create my own stat counter type of site and called it MyStatCounter.com.
I got tons of traffic from people who typed in “my.statcounter.com” incorrectly, which resulted in lots people creating stat counters using my website.
When people would embed one of those hit counters into their site, they would automatically also link out to whatever site I wanted to promote. The embed code would contain 3rd party links and I required that people leave it on, as my service was free.
Like most of the black hat tactics I leveraged, my rankings shot up fast. It lasted for more than 2 years and worked so well that I was even selling links on My Stat Counter to other companies who would pay me.
I was smart about it as well… I would make sure that the anchor text was rotated. So, it seemed natural and I never leveraged My Stat Counter for any of my marketing related sites or blogs. I didn’t want to draw attention to it. Plus, when someone signed up, I would ask them what type of site they had, so that I could place relevant 3rd party links versus random ones.
None-the-less, I eventually got caught and stopped using this tactic.
Crazy Tactic #7: Arbitraging Google
In the early days of SEO, there weren’t Panda or Penguin penalties and Google’s algorithms were a lot less sophisticated.
Back in 2003, Google released AdSense, a service where people could monetize their own sites by placing Google ads on them.
So, I took one of my websites that had a high domain authority, Advice Monkey (site no longer exists) and I scraped over 100 million Google search result pages. I took each of the results within their search engine and I created millions of pages on my site that contained the same exact listing data.
My pages looked just like Google’s search pages, but with my AdSense ads all over them.
Within a month, I started to get traffic from lucrative terms that I scraped, such as “mesothelioma” and I was making $943 to $2592 a day from AdSense.
And, as you can probably guess, Google eventually shut me down for leveraging this tactic as well.
I know some of these tactics may seem cool and I may paint them to be glamorous, but they really aren’t. I am not proud of what I did and if I could go back in time and tell myself one thing… it would be that I shouldn’t focus on any black hat tactics.
If I focused all of my energy on legitimate white hat techniques, I wouldn’t have gone through as many sites. Instead, I would have had one much larger site that still existed today.
Sure, in the short run, I would have made less money. But, I started so early that in the long run, I would have been way ahead of everyone else.
The big lessons from this post should be:
- Be creative – the best marketers tend to be the most creative ones. It doesn’t mean that you should break Google’s policies (you shouldn’t). But, it means that you need to think outside of the box to succeed (make sure you still follow the rules).
- Think long-term – short-term tactics may seem fun, but eventually you will get caught and you will have just wasted your time. I had months where I was making 6 figures from these tactics, but because they weren’t long-term, I also had really terrible months where I lost money.
- Learn from black hat tactics – there are a lot of marketers who leverage black hat techniques… not just in SEO, but in all forms of marketing. You shouldn’t necessarily copy these people, but learn from them. Maybe you can take their tactics, make them white hat and apply them to your business.
Have you seen any black hat techniques that we could all learn from?