Most blackhat link building tactics that you see in forums these days have been around for years and are not blackhat in my opinion. These are greyhat tactics, they are not illegal, just outside of Google guidelines.
It seems like a month doesn’t go by without a story popping up on some tech news blog regarding another major DDoS attack.Only this past few days has Moz been suffering from a DDoS attack on their site.
We are under a DDOS attack. Right now, no ETA on when we’ll be back up, but we’ll keep you posted here. — Moz (@Moz) May 17, 2014
The term “DDoS” stands for “Distributed Denial of Service” and it’s an attack that is commonly used by hackers to bring down a website temporarily. While this hack doesn’t really help anyone gain access to specific information on its own, it is a very useful tool for making a website unreachable by its intended audience. These attacks have been around for quite some time, but they were more recently popularized by those perpetrated by Anonymous against various large companies.
I really miss the good old blackhat days, but Google has done really well of ridding the interwebz of spam recently. As I’ve been delving a lot into conversion rate optimisation (CRO) recently, I thought it would be good to look at blackhat CRO tactics. Like blackhat SEO, there are all different shades of grey depending on your morality, but with blackhat CRO you are deceiving real people not just search bots which is fine.
To carry out blackhat CRO you need to understand the main principles and techniques of CRO, then fake them. Here’s how Wikipedia defines CRO:
conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the method of creating an experience for a website or landing page visitor with the goal of increasing the percentage of visitors that convert into customers. It is also commonly referred to as CRO
Key elements of CRO
CRO is about understanding the psychology of your visitors and providing them with the experience they need to reach your goals. There are many factors effecting a users decision making process, but they are always driven by emotions then reinforced with logic once the decision is made. Many CRO techniques are taken from old marketing ideas around influence, like Cialdini’s Psychology of Persuasion.
The key element of CRO is to create credibility and trust on your landing page or website. You need to give the users the confidence to proceed and complete your goal whether it’s subscribing to a newsletter, gaining a Facebook like or proceeding down an ecommerce buying funnel. The ecommerce conversion funnel is more complex than a simple converting landing page, each step creates risk of abandonment. Each step of the funnel needs to be examined to find negative user sentiment so it can be eliminated, each of the steps can also include blackhat techniques.
What is Blackhat CRO?
Blackhat CRO is any tactic used to mislead a user to complete a desired goal. Harry Brignall describes these as ‘Dark Patterns‘, which he describes below:
Dark Patterns are User Interfaces that are designed to trick people.
Normally when you think of “bad design”, you think of laziness or mistakes. These are known as design anti-patterns. Dark Patterns are different – they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user’s interests in mind.
Google’s Blackhat Conversion Tactics
Even Google is partial to a few blackhat/greyhat conversion tricks. Ever found it hard to detect Google’s sponsored links? Moving your laptop screen around to see the colours? That’s Google intentionally changing the adsense background colour to ‘trick’ people into clicking through. To me this is pure deception. Google used to get around 30% of adwords clicks with 70% going to the organic listings, but I would love to know the ratios now for a query like this.
Another shady tactic is Google’s new arrow box on adwords. I’ve actually clicked on one of these on my ipad thinking I as about to scroll right to the next page. With 25% of ad clicks coming from mobile, I’m convinced this is done out of pure deception.
Now we have seen examples of Google’s art of deception, lets look at some of the tactics used by other websites skating the grey boundaries of user experience (UX).
The key element of blackhat copy is to get the user to convert as quickly as possible on the landing page or start them heading down the conversion funnel. Tactics range from straight out lying to greyhat use of hidden truths. Below are a few examples that I found.
Many sites will use the terms ‘FREE’, even though you will have to hand over your card details to register. Sites will then conveniently not remind you after 30 days to cancel your subscription. It’s more than likely you will forget. This tactic is called forced continuity and can been seen on hundreds of websites, here is the stage of LoveFilm’s free trial.
Once you have subscribed and given your card details, many sites will use the tactic of making it difficult to cancel the service. This tactic can also be aided and abetted by 3rd party transaction houses. I have noticed Paypal hide away your payment subscriptions. Try it now, log in and see how long it takes you to find all the websites and services you are subscribed to. I recently did a Paypal review and found I was subscribed to over 30 services, which I have now reduced. You only see a paypal transaction on your bank statements so never see the service you are subscribed to. 2Checkout also makes it difficult to to see what the payments relate to.
Greyhat copy is also seen where the whole truth or offering is misleading. Here are some examples that have been held up by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), who continue without taking down their false claims. These sites are named and shamed on the ASA website until they change their copy.
Below Webhost was found to be using ‘100% customer satisfaction’ misleadingly as they could not provide evidence to the ASA.
Here Nuratrim were found to be using ‘scientifically proven‘ without any research to back up the statement.
Here 25poundlogo make the date dynamically change to today’s date every day. The ASA found this to me misleading. Time sensitive sales is a great conversion tactic used by many legit sites like Groupon and Qwertee.
The ASA concluded kidz5aday did not provide a child with 5-per-day and used misleading claims.
Widgets such as calculators can also be used to give people false information in the form of price ‘estimates’ encouraging the user to proceed. Here daddycashforgold.co.uk were found to give totally misleading gold prices in their calculator.
Advertising a product or service with a disguised low price is a common problem online. As with the widget example above, the aim is to get the user to click through and proceed. There are hundreds of pricing tricks out there, but here’s a couple of examples.
Hosting companies showing prices that are monthly but only if you sign up for more than 1 year.
Here Pacifhost show monthly prices that you would assume are for a 1 year contract. The $2.49 price is actually for 3 years and this basic package for 1 year is $4.99. Even clicking through to compare the plans does not highlight the deal properly, you have to hover over the pricing to see the time spans.
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Here ironeasy.co.uk broke the advertising standards code by quoting prices exclusive of V.A.T. Ex VAT prices are also incorporated into many prices comparison calculators.
Fake Endoresments & Testimonials
Social proof is an extremely powerful marketing tool to aid CRO. Users have a strong psychological need to see what others have done in order to make the correct decision themselves. Social proof is also one of the easiest to fake and least regulated, there must be hundreds out there. The ASA will also take action for the misuse of logos on a website, but they need a few complaints before they investigate the website.
Here’s one using Kristi Hines’ image, feel free to call her Pamela from now on! 🙂
This site’s whole ‘Testimonials’, ‘As seen on’ and ‘Featured Clients’ must be totally faked. At the time of writing Kristi just got her images removed after much hounding.
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The above are totally fabricated, but what about using affiliates to promote your product and writing amazing reviews? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US has previously fined websites in which the affiliates did not disclose the full intent of their promotional material. As started by the FTC’s head of consumer protection, David Vladeck:
Advertisers using affiliate marketers to promote their products would be wise to put in place a reasonable monitoring program to verify that those affiliates follow the principles of truth in advertising
As an affiliate of a few products myself, I’m not sure if I comply to these ‘principles of truth‘.
With the huge growth of the review market, I can see a few sites being fined in the future for falsifying reviews. Last year Beony International was hit with a $13m judgement for producing fake news based around the miracles of the acai berry.
Adding dirt to the conversion funnel
Along with tricks to help conversion, some ecommerce sites will add extras in the conversion funnel to maximize profits. Greyhat CRO tactics are not just about the conversion, but ensuring customers are converting on the products that are most profitable.
Adding extras to your shopping basket
This is my pet hate. Here you will see 123Reg adding in other domains to my purchase by default. You have to deselect them otherwise you will buy 2 extra domains.
Making most profitable products default
Setting the most profitable option as default is also a common trick. Sorry Buzzstream, we still love you but that Solo plan is really hidden away!!
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Paying for extras
Making you pay for things that are essential, like a bag when you fly! Ryanair.
I hate you Ryan air (but that’s a separate rant), so I decided to pay for some user testing. They make their whole conversion funnel so messy, even including adsense on the final pages. I believe the tactic is to create a nasty experience so you rush through the order process adding their extras as you go. The final assault is the big push to get you to buy ‘Ryanair talk’. I plan to do some further testing on this site to investigate cookie based price manipulation.
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Ryanair User Testing
Another one of my pet hates and worth a user test. To be fair, they have cleaned up their whole site and sales process considerably.
The test highlighted Godaddy making the domain registration of a .com 2yrs by default. When the tester amended to 1year and hit the back button to test something, it reverts back to the 2 yr default.
Users are continually getting smarter with these types of tricks, I believe a clean user experience is the best way to increase conversion. ASOS previously reduced their abandonment rate by 50% by using more transparacy in the checkout process.
Blackhat tactics for Social Media CRO
Conversion goals for social media include likes, shares, follows, comments etc . As companies are seeing real ROI from social media marketing, more dark tactics are being found across the Internet. Again many shades of grey exist in this arena, you can decide what is white, grey and blackhat from the examples below.
Even big brands have been caught out creating fake profiles to either manipulate Facebook’s edgerank of to appear more popular. Users are more likely to like a page if others have also done so, its back to social proof again.
Not really blackhat but once you have trusting faithful followers you won’t have to do much to garner more likes and comments to keep your brand fresh in people’s mind for a future promotional opportunity.
‘Like’ to Play
I actually really love this campaign, even though it is slightly greyhat into deceiving FB users to share the Ecover page. You cannot enter the competition without liking the page first.
Creating ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ with fake status updates
Here nothing actually happens, but has created hundreds of interactions.
From apps that kindly update your status for you to pure blackhat hacking of Facebook accounts, Oauth has plenty of room for misuse.
Like jacking is the technique of making users like a page without them really knowing it, it stems from the old technique of clickjacking and is a social engineering attack. You can get browser plugins to identify hidden widgets on a page. Here you can see like jacking in action on a page
If you want to play with some like jacking codes, Martin Mcdonald did a post on it a while back, giving you all the code you need.
Have you seen any deceptive CRO techniques lately? Let me know in the comments. Thanks.
[Update: This post was written before team DaveN found the mass of advertorial placements , which is the main cause for the manual penalty. Saying that, I’m sure my findings below will not help their recovery.]
As news broke yesterday of Interflora’s Google penalty, I thought it would be worth a quick dive into their link profile to see where it went wrong.
The agency working for Interflora have been doing a big link removal campaign since last summer, they must have received a webmaster tools warning.
There was talk of the penalty being related to Interflora sending flowers to bloggers, but I don’t believe this is the case. Looking a ahrefs’ overview shows a huge amount of sitewide links.
With sitewide links being a big part of the penguin update, I don’t think they removed these links fast enough. MajesticSEO also shows the use of possible link networks with 311 linking websites on 1 single ip address!!?? That’s some lazy seo.
Bulk checking the Whois on these domains shows similar registration details or privacy protected. Link removal software also shows 60% suspicious linking domains: (click image to expand)
Download the shitty suspicious links here > https://dl.dropbox.com/u/17565553/interflora%20shit%20links.xlsx
So Gareth James asked me to blather about the role of IP delivery in geo targeting. I answered “That’s a complex topic with gazillions of ‘depends’ lacking the potential of getting handled with a panacea”, and thought he’d just bugger off before I’ve to write a book published on his pathetic UK SEO blog. Unfortunately, it didn’t work according to plan A. This @seo_doctor dude is as persistent as a blowfly attacking a huge horse dump. He dared to reply “lol thats why I asked you!”. OMFG! Usually I throw insults at folks starting a sentence with “lol”, and I don’t communicate with native speakers who niggardly shorten “that’s” to “thats” and don’t capitalize any letter except off “I” for egomaniac purposes.
However, I didn’t annoy the Interwebz with a pamphlet for (perceived) ages, and the topic doesn’t exactly lacks controversial discussion, so read on. By the way, Gareth James is a decent guy. I’m just not fair making fun out of his interesting question for the sake of a somewhat funny opening. (That’s why you’ve read this pamphlet on his SEO blog earlier.)
How to increase your bounce rate and get your site tanked on search engine result pages with IP delivery in geo targeting
A sure fire way to make me use my browser’s back button is any sort of redirect based on my current latitude and longitude. If you try it, you can measure my blood pressure in comparision to an altitude some light-years above mother earth’s ground. You’ve seriously fucked up my surfing experience, therefore you’re blacklisted back to the stone age, and even a few stones farther just to make sure your shitty Internet outlet can’t make it to my browser’s rendering engine any more. Also, I’ll report your crappy attempt to make me sick of you to all major search engines for deceptive cloaking. Don’t screw red crabs. Related protip: Treat your visitors with due respect.
Geo targeted ads are annoying enough. When I’m in a Swiss airport’s transit area reading an article on any US news site about the congress’ latest fuck-up in foreign policy, most probably it’s not your best idea to plaster my cell phone’s limited screen real estate with ads recommending Zurich’s hottest brothel that offers a flat rate as low as 500 ‘fränkli’ (SFR) per night. It makes no sense to make me horny minutes before I enter a plane where I can’t smoke for fucking eight+ hours!
Then if you’re the popular search engine that in its almighty wisdom decides that I’ve to seek a reservation Web form of Boston’s best whorehouse for 10am local time (that’s ETA Logan + 2 hours) via google.ch in french language, you’re totally screwed. In other words, because it’s not Google, I go search for it at Bing. (The “goto Google.com” thingy is not exactly reliable, and a totally obsolete detour when I come by with a google.com cookie.)
The same goes for a popular shopping site that redirects me to its Swiss outlet based on my location, although I want to order a book to be delivered to the United States. I’ll place my order elsewhere.
Got it? It’s perfectly fine with me to ask “Do you want to visit our Swiss site? Click here for its version in French, German, Italian or English language”. Just do not force me to view crap I can’t read and didn’t expect to see when I clicked a link!
Regardless whether you redirect me server sided using a questionable ip2location lookup, or client sided evaluating the location I carelessly opened up to your HTML5 based code, you’re doomed coz I’m pissed. I’ve just increased your bounce rate in lightning speed, and trust me that’s not just yours truly alone who tells click tracking search engines that your site is scum.
How to fuck up your geo targeting with IP delivery, SEO-wise
Of course there’s no bullet proof way to obtain a visitor’s actual location based on the HTTP request’s IP address. Also, if the visitor is a search engine crawler, it requests your stuff from Mountain View, Redmond, or an undisclosed location in China, Russia, or some dubious banana republic. I bet that as a US based Internet marketer offering local services accross all states you can’t serve a meaningful ad targeting Berlin, Paris, Moscow or Canton. Not that Ms Googlebot appreciates cloaked content tailored for folks residing at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, by the way.
There’s nothing wrong with delivering a cialis™ or viagra® dealer’s sales pitch to search engine users from a throwaway domain that appeared on a [how to enhance my sexual performance] SERP for undisclosable reasons, but you really shouldn’t do that (or something similar) from your bread and butter site.
When you’ve content in different languages and/or you’re targeting different countries, regions, or whatever, you shall link that content together by language and geographical targets, providing prominent but not obfuscating links to other areas of your site (or local domains) for visitors who –indicated by browser language settings, search terms taken from the query string of the referring page, detected (well, guessed) location, or other available signals– might be interested in these versions. You can and should group those site areas by sitemaps as well as reasonable internal linkage, and use other techniques that distribute link love to each localized version.
Thou shalt not serve more than one version of localized content under one URI! If you can’t resist, you’ll piss off your visitors and you’ll ask for troubles with search engines. This golden rule applies to IP delivery as well as to any other method that redirects users without explicit agreement. Don’t rely on cookies and such to determine the user’s preferred region or language, always provide visible alternatives when you serve localized content based on previously collected user decisions.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule. For example it’s not exactly recommended to provide content featuring freedom of assembly and expression in fascist countries like Iran, Russia or China, and bare boobs as well as Web analytics or Facebook ‘like’ buttons can get you into deep shit in countries like Germany, where last century nazis make the Internat laws. So sometimes, IP delivery is the way to go.
For more IP delivery information I recommend Refugeeks, refugeeks.com is worlds best seo website