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The Wild, Wild West Era Of Black Hat SEO: A Confession

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Black Hat CEO
Photo by Marcelo Chagas from Pexels

When I first got into the world of SEO writing, I was a model who just wanted to get out of their parents’ house. It was 2006, and the world was pretty wild. Fiverr was brand new to the market and the term “gig economy” just didn’t exist. It was also a time where one of the last legs of the “untamed internet” still stood: unfiltered Google searches. 

Believe it or not, I was not always a white hat SEO writer. I was actually trained by affiliate marketers who were a part of Warrior Forum—one of the most notorious black hat SEO forums on the net at the time. 

What Was It Like Doing Black Hat SEO?

During that shaky era, I remember learning all the cheap tricks that would later be called “black hat” SEO. Black hat SEO is what people call unethical SEO, and it was everywhere back in the early 2000s. I would cram the same keyword every 10 words, add a bunch of keywords to the bottom of an internet page, and more. 

Why? So it’d rank as #1 on Google, through hell or high water. Black hat SEO firms do not care how awful the copy sounds, nor do they care how illegal their activities are. But, those were my clients when I first started out. Things have changed since then.

The Ugly Side Of Black Hat Work

You would think that people would pay a fortune for black hat, but you’d be wrong. The problems with black hat SEO were plentiful for freelancers like myself. The worst issues included:

  • You would always be embarrassed by your writing. True story. Half the time, my writing was barely English when I would do black hat SEO blogging. It would sound stilted, choppy, and phrases would be shoehorned in there. 
  • Spinning articles made it worse. Copyscape and similar programs forget that regular phrases are a part of human lexicon. No one speaks in entirely unique sentences, 100 percent of the time. No one writes that way, either. To get around the rudimentary Copyscape protections in place at the time, I’d often have to use weird words to make things “unique.”
  • Oh, and people would copy and paste your writing everywhere to rank. Before Google clamped down on copied work, it wouldn’t be unusual for me to see my own articles posted all the way down the entirety of page one. You literally couldn’t get genuine information the first time around. 
  • Your bosses would often be sketchy AF. I mean, this shouldn’t be of any surprise, right? I’d have people from random parts of the world who could barely speak English hand me payments in random currencies. Sometimes, they would ghost clients once they get a big lump sum. On a couple of occasions, they also ghosted me after I worked and asked for payment. 
  • Occasionally, we’d be asked to lie, too. It’s true. I always felt awkward lying about whether certain products did anything. But, that was the truth. It wasn’t on me if things went south. I learned that when I ghostwrote viral writing at this one office in NYC. 
  • During this era, it wasn’t unusual for people to see super sketchy sites. You know the type I’m talking about, right? The ones that were full of highlighter writing, MASSIVE text, and bold clashing backgrounds? Yeah, you don’t usually see stuff like that anymore. 

What Was That Time Like? 

It’s hard to explain to people how wild the net used to be. It used to be possible to get viruses from clicking the first result on Google—like, really possible. As in, I had at least two computers bricked that way. 

Even then, the searches were not what you’d always expect to be. They often were sketchy, involved the same “digital” products everywhere, and more. There were weird guerilla marketing ads, scams around every corner, and somehow…we were expected to just “know” which sites were legit. 

Yeah, it was wild. Just going online as a young adult often felt like an act of rebellion. Was I a cyberpunk? Mm, yeah, maybe.  

What Made Me Quit?

Honestly, there were three main things that made me quit writing as a black hat SEO engineer. First off, the pay was terrible. Like, think $5 an article because even a toddler could do better than kick out the screeds they wanted us to make. It was not a living wage.

Second, it was embarrassing for me as a writer and as an artist. I couldn’t get legitimate gigs most of the time without having a separate portfolio of work handy. Heck, I’ve also been fired because of my black hat ties, too. Who could blame them? Everyone hates scammers.

Third, it also just was falling out of favor. Everyone remembers those sketch sites on the net and remembers how they seemed to vanish over a couple of months. Well, Google updated its algorithm to end keyword jamming and other similar practices. Just like that, a bunch of firms bellied-up. 

The End Of An Era

You know, when I look back at those days, it really did seem like a dystopian retro novel. I lived in a warehouse, or at times, in my car. I was working for a bunch of people who, if we’re being real, were kind of engaged in a form of scamming for hire. And yet, it happened. 

It was a time in Google’s history that is going to be nearly impossible to explain to others in the future. There was a certain form of freedom that lingered on the net, and yet it wasn’t malignant, per se. There wasn’t misinformation like there is today, nor as much hatred. It was just, “BUY THIS!” and “CAT MEME THAT!”

The early 2000s was the final frontier of an untamed internet. Today, the black hat techniques I used are all but history, and while I’m somewhat thankful for it, it doesn’t take away the wonder that came with the Wild West of the Net.