A lot of online business is trial and error. Success online seems to only come from action as well as failure…and I have had my fair share of failure.

My most recent failure came at the hands of using Blackhat SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tactics.

What is Blackhat SEO?

Blackhat SEO can almost describe any SEO strategy or tactic. According to Google, we should “avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings.

However, many of us do some sort of SEO in an attempt to rise in the ranks of Google. Otherwise, no one would ever find our sites.

Blackhat SEO is the extreme use of SEO to manipulate Google’s results. While it is impossible to know all the details of Google’s algorithm, Blackhatters usually have an above average understanding of how it works and how to manipulate Google’s rankings. In the past that has included link exchanges, paid links, link wheels, blog networks, article marketing, etc.

I didn’t set out to become a Blackhatter. In fact, I didn’t realize that Google frowned upon the tactics that I started using.  My problem came after I became addicted to SEO, set out to get my money pages ranked on the first page of Google’s SERPs (Seach Engine Results Page) and learned I could actually rank for almost any keyword on autopilot.

The Beginning…

I started by setting up my own link wheel. This strategy is used by many in the SEO world as well as some of the most reputable internet marketers.  While this strategy is technically frowned upon by Google (and some will say it is outdated), a small link wheel is usually considered to be in a gray area when it comes to SEO – Gray Hat if you will.

I saw some nice results after starting my first link wheel. My posts were getting indexed quickly and ranked nicely. My traffic started to increase which resulted in more opt-ins on my email list. But everything changed for me once I started to see the money come in from affiliate earning.

What was once a trickle started to become a small flowing creek.

This led me to analyzing and optimizing my site to rank higher for this service that I was promoting. Within a couple of months, I had two pages ranked in the Top 5 for two major keywords for this service. This significantly increased my earning potential even more.

I started looking at the sites above me, one competing site in particular, and vowed to out-rank them. I knew that they were making a nice income promoting this service and figured if I ranked higher that I could earn even more.

That directly led to my impending failure.

Life as an SEO Addict

The relative ease of increasing my rankings and the corresponding income got me addicted to SEO.

I spent most of my time online researching SEO. I started visiting blackhat forums and sites. I did everything I could to understand how to get my site higher in the SERPs.

The thing about Blackhat SEO is that it takes a good bit of work. Most Blackhatters understand that quality content is key. Many actually aren’t trying to spam a bunch of sites with scraped and spun content. Blackhatters spend a lot of time and money on their craft. This is where my life as a Blackhatter changed.

I didn’t have the money to pay for articles to be written, so I wrote them myself.

I didn’t want to spend the money to have my articles manually spun, so I bought software to spin my articles myself.

Creating and spinning content occupied much of my time. It took so much time that I neither had the time to create all the satellite sites that I needed to post my spunned articles, nor did I have time to write new content for my site. So I started researching how I could automate as much as I could.

My research, greed and addiction led me to:

  • Taking some bad advice
  • Using Fiverr Gigs for some linkbuilding.
  • Purchasing monthly subscriptions to services that would do EVERYTHING on autopilot

Again, the results were rather impressive. My traffic increased as well as everything that goes along with it….until April 24th.

How Blackhat SEO Ruined My Site

If you didn’t know, on April 24, 2012, Google released a significant updated to their search algorithm named Penguin.

Penguin is known as the over-optimize penalty and it seemed to target sites that did a lot of blackhat SEO – including my site.

As soon as Penguin was released, my site’s traffic was crippled. My site didn’t just fall a couple pages in the SERPs, it fell out of the search results all together for most of my targeted keywords. That includes the two pages that ranked in the Top 5 for that service that I was promoting.

Literally overnight, I saw my traffic and revenue stream come to a crashing halt. Money that I was expecting to come in was no longer going to come in. Traffic that converted to subscribers decreased to a couple visitors a day. These surprising events left me sick to my stomach.

I honestly didn’t realize that I was doing too much SEO. After all, I knew of other Blackhatters that were spending thousands of dollars a month. I was only spending $99/month. Surely I couldn’t be doing too much.

Apparently what I was doing was completely wrong and raised a huge red flag to in Penguin’s eyes.

The Aftermath

This was a difficult lesson to learn. I thought I was on the right track to creating my site into a steady passive revenue stream. But the site that was my baby, my pride and joy, was now a crippled shell of what it could have been.

I had no one to blame except for myself. Times like this require serious self-reflection.

The conclusion I came to was simple – I lost my purpose.

The original purpose of this site was to be something different in the niche – a beacon of light in a rather unscrupulous industry . It was an outlet for me to showcase my passion. Sure it was intended to make money, but somewhere I took a detour and tried to find the easy-button.

I stopped posting regularly. I didn’t have time to do my podcast because I was researching more SEO strategies and tactics.

It became all about the money. And the less amount of time that I had to spend working directly on the site and still see money coming in the better.

The Lesson Learned

I can’t say that I will not work on link-building strategies to boost a site in the ranking ever again. Google created this game – Don’t hate the player, hate the game!

But I learned that there is a fine line. Not only a fine line with SEO, but also with the intention of the site.

I got away from the message that I was trying to spread with the site. Like I said, I lost my purpose and chased the all-mighty dollar.

With minimum SEO, a good message can be spread around the internet, garner attention and create a revenue stream. You just need to have a plan and you have to stick to it.

Apparently there are methods for me to revive the site, but I am not sure if I want to. When years of your hard work are destroyed unknowingly by your own hands, there is a certain unwanted taste that is left in your month. It might be best to take the lesson learned and start new.

While all of this was going on, other opportunities arose. Some of those I am already pursuing. Also while reflecting on everything, I think I lost the passion that originally built the site. I still have an interest in the niche that the site is in, but I don’t have the passion that I once did.

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5 Responses to “My Failure with Blackhat SEO”
  1. Charleen Larson says:

    “Using Fiverr Gigs for some linkbuilding.”

    Oh-oh, once again those are the words I hate to read. I’m sorry this came back to bite you. If I had a dollar for every “Fiverr got my site penalized” story I’ve heard, I probably couldn’t retire but I’d be sipping pina coladas next to the pool for a very long time.

    Through my blog I’m trying to put pressure on Fiverr to outlaw the backlinking gigs as well as other egregious forms of fraud they currently sell gleefully at $5 a pop.

    • Brad Gerlach says:

      I am sure it wasn’t only the Fiverr Gigs. As I mentioned in the post, I went a little overboard myself. So I can’t put the blame solely on the Fiverr Gigs. After all, I can’t prove what exactly garnered the penalty from Google.

  2. Brad says:

    Well, if it helps you any, I had your website bookmarked for the good content. I’d encourage you to re-acquire the fire and keep teaching all us self-publishers how to do things right. Like my daddy always said, “You can never sink so low in life that you can’t be a bad example for someone.” This confessional post has given me some ideas on how to do it right, so I think you’re doing good work.

    Don’t give up.

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