Black hat Search Engine Optimization (SEO) may be defined as deliberate deception in order to manipulate Website visitors and/or Search Engines. Black hat SEO is unethical and, although it does occasionally yield desired results, will eventually result in the Website being penalised by Search Engines.
Is URL/link masking Black Hat SEO
URL masking is simply making a URL or link appear that it is something that it isn’t. Almost all masking was once considered ‘black hat’ however with the surge in popularity of URL shorteners the line between white hat SEO and black hat SEO has become somewhat blurred. There are very valid reasons to mask using a shortener (such as for placing a URL in twitter) but masking is still often used as a deceptive technique.
How to Mask a URL for Deceptive Purposes
To illustrate just how simple it is to make a URL in a link appear like something it isn’t then take a look at the masking tutorial below.
For this example we are going to create a link on a Webpage that seems as if it is going to go to a certain URL at the same domain as the link however you, the visitor, will be directed to another domain (this is often used to mask affiliate links). This creates a deceptive hyperlink.
- Create a Webpage (or Blog post or any other HTML file).
- Place a link with any anchor text and enter the the ‘fake’ page as the destination URL. Your HTML will look something like (assuming that this URL is http://www.example.com/):
<a title=”Click to get a free 3D HDTV” href=http://www.example.com/guaranteed-free-tv>first 100 clicks get a free 3D HDTV</a>
- In .htaccess place the following:
Redirect 301 /guaranteed-free-tv http://www.deceptivelink-dont-click.com
What happens with steps 2 and three above is that when the visitor clicks on the link (that appears genuine), the browser references .htaccess and notices that it says that the page named http://www.example.com/guaranteed-free-tv is permanently redirected to http://www.deceptivelink-dont-click.com.
Does Link Masking Work?
Answering if masking works is all dependant on the objective (why the masking is done in the first place). If masking is used for deceptive and unethical purposes it may well get your site blacklisted by the Search Engines. I don’t advise using URL masking as a black hat SEO activity.