What is Hermit Crab SEO?

Search engine optimization is full of unusual practices and trends—and many of them seem to wind up with animal-themed names.  Maybe you have heard of barnacle SEO, a term coined for the practice of using the rankings of a larger site to win rankings for a smaller one.

Well, now there is a new practice known as hermit crab SEO. The hermit crab, of course, is an animal that uses other animals’ shells for its own survival, and must constantly be moving on to bigger and bigger shells as its own body grows in size.

Defining Hermit Crab SEO

So what exactly is hermit crab SEO? The term was coined by Bryson Meunier, writing for Search Engine Land. While he says that hermit crab SEO shares some similarities with barnacle SEO, “it’s different in that it is not using a larger site’s rankings, but using a defunct larger site’s authority (the shell) and creating rankings for your content (the crab) by adopting the larger site as a home — making their authoritative site relevant to what you’re trying to sell.”

There are different ways in which the hermit crab relationship might work. In some cases, a smaller site might buy the larger and more authoritative one, essentially moving into its existing structure. In other cases, the larger site might sell space to the smaller one, essentially allowing it to rent a room.

Evaluating Hermit Crab SEO

This might strike you as a little unfair, as it does Meunier.  He correctly notes that this is essentially the SEO version of “pay to play,” in which a small brand simply buys its way into search engine rankings without ever taking the time or making the effort to earn its own powerful backlinks. In hermit crab SEO, someone else has done all the work, and you’re simply paying a big chunk of change to commandeer the benefits.

Not surprisingly, this practice shares much in common with various forms of black hat SEO. Black hat refers to any SEO practice that goes against the stated rules and principles of Google. Generally speaking, black hat SEO provides a short-term boost in rankings but ultimately leads to penalties.

That’s not necessarily true of hermit crab SEO, however. “What’s different about this is that I reported it to Google months ago at the highest levels, and the sites in question still rank,” comments Meunier. “Until they stop ranking or Google speaks out against the practice publicly, some may consider that a tacit approval of the practice and recreate it for themselves.”

Our Take

While it may be true that this phenomenon is too new to be on Google’s radar just yet, it is our conviction that it will be soon—and when that day comes, sites implementing hermit crab SEO can expect stern SEO penalties.

What we recommend is to always abide by Google’s stated methods of search engine success. That’s something that we can help with. Contact Sefati Consulting Group to learn about smart, time-tested SEO strategies.


Author: Al Sefati

Al Sefati is an enterprise SEO and search marketing expert and the founder of Sefati & Company. Al works with marketing agencies and enterprise level clients and he is in charge of forming and monitoring their SEO and SEM strategies. Al blogs often about latest SEO, SEM and digital marketing trends and tactics.