Like everything in life, SEO, or Search Engine Optimization for the uninitiated, has black and white areas of operation. In technical parlance, these have been defined as ‘White Hat’ or ‘Black Hat’ techniques; white for the acceptable and black for the not acceptable SEO techniques. But who decides if a method is good or bad?
All this fuss is about search engines, Google to be precise. Being the foremost authority amongst search engines, Google has defined a set of rules which outline how your content should be optimized. Fail to do that, and you will be penalized with bad ranking.
This post aims to highlight both the good and bad methods involved in Search Engine Optimization. Let’s take a look at some of these white and black hat techniques which will either make or break your website.
Tip your White Hat To SEO
Applying white hat techniques to your SEO will ensure you give yourself the best chance to rank better in search results. With the use of these methods, you will also be preparing your website to face any changes in Google’s algorithm.
These changes or updates are aimed at improving the relevance of search results thus impacting optimizing techniques.
A case study that Andrew Dennis did shows how website traffic can be increased with the help of these methods. The visitors on his website grew from zero to 100k in just 12 months, all thanks to white hat SEO.
Some of the white hat techniques that work best are:
1. Content Quality
Apart from being the most crucial aspect of any SEO exercise, this happens to be the most basic of all the techniques. Like any product, good quality content sets apart the good websites from the average ones.
Many Google updates later, marketers have wised up to the fact that keywords alone will not get better ranking, unique content definitely will.
Search engines like Google take pride in providing the best experience to their users, and anything coming in the way of that will not go down well with the search behemoth.
Keep these things in mind while creating content:
- Originality counts – Being original with your content will pay rich dividends in the long run. Plagiarism can invite a penalty. Save yourself the blushes and stick to the original material.
- Stick with long-form content – A recent study of search engine ranking factors found a strong correlation between long-form content and search rankings. So in 2018, in-depth coverage of a topic is your most useful white SEO hack.
- Place your keywords where they belong – Use relevant keywords, woven seamlessly into the content. Overuse of keywords will have the opposite effect and can also lead to penalties.
- Give users what they want – AI technology, Google Rankbrain has revolutionized the search engine landscape so if you offer users what they are looking for, you have a better chance of ranking higher.
The quality of your content is the deciding factor upon which your website’s ranking will depend. If you keep your audience at the core of your content strategy, your ranking will take care of itself.
2. User experience
Having great content will undoubtedly lead you to SEO glory, but the way you present it also makes a difference.
Google closely notices the amount of time people spend on your website.
And what the users get to experience on your website determines the duration of their stay. Let’s see some of the things that define a great user experience:
- Navigation with ease – The way a site is structured effects not only the user experience but also helps search engines crawl better. An easy-to-navigate website will make the users spend more time on your page increasing the dwell time thereby increasing your credibility and improving your visibility on the search engines.
- Load Time – Google lays particular emphasis on speed. With site speed being an essential part of their ranking metrics, it is imperative that your site loads up fast. This will not only better your page rank, but will also give users a smoother, all-around experience.
Google’s Page Speed will lead you in the right direction towards increasing your website’s performance. It offers suggestions and methods through which you can attain an optimal site speed.
The techniques mentioned above help you put on the white hat and climb your way up the search results. These methods will not only improve your conversion rate but will also hold you in good stead with search engines.
A black hat that is never in style.
Google is working hard to fight the unethical techniques which fall under the category of black hat SEO.
Matt Cutts from Google explains in clear terms how black hat SEO is detrimental to your website’s growth.
Plus with the regular tweaks in Google’s search algorithm, black hat SEO is now inviting heavy penalties.
Let’s see what some of the common Black Hat SEO techniques are:
1. Content Duplication – Search engines respect unique content. Content duplication, as a practice, is frowned upon.
As explained in Google support pages,
“Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely matches other content or are appreciably similar.”
So refrain from using someone else’s content Also work on minimizing duplicate content issues across your pages.
2. Cloaking – Considered a major red flag, as per Google, cloaking is the technique of showing different types of content to the user and the search engine, for the same request.
This video by Matt Cutts explains why cloaking will never get you the desired SEO results you’re after.
To avoid cloaking penalties, place your images as close as possible to related text. Do not embed text within the image, instead place alternate text in HTML. Also, DO NOT use Flash as it is not supported by most browsers anymore.
3. Link Scheme – Google forbids any sort of link arrangement that manipulates a site’s ranking in search results. Link schemes can be of various types, like exchanging links for monetary gains, use of auto-generated links to your website or link swaps done with non-related websites.
If a search engine thinks the link adds no value to the user’s experience, it will consider it a link scheme that falls under black SEO.
4. Keyword Stuffing – One of the most prevalent black hat SEO technique, “keyword stuffing involves incorporating keywords unnaturally in your content, in places where they might not even be relevant.” as shared by johannesburgseo.co.za. Keyword stuffing is easily detected by the search engines leading to a demotion.
The methods mentioned here are by no means the only ones around. There are several other techniques that may fall into the black or white space.
SEO is an ever-evolving process, much like the search engines that it aims to win over. With clearly defined guidelines and optimization practices, the onus is on webmasters, website owners and marketers to provide better content and overall experience to the users.
With their frequent algorithm updates, “search engines strive hard to make it a level playing field for everybody.” according to the marketers at Absolute Summit. Your approach can be black or white, but in the end, the hat that you wear decides your fate in the search results.
So which hat are you wearing?
Vaibhav Kakkar is the CEO of Digital Web Solutions, a globally trusted agency with a full suite of digital marketing & development solutions. Vaibhav believes in building system over services and has invested in multiple tech startups including RankWatch, NotifyFox and a CRM software to help scale up client agencies from scratch to niche-leaders with million dollar turnovers.