We all know that SEO is the key to successful inbound marketing, but there are right and wrong ways of doing SEO. The right SEO technique can boost your business, but the wrong one can get you penalized by Google and potentially lose your website.
In this article, we will discuss the difference between white hat and black hat SEO, the tactics involved in both, and the risks of using black hat SEO. After reading this article, you will be well-equipped with some of the basic foundations of SEO that you can also ask when hiring an organic search agency.
What is White Hat SEO?
White hat SEO is a strategy that follows SEO best practices in both on-page and off-page optimization. In a nutshell, white hat SEO is adhering to Google’s standards and developing a strategy that works with Google’s current algorithm standards.
To ethically optimize your website, follow these guidelines:
- Carefully follow the rules laid down by Google.
- Do not try to deceive Google’s algorithm by using shortcuts.
- Focus on humans, not on the algorithm.
- Think long-term.
White Hat SEO Techniques
Google’s Webmaster has defined certain techniques to optimize your site ethically. Here are some of the basic techniques Google wants you to follow:
1. Create High-Quality Content
Google is getting smarter with every algorithm update. While you might come across search results that sometimes don’t answer your question, Google always prioritizes content that answers a search query. Hence, the kind of content you have on your website will play a huge role in determining its rank.
But what does “quality content” mean?
Quality content is the content that is written for target audience and what they might be searching for that’s related to your business. To get a good ranking, create content that satisfies user intent and gets shared by people.
2. Use the Right Keywords
Unpopular opinion: Keywords are overrated.
Okay, maybe not. But focusing too much on keywords won’t get you anywhere. Since Google’s update last September 2009, they stopped relying on keywords, so much that it now ignores the meta keywords tag. So, if an organic SEO company sells you a lot of keyword fluff, they might not know what they’re doing.
However, it’s undeniable that keywords can still help guide you with data-backed information on what your target audience are searching for. This is a great help for your content team in knowing what topics they should write about for your website’s blog instead of just coming up with topics at the top of their heads.
Conduct thorough keyword research around your niche. This will help you decide if you should put time and effort a service or product page. Additionally, don’t forget to use main keywords within 100 words of your content, page titles or headings, meta descriptions, URLs, and image alt texts.
3. Focus on User Experience
Google has constantly emphasized that webmasters should prioritize creating an excellent user experience because it’s what makes website visitors stay on the page. To provide a good user experience:
- Make your website easy to navigate so that visitors can use your website with ease and quickly find what they are looking for.
- Ensure that your page load times are low. Long load times can increase bounce rates and create a bad impression of your business and website.
- Make sure your website is mobile-friendly since mobile devices account for 63% of Google’s US organic search traffic.
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What is Black Hat SEO?
Black hat SEO is the complete opposite of white hat SEO. It is a collection of techniques that are used to increase a website or page’s ranking on the search engine result page (SERP) by attempting to trick Google’s algorithm.
A tactic can be categorized as a black hat if it satisfies any of the following requirements:
- It goes against Google’s guidelines.
- It tricks Google’s algorithm and makes it think that the site provides more value than it actually does.
- Focuses on instant results.
Black Hat SEO Techniques
There aren’t any specific recommendations from Google for the kind of SEO techniques you should use, but they’re very clear about the tactics you shouldn’t use. If you want to maintain your reputation with Google and other search engines, avoid using the following black hat SEO techniques:
1. Keyword Stuffing
Keyword stuffing refers to the practice of packing a webpage with irrelevant and unnecessary keywords to manipulate its ranking in Google search results. The practice of keyword stuffing was rampant during the early 2000s and 90s because it was Google’s main deciding factor for rankings.
These days, however, Google prioritizes user experience. Overusing keywords on your site will create a poor user experience, so it will hurt your site’s rankings. It’s much better to create helpful and informative content that makes proper and contextual use of keywords.
Google gives the following examples of keyword-stuffed content:
- Lists of phone numbers without substantial added value
- Blocks of text that list cities and states that a webpage is trying to rank for
- Repeating the same words or phrases so often that it sounds unnatural, for instance:
“Get a pink color barbie for your kids. A pink color barbie is a beautiful toy, so buy a pink color barbie today. With a pink color barbie, you can have tons of pink color barbie fun.”
Cloaking is the process of showing content that differs between search engines and human users. This is a deceptive tactic that websites using black hat SEO do to get their content to rank for a wide range of keywords unrelated to their content.
But keep in mind that you are allowed to tailor your content to various user groups. For example, it’s not considered cloaking when a website has been designed differently for desktop computers and mobile devices.
3. Poor Quality Content
Poor quality content refers to content that is not useful. It includes AI-generated and duplicate content. Many marketers upload poor-quality content to trick Google’s algorithm, making it think that the website has the answers to a query. However, that’s never going to work in the long term because poor content reduces engagement rate (and increases bounce rate), which is one of Google’s ways of knowing if your page has what users need.
There was a time when Google couldn’t recognize duplicate or automatic content, but that all changed after the Google Panda Update in 2011.
We know creating high-quality content is tough, but it’s one of the most important ranking factors. It is critical that you invest some time and/or money into creating unique, useful content.
4. Hidden Text
Hidden text is the text that viewers can’t read but search engines can. This deceptive tactic is used to add irrelevant keywords by making the text the same color as the background or decreasing the text size to zero. This is done to increase the keyword density and manipulate the ranking on SERP.
5. Paid Links
Link schemes are one of the most frequently used black hat SEO tactics. Google encourages you to earn links because they represent editorial votes of trust from one site to another. But it strongly prohibits you from buying them, as it manipulates your website’s ranking on search engines. Therefore, you must avoid the following methods:
- Automated link building.
- Excessive link exchanges (e.g. Link me and I will link you).
- Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns.
- Forum spam with optimized links in the post or signature.
- Blog comment spam.
- Link spam in the footer or templates of various sites.
- Buying or selling links. This includes giving someone a free website product in exchange for links.
6. Sneaky Redirects
Redirecting refers to the process of diverting a visitor to a different URL than the one they first requested. There are several valid reasons to redirect one URL to another, such as when relocating your website to a new web address or combining several pages into one. However, black hat SEO uses sneaky redirects to deceive search engines or display content that’s different from the one the viewer requested. Following this tactic is a blatant violation of Google’s guidelines.
7. Doorway Pages
Doorways are websites or pages that are specially optimized for targeted keywords and designed to rank high for particular queries. These funnel pages have very little value and are only used to manipulate the search engine indexes and transfer a visitor from a chosen result to another unrelated destination.
8. Fake Reviews
Fake reviews are one of the most common black hat techniques often used in the ecommerce industry. It involves creating dummy accounts to comment or review products (sometimes services), usually in external platforms like Amazon or Yelp. For Service as a Product (SaaP) businesses like BPO agencies and professional services, they sometimes add fake reviews on their websites to seem more credible.
These can be very misleading and difficult to track. Although, you can prevent being fooled by this type of black hat strategy by looking for trust badges or verified purchases.
Risk of Using Black Hat SEO
Black hat SEO is not illegal, but it does go against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. That’s why using it to rank your website can be extremely risky. Here are the risks that come with using black hat SEO to get higher rankings:
1. Manual Penalties
If a website uses black hat SEO tactics, it is at risk of getting manually penalized by Google. Unlike an automated penalty, a manual penalty is imposed by a human reviewer at Google after they determine that the site is not following Google’s guidelines.
A manual penalty can lower the website’s ranking or perhaps even stop it from showing up in the search results altogether. Manual penalties are the most serious of all Google penalties and can take forever to recover from. It’s never a good idea to opt for cheap tricks that give short-term results.
2. Algorithm Updates
To improve the user experience and fix the loopholes that black hat SEO abuses, Google keeps updating its algorithm. One such update was the 2011 “Panda” update that helped Google to identify duplicate content. After this update, websites with duplicate content suffered heavily.
These updates have a significant influence on the rankings of websites that employ black hat SEO practices, even though they don’t specifically target or blacklist any particular website from the search results.
3. Poor User Experience
The sole purpose of content marketing is to increase conversions by building authority and earning the trust of your target audience. However, when you employ black hat SEO techniques, you are doing the opposite.
Black hat SEO ignores humans and optimizes your website for what it thinks search engines want to see. It makes the content on your website look spammy, and most users will leave your website because of the bad user experience. When your website receives these negative hits, search engines will remove it from SERPs to ensure that users have a good online experience.
White Hat SEO is Best
When you run a business, it’s important to have SEO on your side. But the type of SEO you employ can make the difference between the success and failure of your website.
White hat SEO can be a slow process, but it’s the right one – and it will definitely take your business to new heights by gaining the trust of Google and your target audience. Black hat SEO, on the other hand, may initially deliver quick results but will lead to fines and website shutdowns later on. So while optimizing your website, make sure you only follow the right tactics that will have a long-lasting positive impact.
At Win at Ecommerce, we only employ white hat SEO to help your website grow organically so that there is zero risk of getting your site banned from Google’s search engine or suffering any other long-term SEO-related consequences. Get in touch with us today to start your successful organic, white hat SEO journey.
Do you want more traffic with zero risk?
The team at Win at Ecommerce would love the opportunity to talk with you. We can give you a free evaluation of your technology and help your business win.