Search engine optimization has developed in two primary directions. There’s an ongoing struggle in the form of white hat vs black hat SEO.
White hat SEO is the more organic, respectable way to optimize your site. Black hat is more of a way to cheat the system. There are differing opinions on the ethics of SEO, but the fact is that the more you try to cheat the system, the more likely you are to be punished by it.
The problem is that not everyone knows which kind of SEO tactics they’re employing, so you might be liable to punishment by search engines if you’re unaware of the tactics you’re using.
This article will cover the basics of white and black hat SEO so you that you can better understand your site and how to optimize it ethically.
White Hat vs Black Hat SEO
Search engine optimization is the act of designing your site to make it more relevant in the eyes of a search engine. You can approach this process in a couple of ways, each of which with their own pros and cons.
Search engines determine the validity of sites by the content of their pages. Keywords, backlinks, and site architecture all play a role in determining where your page will end up in a search engine.
With billions of people using the internet, search engines need to have a way to make their results relevant to the people using them.
This means that there are ever-changing algorithms involved every time you search on the internet. Those algorithms are made to be complex so that they can’t be worked around. That being said, there are certain tactics that work through loopholes in the system.
Developers, however, are aware of these loopholes and have set consequences for the sites that exploit them. Spamming, for example, is something that can get you sent to the bottom of a search engine. Really anything that panders to the algorithm puts you at risk for being penalized.
We’ll go over the organic ways to optimize your site, followed by the methods that may put you at a loss.
White Hat SEO
White hat search engine optimization is the method of organically tailoring your site to be relevant for users. Search engine algorithms are designed for the end user. That is, they’re made to benefit the people who want to use their services to find the information they’re looking for.
Algorithms were not invented to benefit websites that overload themselves with keywords and spam their users to become relevant. While it is a little more work, there is more reward in organically optimizing your site.
Here’s how you can optimize your site the white hat way.
The best way to get your site recognized is through the placement of inbound links. Search engine algorithms use links to determine how important, relevant, and popular your site is. Not all links are the same, though, so if you have one million links from comments on Facebook it wouldn’t be as relevant as a headline link from the New York Times.
Linking is a difficult process, but there are a number of ways to get links directed toward your site.
When considering where to place your backlinks, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you want to note that site in your niche will be more relevant to the search engine. If someone searches “great pottery tips,” and your site has four hundred links to hardware stores, you aren’t likely to get a lot of relevance.
However, if you have a bunch of backlinks from high-ranking pottery websites, you are likely to find yourself higher on the search. You can contact those who you wish to get links from and ask if there’s a way that you could work together.
Next, you’ll want to consider the popularity of the site and the placement of the link. For example, if you get a backlink from a Facebook friend it won’t do much good. Even though Facebook is one of the most popular sites on the internet, there are millions of links that go through it every day.
However, if you get a link from Elon Musk’s personal page, you are likely to get some positive results. The number of links is also significant but you want to watch out for overloading.
Blasting the internet with links in comments and feeds may seem like a good idea, but it will actually register you as spam and you’ll be penalized by search engines.
You’ll also rank better if you make quality content and gather followers naturally. Not only will you have the opportunity to become known for your voice and your ability to create a website, but you’re also rewarded by the search engines. Sites that use excessive keywords and overly link their articles will not receive the benefits because their optimization is low-quality.
Using keywords is a highly effective tool if you use them correctly.
Search engines also determine a page’s validity by the number of localized keywords that it has. There are a few kinds of keywords, each with different levels of importance.
Single words can be keywords, but they yield far fewer results. For example, if you use the word “baseball” ninety times in an article, you’re not likely to see your page at the top of the search.
However, if you use specific phrases you will find more results. Saying “high-quality baseballs made in Manchester” will give you an extremely specific niche to cater to, and anyone who is looking for your service is likely to find your page.
Search engines need to be able to navigate your site, just like a human would. The process is different, but think of it being easier for the engine to identify your page’s worth if it’s easier to navigate your page.
This means that you should organize your page rhetorically, with clear headings and links to different elements in your site. It’s a matter of prioritizing the important information, using the title functions in your word processing interface, and making your site easy to browse through.
That’s essentially the gist of honest, quality SEO. Now let’s take a look at the optimization that isn’t quite as effective.
Black Hat SEO
The methods in black hat optimization are intended to get quick results through cheating the algorithm. Search engines have been designed to notice people who do this and they can penalize you or take you out of their results altogether.
You may have thought that the way you were optimizing your site was totally fine. That may be the case, but we’ll go over some black hat tactics to let you know what is taboo in the search engine world.
The biggest no-no is spamming your users. This could happen in a number of ways but is essentially the method of sending large-scale blasts of content to users who are didn’t find it themselves.
You may have gotten a user base that signed up for email alerts. A common exploitation of this is using those email addresses to send hundreds of emails a month.
Another spam tactic is to use content for a second time, or content that is not what the link describes. This might mean plagiarizing another site’s content or reorganizing it in ways that are very similar.
Some sites use bots to create content with keywords and links within their niche. These documents are typically bland and ineffective. Because the bots create articles to pander to the search engine, they are typically not very well written and don’t have much value to users.
These would be pages that users would go to and quickly realize that the content was useless. This automation also produces a number of very low-quality links in an incredibly low amount of time. This is almost guaranteed to get you flagged by search engines.
There are some automation and ghostwriting techniques that are positive and organic. This company has options for documentation that you may find useful.
Whether or not you are the one doing the hacking, your content may be affiliated with a group that is optimizing your site through unethical means. If you’re going through a company that is advertising or optimizing your site, look into their reviews and make sure that they aren’t placing your content on sites that aren’t agreeing to it.
A number of sites post content on hacked websites, thereby using both the customer and the placement website in an exploitative way.
Hire an SEO Professional
If you’re having trouble identifying white hat vs black hat SEO tactics, hire an SEO professional to optimize your site. They’ll know what tactics work and which ones will hurt your website.
Browse your resources online and see what you can do to get better SEO results. If you’re having trouble optimizing your site, or just want some input, feel free to contact us and we’ll do our best to help.