The sun rises over sagebrush as a lone coyote hunts in the distance. Two riders guide their mounts towards a trickle of a stream. Water is precious and both riders thirsty. There will be a showdown. One of the riders wears a weathered white hat, the other a hardened lid of shiny black. Both riders dismount and advance towards the stream, their hands hovering near their holstered hips.
Which one will win?
Thanks to Hollywood, we all know that symbolic white and black hats differentiate the law-abiding, righteous riders from the devious scofflaws.
So it is in the web world. When you craft your website, you can follow conventions that help keep the web working well for everyone, or you can employ practices that trick users and may eventually cause the demise of your own website.
Unfamiliar with the general principles of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? Read this blog before diving into Black and White Hat SEO.
Black Hat SEO
Let’s take a look at the dark side first (anyone else hear mechanical, heavy breathing?) Google describes Black Hat SEO as “risky” behavior. It is non-traditional SEO that courts rankings and robots, not humans. Google calls it “risky” because such tricks usually backfire. Search bots eventually figure out that a site is employing Black Hat SEO and that site can be heavily penalized in rankings or even banned.
What are Black Hat practices? Let’s take a look. As we said, Black Hat practices focus on how to elevate a website in search engine rankings rather than provide good information or help human users. Unfortunately, there are many ways to temporarily fool search engines.
This tactic doesn’t work as well as it used to, but some folks still try it. Keyword stuffing means placing so many keywords on a page that users don’t even want to read it. Stuffed content is stilted and boring.
The cousin of this practice involves making your keywords the same color as your site background. Human readers won’t see the text, but search engines can.
Both of these practices are dangerous and can result in your site being demoted or banned.
This one sounds downright Klingon. Cloaking involves purposely writing code that serves up different content to a search engine than to a human user. This practice violates Google’s quality guidelines.
For example, when your site receives a query, this content would be sent to a human user, “Leta’s Spanish III course contains 3 modules covering the advanced constructions and vocabulary you would use in the workplace, during a medical emergency and with various tradespeople.” The following content would be sent to a search engine, “Advanced Spanish, Spanish emergencies, Spanish plumber, Spanish computer terms, and Spanish electrical vocabulary.” Ok. Not the best SEO, but you get the idea. Completely different content.
This doesn’t mean you can’t send different content to people in different geographical locations. It’s when you focus on sending different content to a ‘bot that you cross into the Black Hat zone.
Paid Text Links
Paid text links are links that are bought and paid for solely to improve your site rankings. If you’re asking yourself what constitutes payment, here’s a great video put together by Matt Cutts of Google that outlines 5 principles for evaluating payment. Usually, paying for links doesn’t look out for the needs of your end user.
Using spam comments involves placing link-filled comments in your blog responses or in forum posts to get free backlinks to your own site. This practice is the reason why every blogger should make sure to approve blog comments before they are posted.
This Black Hat practice involves employing software to rewrite an article from another site and present it as your own, possibly many times. Once an article is processed by the spinning software, it might not even be that readable. But, that doesn’t matter to a Black Hat trying to pump up search engine rankings. A page of gibberish can temporarily raise a site’s search engine rankings by using words similar to the original content.
Google continually works to combat this very practice. Read more about Google updating its algorithm here.
Creating a page that ranks high for a particular search query and then automatically redirects the user to another page is called creating a doorway, gateway, jump or bridge page. These pages are not real content. They are created solely to catch a search engine’s attention and lead users to another locale.
White Hat SEO
Let’s leave the red light sabers and black hats behind to explore what you should be doing to improve your websites search engine rankings naturally.
White Hat SEO is traditionally accepted, best-practice-based SEO. When you use White Hat SEO, you care first about your human user. White Hat SEO relies on: writing great, original content; traditional keyword tracking and a strong backlinking strategy.
First, provide information to your human users in the form of fresh content. Design your content to be engaging and plentiful, but don’t duplicate it from page to page. Ensure each page offers novel content. Plan to update your content regularly to keep it fresh.
Take your customers through your site in a logical way with headings, subheads and links. Carefully plot the structure of your content and ensure your site loads quickly without errors.
Find out what your customers or readers need most. Then, choose keywords your readers would know and thoughtfully weave them into your content.
Choose some common keywords that your readers might think of right away—these are known as short-tail keywords. In addition, pick very specific keywords that will lead your customers directly to your business—these are known as long-tail keywords. By analyzing your audience and strategizing how to use these two types of keywords, you will organically help real users find your website. Read about long- and short-tail keyword strategy.
A backlink connects your content to a page outside of your site. “Getting backlinks” means other websites are referring back to your pages. Consider these links “votes of confidence” by other users.
You want backlinks to come from other trusted sites that are topically related to your site. The more backlinks you get, the better the traffic will be to your website because Google recognizes these “votes.”
However, it’s best to simply publish great original content created specifically for your human user and not worry directly about “building backlinks.” If you want to try to earn backlinks, backlinko.com recommends creating an original survey, publishing a custom piece of software or video or posting an insightful blog.
You can also help your reader by judiciously backlinking to your own content within your site. Linking overview page content to an in-depth blog post, for example, helps your reader find additional information and use your site thoroughly.
Lead Your Horse to Water
Some web gurus dislike the terms Black Hat and White Hat, but the labels have stuck. Building a respected website that follows the rules and more importantly, keeps the needs of your human users in mind first is best practice. I can help you get started. Feel free to contact me online or call me at (720) 443-1407 to schedule your free 30-minute consultation to discuss any SEO questions you might have.