You’ve probably heard about search engine optimization being divided into two camps, “white hat” and “black hat.” The distinction between the two changes over time. However, there’s always an approach you can choose based on the target you have in mind and your mind-set. Today, we’ll look at how these camps stand apart and what you need to know to make a better decision on the course you want to take.
While we are going to speak about both black and white hat SEO, when we talk about black hat, we are talking about tactics and rules that are not part of Google’s set – activities like hacking websites and other outright illegal methods. To be clear, while we are putting general ethics aside, we are definitely not endorsing any activities that are illegal.
Black Hat SEO
Black hat SEO refers to various methods of rapidly gaming Google into believing that your website is as genuine as the established players. Keep in mind that, while these may work, they are generally short lived and Google is getting far better at catching on to these tactics. Google is on a continued offensive to find people who are trying to con their domains up in the rankings. That being said, here are a few tactics that are in use.
Link farms – These are websites that are programmed to link to each other within the group. They are obviously quite easy for search engines to catch onto.
Blog and forum spam – There are automated programs available that will visit several websites and submit comments while leaving a backlink to other websites. These are generally nonsensical comments which are easily caught and removed manually.
Hidden text – This is the practice of having links within pages and then hiding those links by using color or blocking the block via CSS so human visitors can’t view the links but search engine spiders can.
Cloaked and doorway pages – Cloaking is illegal and is the activity of presenting one version of a web page to search engines while showing completely different text to human visitors. Doorway pages refers to webpages with some text for search engines and some programming for web browsers that will redirect to a different domain. Both these activities will result in domains being kicked out of Google if caught!
White Hat SEO
White hat SEO means using methods that are okay with search engines and avoiding automated pages or any of the methods mentioned above. While some agencies will tell you that they use only white hat methods to ensure your pages never slip in search results, keep in mind that these terms are often changing. For example, it used to be acceptable to have keyword-rich domains, links in the footer or paid links with no penalties until quite recently. Now all these activities are frowned upon.
Guest blogging – The process of writing posts for other websites in return for a link to your website will help your rankings and generate relevant traffic as well.
Viral campaigns – If you have ideas and infographics to share on your website that are of importance to your industry, you can be sure they will be shared, tweeted, bookmarked and passed along.
On-page optimization – Ensure that your pages have the correct titles, are named correctly, have well written HTML and do not employ hidden links.
Well written posts – Make sure your domain has regularly updated and well written content. The more relevant your posts, the more traffic you can get from search engines. A five-page domain can attract only so much traffic.
Sitemaps and internal links – Have a sitemap that search engines can use to link all the pages in your website. The easier you make it for content to be found, the quicker you can get indexed and bring visitors onto those pages.
SEO is an evolving field, and there may never be a clear-cut definition of what is right and ethical. However, following a slow and steady link building practice from relevant domains will never get you into trouble. There are tempting advantages of black hat SEO. It may allow your domain to get ranked quickly, but you may tank just as quickly. At the end of the day, your moral compass allows you to decide on which side you want to be and how much risk you want to take with your marketing campaigns.