When it comes to SEO strategies and techniques, most marketing experts have an idea of what works and what doesn’t work. However, knowing where to start with search engine optimization can feel daunting.
Understanding the difference between black hat SEO vs. white hat SEO (and the gray area) can help you accomplish your long-term SEO goals. So let’s jump into the different hats, so you can choose how you want to optimize.
What is White Hat SEO?
White hat SEO is Google’s “gold standard.” It is functioning within the rules and expectations of the top search engines and searchers (i.e., doing search engine optimization precisely the way Google and the other search engines want you to). It means following Google’s guidelines and creating a long-term strategic plan that will withstand any Google update.
Is Your Website Google-Friendly?
White hat SEO means implementing techniques to improve a website’s search engine ranking without relying on tricks to impede a search engine’s algorithm. White hat SEO strategies focus on providing high-quality and relevant content that enhances user experience.
Google’s algorithms only rank great content that captures user intent for every keyword, so white hat SEO benefits everyone:
- Site owners benefit because they can improve their ranking without resorting to dishonest tactics
- Users benefit because they find what they’re searching for quickly through organic search
What Are Some White Hat SEO Techniques?
White hat SEO techniques may take more time, but they produce long-term results. Below are examples of white hat techniques you should implement.
Offer Valuable Content
Content is still king. Eighty-six percent of marketing teams use blog posts as a lead generator. Create content for people looking for information, not for search engines. You want your content to be relevant and authoritative so that others will use it for reference.
If your content is difficult to read (e.g., the user is on a smartphone and your content isn’t formatted for mobile use) or takes too long to load, this doesn’t create a good user experience. It lowers quality and your chances of ranking high in the search engines.
Satisfy User Intent
Google’s No. 1 goal is to satisfy user intent – the person’s goal when entering a query into a search engine. For example, if they enter “heart-healthy recipes,” they’d expect the results to show them recipes low in fat and sodium.
The most common categories of user intent are informational, commercial, navigational, and transactional.
If a person visits a retail apparel website, it’s safe to assume they’re looking to buy – that would be categorized as commercial and transactional. If someone looks up “how to grow tomatoes,” they’re looking for information. A few strategies to satisfy user intent include:
- Understanding your audience and what they’re searching for
- Optimizing your content to include specific keywords naturally
- Formatting your content with subheadings and leaving lots of white space to make it easier for skimmers
- Using images and videos
Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly
In Q3 2020, mobile devices (excluding tablets) generated 50.8% of global website traffic. So, if your website is not optimized for smartphone viewing, you’re losing potential leads. Visitors will leave if they can’t navigate your site.
Ensure Google Can Find and Understand Your Site
If Google has issues viewing your site (Google is a bot that reads code), you will have issues ranking. So, you want to ensure:
- Your site is indexable (use your robot.txt file to tell Google which pages to crawl and which ones it shouldn’t)
- Google can crawl your site properly, and you have an accurate sitemap with all your important pages (use the Google Search Console to upload your sitemap and see if there are any issues crawling your site)
- Good internal linking on your website pages and links from credible, relevant industry sources
- Important pages are included in the menu and link from one page to another (helps Google know which pages are important and which are not)
What is Black Hat SEO?
Unlike white hat SEO, black hat SEO techniques are about breaking all the rules and trying to “trick” Google. Although they might appear to work initially, depending on what method you are using, it is a short-term strategy. Google updates its algorithm regularly, and if you are doing something that you know will get you in trouble eventually, it most likely will!
Most black hat SEO techniques no longer work, and doing them will only hurt your chances of getting ranked. However, it’s good to know what not to do as well.
Cloaking – Websites use different HTML that displays for the Googlebot than displays for visitors.
Stealing Content – This can also be considered duplicate content. Plagiarism is bad. Google will quickly catch you. This is why unique content is critical!
Article Spinning – Technically, websites don’t steal content but change the words to synonyms, making most of the new content unique. They “spin” the article to create unique content and post it. But the content often doesn’t read well, is very similar to the original article, and doesn’t add anything new or unique.
Link Farms – This is when several websites all link to each other. Links signal Google that your content is interesting to others, so this worked in the past. But now, if a backlink profile doesn’t look natural, it is easy to get caught. Importantly, if the sites linking to yours aren’t relevant to each other, it’s obvious to Google that you’re trying to cheat.
Purchasing Links – Surprisingly, people still do this. Don’t! Likely, the links aren’t good quality, and if you are new to the search engine optimization game, you are more likely to waste your money than improve your rankings.
Since we don’t always live in a black and white world, what about search engine optimization techniques that fall somewhere in between? Grey hat SEO is SEO practices that “belong in neither the black hat nor white hat category because the terms of service regarding the issue are unclear.”
For example, completely re-writing an article that performed well but not providing anything original to that article. Another is three- or four-way linking building: site A links to site B, which links to site C, which links to site A.
However, if you use a brand monitoring tool to find if someone mentions your brand but doesn’t link to your site, it isn’t amiss to reach out to them, thank them for the mention, and ask them to link to you as well.
For SEO specialists new to the field, we recommend you follow your gut. If it feels wrong and like you are trying to trick Google, Google will most likely feel the same way.
Focus on creating valuable information for your readers, providing useful information, ensuring your on-page SEO is on target, and building quality online relationships. When it comes to black hat SEO vs. white hat SEO techniques, make sure you follow the right steps to ensure your site is on the right track and moves in the right direction.
At Jungle Communications, our team of well-rounded digital marketing experts has worked with numerous businesses in various industries to optimize their organic search presence and increase their rankings and search traffic through a variety of white hat SEO techniques. If you want to learn more about how SEO can help your business grow, contact us.