There are many ways to solve a complex math equation, just as there are many ways to grow healthy orchids in your backyard. Even the art of eating pizza doesn’t always have to start off by munching on the pointy end – you can eat the crust first and save the toppings for last. In the same manner, there are a lot of search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, both good and bad, that you can employ to boost your website’s rankings and other visibility metrics. But unlike all other things in life, all roads to SEO don’t exactly lead to Rome.
With the rise of the search engine as the ultimate information hub across the globe, we’ve been clamoring to get our websites on the top of the search results. Google’s frequent algorithm changes are always documented on their Webmaster Guidelines, providing a glimpse on what the algorithms do. The guidelines also outline the best practices that we can follow to help search engine bots index our websites seamlessly and, in turn, increase our websites’ rankings on organic search engine results pages (SERPs).
However, the methodology search engines use to determine how high your page will rank in search are is still only based on an algorithm, or a series of mathematical rules based on variables and instructions to make this determination. That said, knowing the correct algorithmic signals to influence favorable rankings can give you a serious advantage, even gaining the ability to manipulate high rankings to your favor.
Welcome to SEO Strategy! A good SEO Strategist not only has a great understanding of the webmaster guidelines and search engine best practices, but also has the home advantage of understanding how search algorithms work, to influence or manipulate them to get better results. Search Engine Hackers? I very much think so!
This is why Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines try so hard to conceal their algorithms. With the massive influence of search engines acting as a hub to the Internet, shady companies can use advanced knowledge of search algorithms to rank on page one for crooked products or services and make a fortune. Applying these SEO methods go far beyond the realms of fair play. Such techniques are employed to rig the system and deceive search engines to get higher website rankings.
Google, and other search engines, have entire spam teams dedicated to combat these scenarios, also known as Black Hat SEO methods, specifically used to manipulate search engines. On the other hand, White Hat SEO practices conform to search engine best practices. Let’s take detailed look and explore what elements determines each SEO Hat color.
What is White Hat SEO?
White Hat SEO techniques are the best practices that conform to the guidelines and terms set by the search engines. In essence, it defines the ethical methods of optimizing your website to rank higher on the SERPs and invite healthy traffic to your website. White Hat SEO tactics basically revolve around the website’s content and structure to deliver a great user experience for humans and search bots alike.
Google and other search engines earn their cup of coffee by delivering quality and relevant information from the end users’ search queries. Their algorithms are designed to crawl the web and identify quality websites while effectively weeding out spam. With their guidelines or best practices in place, search engines are hitting two birds with one stone by:
- Encouraging websites to provide good content and user experience through White Hat SEO practices
- Improving the quality of websites listed on the SERPs.
White Hat SEO Techniques
From content down to semantics, White Hat SEO puts to practice the guidelines provided by search engines to ensure that a website will be crawled and indexed properly. Additionally, using White Hat SEO techniques to optimize your website for search engines not only improves your rankings and credibility by assisting with data parsing, but also prevents your website from being penalized or even banned from search engines; a common outcome from Black Hat tactics.
More than just abiding to search engine rules and guidelines, White Hat SEO is also about creating a website that provides valuable content and a great user experience. Although White Hat SEO techniques can be a nuisance to learn, and considering that the results are not instantly seen, White Hat SEO is more of an investment to your website, because it’s a sure way of boosting your website’s rankings. Here are some of the best White Hat SEO practices:
1. Using Keywords – Strategy is the Key
Search engines don’t have telepathic powers. For now, the only way for end users to communicate with it is to use keywords and phrases to find what they want. If you’re planning out an exciting vacation to Australia, you’d normally narrow down your search query to include the place where you’re going – hotels in Melbourne Australia can give you better results than hotels in Australia. In the same manner, building your website’s content around keywords and targeted key phrases can help you rank higher on the search engine results. Use the words or phrases that your target audience would normally use to search for the services or content that you offer.
Choosing the best keywords and phrases for your website requires a spoonful of research and an ounce of strategy. Trying to rank higher on SERPs for single-word search queries can be a difficult task, simply because the subject is too broad and thousands of websites all over the world are probably trying to rank on the same keyword. Adding specific words that are relevant to your website, such as the services that you’re offering or the location of your office, can help you land your website on the top results, as there’s less competition with specific (or long tail) key phrases.
Write engaging content with your chosen key phrases as naturally as you can, but don’t stuff your website with too many keywords – overkill is a bad practice. Put your keywords and key phrases in strategic points within your webpage, such as the title tag, image alt tag descriptions, meta description, heading tags, inbound links, and the page URL. Understanding that search algorithms rely on structured data to understand what a webpage is about, you begin to realize that these fundamental practices go a far way.
Best practices are to understand the keyword phrases your target audience would be using to find your website, and create high quality, useful content around those keywords.
2. Meta Tags – Labels are Important
A great principle to always keep in mind is that a website is created for a human audience, as it’s easy being focusing on what search engines want while optimizing your website. Meta data was initially developed to serve as a means for efficiently labeling webpages and content for search engines, as these elements are invisible to the user. However, writing good and accurate meta descriptions can make the difference between being clicked by a user or being ignored in search results, as this is the data that gets displayed in the SERPs. Being that meta title and description tags greatly help search engines parse and understand the content on your site, it is extremely important to avoid duplicate meta tags. If you cant create unique meta titles and descriptions for each of your webpages, than you probably don’t need to have such content as separate pages.
Labeling web content properly establishes the credibility of your page to a human reader and the search engines. Nothing’s more frustrating than clicking on a search result that’s titled How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse only to find out that it’s an article that demonstrates How to Survive the Rapture. Meta titles should accurately describe the content of the page with just a few words. Headings should also be used appropriately to present the content in an organized manner to make it easier for visitors to read.
Best Practices are to create unique meta titles and descriptions for each page. Do not exceed 70 characters in your title and 160 characters in your description. Make sure you include your targeted keywords in your meta data.
3. Title & Heading Tags – Structure is Important
Titles and heading tags also improve the structure of your webpage, making it a whole lot easier for both humans and search-bots to understand your content and find what they’re looking for at a glance. Using a structured methodology to present your content is a great benefit to both search engines and your reader, and is amongst the best practices in SEO writing.
Think of it as presenting your content in the format of structured notes or a table of contents. The article title should be marked as an H1 Tag, sub categories supporting your titles should be marked as H2 Tags, and subsections of H2’s should be marked with H3 tags, and so on.
Best Practices are to make sure to include your keywords and key phrases in titles and heading, because these carry heavy algorithmic signal weight, and are greatly accounted for when search spiders crawl your website.
4. Structured Data and Semantic Markup
To accompany your the organized structure of your content, you will want to include additional HTML or markup will further assist search engines and social networks to make sense of your data. Be sure to always include semantic markup such as Schema.org vocabulary, OpenGraph Protocols, and other various elements like twitter cards.
This assists search engines with parsing your data, to more effectively understand what your content is about, and deliver it to their users.
5. Getting Good Backlinks
You’ll know that a movie is popular when you hear people raving about it and when you see positive movie reviews from critics and movie experts. In the same way, a website’s content is deemed good and relevant when other high ranking websites link back to it. The quality of inbound links greatly affects the algorithmic metrics of a webpage.
Backlinks are essentially votes that affirm the credibility of your website as a source of information for a specific topic. Getting good backlinks from trusted websites can effectively boost your rankings and pull you up the ladder, but admittedly, it’s one of the White Hat SEO techniques that are quite hard to establish. As always, maintaining good and engaging content is one of the best ways to attract links from major websites. While accompanying your good content with ethical outreach methods, such as social media, will help spread the word. Also, teaming up with other bloggers so they can link to your good content as reference for articles they write is a great way to acquire backlinks as well.
For best practices, write high quality content and spread the word about it though social media channels and with other popular bloggers. If you have very good content, ask bloggers to use it as a reference to their content. Also try to link through as many high quality sources as possible, such as The Better Business Bureau, Wikipedia, LinkedIn, and other networks.
6. Content – The Heart of a Website
In all the White Hat SEO tips that were mentioned, the one thing that keeps them together is the quality of the content. That’s because content is the heart of your website – it’s exactly for this purpose that people search the Web and stumble upon your website. Always make sure that you’re delivering fresh, interesting, and relevant information that your readers can use.
Check your content for basic errors such as spelling and punctuations. Readers often dispel the reliability of a website that doesn’t know the difference between affect and effect, and Google will even prevent your page from ranking if it contains excessive grammar and spelling mistakes. Presentation is also an important aspect in delivering content, so it’s always a good practice to organize content properly using headings and labels, as mentioned above. Make sure that your text and background do not give off a dizzying burst of colors, and font styles and sizes should be easy to read. If possible, define your font properties in style sheets, instead of in the HTML in your webpage.
It’s also important to play an active role in answering your readers’ questions and engaging them in discussions and conversations. Aside from establishing your expertise in your field, this can also transform your visitors into dedicated readers and followers. Plus, this increase in readership can help you gain high quality backlinks and more visitors through recommendations and referrals from your usual readers.
What is Black Hat SEO?
In contrast, Black Hat SEO (more technically known as spamdexing) involves a number of methods to manipulate the relevance or prominence of resources indexed by search engines in a manner inconsistent with the purpose of their indexing system. Some Black Hat SEO practices stem from deceptive approaches to White Hat SEO techniques, and adding clever modifications to site HTML to deliberately deceive search-bots. Black Hat software is also available to automate some of the difficult and time-consuming tasks that are employed through White Hat SEO tactics.
Search engine algorithms are one of Google’s heavily guarded secrets. Most companies want to know exactly how the algorithms work so that they can quickly get their content ranking on page one of Google, and acquiring massive search traffic. Black Hat SEO techniques may look appealing to new website owners or young business enterprises because of its reputation of getting higher SERP rankings and increasing web traffic in a short period of time.
However, most search engines are always on the lookout for Black Hat practices, and the penalties for websites that are sprinkled with Black Hat SEO tricks are severe, ranging from a whopping decrease in web rankings to being blacklisted from the search engine listings. One example of Google’s recent penalizations happened with Rap Genius Lyrics for deceptive linking practices; trying to quickly rank for keyword phrases containing Justin Bieber. Buzzfeed provides great coverage on this in their article, This Is Why You Can’t Find Rap Genius Lyrics Online Anymore.
Black Hat SEO Techniques
Respectable Internet Marketing and SEO communities strongly disapprove Black Hat SEO tactics and their unethical methods of practice. Although most Black Hat SEO techniques are successful in the beginning, that success is almost always short-lived; I have never seen a Back-Hat strategy benefit it the long run. Algorithm changes and manual penalties always catch up, putting Black Hat sites in a worse position than they were before. Here are some of the common Black Hat SEO tactics:
1. Keyword Stuffing
Keywords and phrases are one of the elements that search algorithms use to understand what a webpage is all about and index it accordingly. As a White Hat SEO tactic, utilizing keyword research is a good strategy to increase your website’s visibility. Search algorithms will analyze the keyword density (the frequency that words are being use) on a page to assess what it is about and how it should rank. At a basic level, the more a keyword is used in an article, the more relevant that article is to someone searching that keyword.
Below is a keyword density analysis of this webpage, being presented in a word cloud. The more a word is used in this article, the larger it is displayed in this visual representation. As you can see, a search spider will find this page relevant for White or Black Hat SEO.
Shady websites will overuse keyword phrases, stuffing them into meta tags, header tags, redundantly using them in their content, and sometime stuffing other terms they want to rank for at the bottom of the page. This obviously accounts for a poor reading experience and an undesirable end user experience. Keyword stuffing can be pretty obvious when it’s out there in plain sight, but smarter Black Hatters couple it up with other Black Hat SEO tactics to mask it, like using tricky HTML code to hide it from the reader.
Once upon a time, search engines did rank websites that stuffed their pages with keywords. If you had stuffed the phrase best diet pill 50 times in a webpage, you had a good chance to rank high when someone searched best diet pill. With recent algorithm updates, Google will not rank pages like these anymore. Search algorithms have become savvy to the fact that good writing does not consist of redundantly using topic-based keywords an excessive amount of times in an article, but instead uses them sparingly, with synonymous variations and related keywords accompanying them; shifting their focus to the concept of Latent Semantic Indexing.
2. Doorway Pages
Listed as a frowned upon practice in Googles Content Guidelines, doorway pages are ironically one of the backbones to a good SEO Strategy to increase relevant and converting traffic. They are pages that are written and optimized to rank for a particular phrase and then funnel users to an intended destination.
Black Hat examples of this practice are typically found as large sets of poor-quality pages, such as:
- Having multiple domain names targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page
- Templated pages made solely for affiliate linking
- Multiple pages on your site with similar content designed to rank for specific queries like city or state names
Doorway pages are used to deceive the search bots into thinking that they’ve discovered a gold mine of information and index it into the search engine’s database.
3. Invisible Words
This Black Hat technique is one of the simplest yet ingenious ways of hiding other Black Hat SEO tactics. It involves the simple use of colors, and a bit of CSS code or HTML tags to hide other offenses such as keyword stuffing. Using the same text color and background color was once a method of effectively hiding a long list of keywords from the visitors’ eyes, and making them visible only to search engine spiders. Other codes such as HTML tags are also used as Black Hat SEO tactics. The <noscript> and <noframes> tags are quite popularly used to hide keyword stuffing. However, most search spiders are now updated to ignore all of these methods, and will penalize a site if they detect excessive use you them.
4. Unethical Linking & Link Farms
Google and other search engines have their dagger eyes on link farms – websites that are solely dedicated in listing nothing but links in its pages. These spam websites were created to help boost the rankings of other websites by linking back to them. This was a strong offpage strategy, as contectual links containing keyword phrases greatly help to boost pages to the top of search results. Associating your website to link farms, either by linking to them or getting inbound links from them, can put your website at serious risk.
Another unethical Black Hat linking method is purchasing links. Websites with high PageRank will sell a link from their site to yours. Links are still the backbone of Google’s ranking algorithm, as they are used to gauge how good your content is, assuming that valuable content will be shared and linked to a lot. Purchasing links from another page is not considered a valid citation, and essentially the same as buying a political vote in an election.
Link cloaking will serve a page to a search-engine spider that is different from that seen by human users. When you hover your mouse over a link, you will normally see where that link is pointing too in the lower left hand corner of your browser. I used to cloak links when I was big into affiliate marketing a few years back. It removed my affiliate URI variables which made it seem it was linking to a page on my site, when actually it was pointing to a completly different URL. Using link cloaking does increase CTR, however, the larger consequence of penalization does not make it worth using. If the page that the user sees is different from the page that the search engine bot sees, then the search engine cannot accurately do its job of gauging popularity and relevancy; So they ban sites that use cloaking.
6. URL Redirection
- 301 Redirect – This indicates that the content now resides permanently at the location specified by the Location header and future requests should be directed to this location.
- 302 Redirect – Same as 301, except that the new location is temporary and future requests should still be sent to the original location, hence maintaining status in the SERPs.
7. Page Hijacking
Page Hijacking is achieved by creating a rogue copy of another website which shows similar content to a web crawler but redirects web surfers to unrelated or malicious pages. This Black Hat tactic creates a web page on a high PageRank domain with a 302 redirect to the page he is trying to hijack. Search-Bots follow the redirect to the second page and index it, but on the SERP, the URL of the indexed page will be that of the page with the redirect. In other words, this Black Hat method allows you to own the SERP.
In the below example, a Black Hat Strategist will create multiple domains and implement 302 Redirects on each of them, forwarding the user to the same webpage, no matter which listing is clicked. This is one variation of Owning The SERPS.
8. Buying Expired Domains
Black Hatters can also monitor DNS records for domains that will expire soon, then buy them when they expire and replace the pages with links to their website. This allows them to build fast, high-quality links to desired pages they want to rank.
Black Hat SEO Tools
Some Black Hatters have dedicated their services to the dark arts by developing Black Hat SEO programs and making them available to the community. These Black Hat SEO software tools range from simple backlink building tools to more sophisticated programs such as automated comment generators and article writing tools. Here are some of the popular Black Hat SEO programs:
SEnuke promises you a tempting offer of being Ranked #1 in Google for your keywords within days! This SEO automation tool offers software that can help you build automated SEO campaigns and get links from websites. These methods usually entail linking back through auto directory submissions and comment blogging, creating link schemas like the one you see below. This extremely powerful software may good you good rankings fast, but the results will most likely be short lived.
2. Article Spinners
Search engines don’t like duplicate content on the Web. That’s why article spinners have become popular Black Hat SEO programs, which automatically generate different versions of an article that search engines will consider to be unique. These programs basically use synonyms or offer variations of a phrase that you can use to create different sets of unique articles from a original sample article. Here’s an extreme example on how article spinning works:
The (quick|fast|agile) (brown|red) fox jumps over the lazy (dog|cat|hamster).
By merely changing a few words, you can have numerous variations of the sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”, such as:
- The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
- The fast red fox jumps over the lazy cat.
Article spinners that are considered Black Hat SEO programs are those that generate a random jumble of words that are of little or no value.
The power behind using them is allowing you to easily gain contextual links from unique content, as you find places to post the many variations of your spun article on the web. Google has implemented measures of detecting spinning by putting signal weight on content grammar, much how Microsoft word does.
3. SB Bomber
This Black Hat SEO software is a social bookmarking tool that’s designed to automatically receive backlinks and traffic from social bookmarking websites such as Reddit, StumbleUpon, and Technorati. It also has a feature that lets you create hundreds of bogus emails and user accounts that you can use to create unique posts that link back to your website on other media platforms. The software also offers a feature that automatically spins your meta descriptions into unique variations.
4. Ultimate Demon
Building links in the White Hat way can take too much time and effort, so for the lazy bones, Black Hat SEO programs such as Ultimate Demon exist to instantly build links for your website. This software lets you submit your web content across different platforms, and it’s even equipped with those smart trinkets that bypass CAPTCHAs – security features that were developed to protect spam submissions.
5. Auto-Commenting Tools
An easy method of building links to your site are finding blogs that allow you to comment on them, and build links in your comment. If you are able to find articles with high PageRank, essentially you can build a high PR link back to your site. The XRumer tool from Botmaster Labs even uses proxy checkers that cloak your identity and even prevent your IP address from being banned on the forums. It also has a CAPTCHA-bypassing feature that outsmarts a website’s protective features against automated software.
It is because of Black Hat methods like these, Google asks to have all links that can be generated in comments get tagged with a NoFollow Attribute. I have seen Google penalize large sites for not implementing this practice.
6. Article Builder
Article Builder is another Black Hat SEO program that automatically generates articles based on the topics and keywords that you need. The website to the program actually promises high-quality articles that cover topics from Acid Reflux to Student Loans. The sheer volume of categories and articles that the program can provide articles for is simply astounding. If your topic is not listed within the categories, the Article Builder will create articles for it when a certain amount of users request for the same topic.
The Black Hat SEO methods are frowned upon by search engines, who continuously update their algorithms to identify and penalize sites using them. Ironically, Black Hatters will actually capitalize on this as a method to prevent their competition from getting ranked. Using outdated Black Hat tactics that are easily detected by search engines, Black Hatters will direct these techniques at their competitors website to make it appear they are utilizing Black Hat methods to rank, so that they get penalized or banned by the search engines. This practice of launching black propaganda against a competitor website has been around for quite some time. A common example is to use Black Hat SEO Tools to build spammy and low quality backlinks to a competitor, providing the appearance that the competitor website is using Black Hat SEO methods, making them vulnerable to getting penalized be search engines.
Grey Hat SEO
Of course, SEO isn’t always painted in pure black and white. There are several gray areas in implementing techniques for search engine optimization where people tend to bend the guidelines a little bit without downright breaking them. Grey Hat SEO refers to the methods and techniques that step ambiguously between the line of good and bad SEO practices.
Implementing White Hat SEO practices for your website is a sound investment, and technically if your are consistent in doing so, you are sure to rank in search, with assurance that your website will be climbing up the top spot without getting penalized or banned. On the other hand, although Black hat SEO techniques can produce quick and desirable results, the effects don’t last for a long time. Search engine algorithms are being constantly updated to track websites that are using unethical SEO hacks, and the penalties can definitely send your website crashing down.
Infographic by The Marketing Zen Group