Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an integral part of any business with an online presence. Like most elements of digital, SEO is constantly evolving and it's important to keep up with these changes to ensure you're in line with best practices.
Below, we’ll give you an overview of the good, the bad and the ugly of today’s SEO practices.
What is “White Hat” SEO?
White hat SEO is the good kind that plays by the rules and follows Google’s guidelines. Generally, this means that the content produced on any given site is going to be genuinely high quality and useful for a given user. This means it will also rank well. But you don’t have to be breaking any rules to be low quality and low ranking; something as simple as a page loading slowly or a non-responsive site can put you behind in the rankings simply because it creates a less favorable experience for the user.
Examples of White Hat principles that businesses should be sticking to include:
- High-quality content that adds value to the customer experience, such as how-to videos and articles
- Descriptions and keyword clusters that are on-brand and sensible
- A visually appealing website that is easy to navigate, fast and mobile-friendly
What is “Black Hat” SEO?
Black Hat SEO basically refers to SEO strategies that equate to cheating or hacking Google’s terms in order to boost a website’s ranking. When there’s so much competition out there, it’s understandable that people will find ways to cheat, however, when they cheat, it only makes Google come down on them hard. A search engine (Google) will then change the rules again in order to prevent that kind of action from happening again in the future.
All in all, the aim is that consumers are delivered quality content and aren’t spammed or scammed in any way. Search indexes have a responsibility and a focus on making sure this happens.
Here are a few examples of some common Black Hat SEO techniques.
Effective content needs to be smooth and readable in order to ensure an optimal user experience. Google knows this too – which is why it punishes those who try to cram too many keywords into a piece of content. Keyword stuffing is just like it sounds: adding a ton of keywords to a piece of content in the interest of getting more page views and increasing Google ranking. Boosting your SEO on a website relies heavily on keyword placement and weight.
When you have the right keyword density – many people recommend a maximum of 3 keywords for a short piece of content, but there are no hard and fast rules – your content will be more organic and readable, thus offering better value to the user.
If your keywords are unrelated to your actual business, you’ll likely get higher bounce rates, and this can backfire when it comes to your SEO ranking. You aim to build authority, so anything you can do to genuinely attract and keep customers should essentially be rewarded via a higher ranking.
Blog comment sections can be excellent spaces for audience engagement and brand building for pretty much any type of business. Spammers love to place links, illegible and irrelevant comments in these areas in order to try to get more traffic back to their own sites. It’s important that spam comments be controlled so as not to damage the reputation of your site in the eyes of search engines.
Such comments may be viewed as irrelevant content by search engine crawlers, and links may also damage your ranking. There are plenty of free or built-in tools to help manage spam on blogs such as Akismet (for WordPress) and Disqus.
Just like it sounds, cloaking is a trick of deception that consists of creating a different page to show the search engine and hiding the main page that you’re showing to viewers. An example of cloaking is when a web page is programmed to show an HTML page to search engines when viewers actually see a set of images. Like link farms, this is another form of spamdexing.
The penalty for this can be as harsh as a permanent ban, so it’s just really not a good idea to risk it.
Also known in the publishing world as straight up plagiarism, duplicate content between different domains is theft. In the wild, wild world of the internet, people do it anyway to try to get traffic. But it does not generally make for a positive user experience.
Note that what we’re talking about is directly stealing content and not scraping, which is essentially an automated process whereby a bot extracts information from websites. There are also other instances where duplicate content is acceptable, such as discussion forums where content might be duplicated across pages in order to facilitate conversation.
Content or article “spinning” essentially means grabbing high-ranking pieces of content and rewriting it using the same keywords for your own benefit. Not only is it a bad idea because it will be punished by Google, it’s also just not good for the reputation of your business – for instance, if you get a robot to do it (or even Google translate), you won’t get any engagement because it will just be bad writing.
If you’re ever tempted to use this technique, it’s much more beneficial to consider something similar to taking an article you love and re-creating it with your own ideas in a new way. It’s not the worst idea to use the same keywords, just be sure to do it in a way that adds specific value to your own customer base and you’ll be in the clear.
Hyperbolic blog titles such as those that use the words “shocking” or “terrifying” in order to lure people onto a page in a misleading fashion are clickbait. And while there may not be a specific punishment, it’s just a tacky marketing approach. If you want long-term loyalty, your customers have to respect and engage with your content on an authentic level – clickbait just doesn’t facilitate this.
Link farms are a form of “spamdexing” which means that a website is “spamming” a search engine. This is a black hat SEO approach that you will definitely want to avoid at all costs. A link farm is a cluster of websites that hyperlink to each other in order to collectively build rank in search indexes. Most of these are built via automated services.
Hidden Text and Links
Programmers have the capacity to design pages that search engines can see but something different is shown to the readers. This may be a cloaking type strategy where a whole page is hidden, or it may be as simple as “hiding” certain pieces of text or links by using a white font or making the font very small.
There are plenty of SEO tactics that you should be avoiding and only a few are listed here. It’s important that digital experts across all spectrums stay on top of these rules and act accordingly – not just to avoid punishment, but because they want to remain clear and transparent in their long-term business behavior.
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