SEO: Is it all really Black and White?

SEO Tactics

You may have heard the term “white hat” and “black hat” SEO. Think of these as SEO sorting hats for various SEO practices. White hat practices are considered largely positive. They help to bolster your site rankings safely while providing long term gains. Google approves of white hat tactics, they are commonly used, and you don’t have to worry about suffering penalties because the statistical probability that a future Google Update would ever penalize for them is quite small. Were they to do so, they would certainly announce it well in advance.

Black hat SEO describes a set of unsavory tactics don’t always just seek to benefit one site. They are often used to actively harm another. These unscrupulous tactics have become harder and harder to execute without being caught, as Google is always seeking to penalize black hat tactics. Though they may see short term gains for the user by providing increased rankings, these do not last. Worse than that, once Google or another search engine identifies these tactics it can result in a penalty that cannot be recovered from. Here’s a few¬†of the most widely used tactics from each category.

White Hat SEO Techniques Include:

  • Quality Content – When we say quality content we mean original content that isn’t overstuffed. Content should be original on every page or canonicalized if it is not. There is no hard and fast rule for keyword density, but over-use can have more negative effects than under-use. Never take content from another site, and make sure it answers the needs of the client.
  • Effective Markup – Proper use of headers, and separation of content and design elements is key. This can help search engines to better navigate the content on a site. Indicating importance helps the search engine to more easily determine where the importance of a page lies, and better direct users towards relevant information.
  • Inbound Links – Quality link programs are so important. The systems behind search engines are intelligent enough to determine whether or not links are relevant. Having a bunch of restaurants linking to a plumber doesn’t do either any good. Having a plumber’s association link to a plumber, or an electrician link to a plumber is relevant, and Google knows it. High-quality links come from many places and can include information heavy repositories, trusted review and association sites as well as relevant industry neighbors.

Black hat SEO Techniques Include:

  • Link Farming – Link farming is putting your companies web addresses on hundreds or thousands of unrelated sites that only serve to list links of websites that don’t related to one another. This falsely boosts the “juice” of a site, and doesn’t actually bring in any traffic at all. This used to be a widely used tactic that could see positive results, but has fallen into disfavor as search engines have caught onto it. It is still frequently used by fly by night companies and can offer a boost. It’s unfortunate that the boost is really just the precursor to a large fall.
  • Keyword Stuffing – There are multiple levels at which keyword stuffing can occur. There is no hard and fast rule, but the widely recognized standard is between 2 and 4%. Google is capable of detecting relevancy, and can insinuate the purposefulness of content based on words surrounding keywords. All the content matters. Meta tags are also an area where stuffing can occur, this can alert search engines to spam techniques and cause rankings to suffer.
  • Hidden Text – With a variety of methods for adding hidden messages, this can be easy to use and hard to catch. Looking at the code of a page will show things that a developer or bot would see that the user won’t. Certain code allows for notes that aren’t read as script. JavaScript and Flash also allow for the use of hidden text. When this is detected it negatively impacts your site.
  • Duplicate Content – Many SEO firms re-use content or outright steal it from another. This is frequently evident in smaller self made sites, by certain SEO companies trying to cut corners, and by large scale industry specialized SEO companies. These companies recycle content between industry pages which can really hurt rankings. If you want to check your sites copy simply enter your URL into Copyscape. This will identify whether or not you content is unique to you.

Now that you know the difference, make sure your chosen SEO company only engages in white hat SEO techniques. All it takes is one Google Algorithm Update to catch onto a bad practice and penalize any sites right out of the search results.

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