The way that SEO agencies go about getting better page rankings for their clients can broadly be described as either white or black hat. For example, an edu guest post on a well-respected website would be considered a white hat method, if it was achieved according to the search engine guidelines. White and black hat techniques can be distinguished by the methods they employ to achieve their ends. Methods that try to trick the search engines or undermine their authority in the virtual world are viewed as black hat, whilst those that use the rules and standards set out by the search engines are considered white hat.
In the past two decades, or so, search engine rankings have been recognized as a crucial part of successful online business practice. Consultants found ways to fool the search engines into ranking their pages higher, taking short cuts. These kinds of methods were easy and paid off quicker. In response, search engines adjusted their algorithms to look for those cheats, and in a short time, it became easier and more productive simply to play by the rules, as laid out by the search engines.
Here are five white hat practices that your SEO consultant should be doing, followed by five black hat practices that you should avoid including in your SEO strategy.
1. Good quality content – your website should be full of well-written, relevant and engaging content. There is no rule against hiring someone to write it for you, if don’t have the skills or the time to do it yourself. Sometimes, the fresh perspective of someone outside your organization might also add another dimension of value and audience interest to your site.
2. Focus on what the user wants – remember that when you create content for your website to attract viewers and improve page ranking, it needs to fulfil the users’ need for a specific type of information. Writing for the sake of adding content, and using keywords in strategic places does not work if the user does not get what he or she needs from the page. Try to anticipate your users’ expectations and cater to them.
3. Remember the cellphones – so many people access the internet on their mobile devices, so you need to ensure that your website is functional for Android and iPhone operating systems. This way you can reach a much wider audience, and the added functionality will work in your favor when it comes to page rankings.
4. User experience is important – if you add extra pop-up windows with adverts or other animated elements, you should do it in a way that does not cause your page to load very slowly. Also consider whether your user will find it annoying or distracting, rather than helpful. A clean site that is easy to navigate often offers a better user experience, and this is an increasingly important factor in digital marketing.
5. Content placement – The right audience needs to see your content, so you will need to put in some work to expose your content in the most appropriate places outside of your website. This usually involves guest posts and making use of social media to allow for the right people to access and share content.
1. Keyword stuffing – when SEO first became en vogue, agencies would stuff a web page full of keywords to trick the search engine algorithms into thinking that the page was more relevant. This resulted in lots of websites full of incomprehensible copy with no purpose or meaning, except to bring the website to the top of the search results. Search engine algorithms have been adjusted to detect and compensate for this, and so now, keyword stuffing only works against a website.
2. Cloaking – this is considered an unethical SEO technique because the website shown to the web crawlers is not the same as that shown to the human viewers. It may have achieved great results in the past, but your website will be heavily penalized for this if the search engines discover it.
3. Hidden text – instead of sacrificing readability on your website, some web admins will try to improve rankings by adding in keywords in text the same color as the background of the page, so the user does not see it, but the web crawlers do. This is a form of keyword stuffing which is less obvious, but still off sides.
4. Buying links – you can buy hundreds of links from companies, but you cannot ensure that they are good quality links with a high domain authority, or that they will be permanent. This means that bought links have the same chance of working against your website rankings as for it. It is better to put in the work and build a backlink profile which has fewer links, but which are of better ranking.
5. Comment spam – if your web admin tries to improve your rankings by adding your website url to the comments section of another website, put a stop to it. Not only will you gain a bad reputation with the owners of the websites you have spammed and annoyed, but your website rankings will suffer in the long term when the search engines discover this.