Are you aware of which SEO methods you use? Do you know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to search engine optimization? And most importantly, do you understand the difference between black hat SEO and white hat SEO?
When it comes to search engines, there are certain rules that you should follow. These exist to help you create a useful, appropriate, and secure environment that can further help in your search rankings and improve the overall user experience on your communication channels.
In this article, we will deconstruct both types of SEO tactics and clarify why you should focus on white hat SEO techniques and avoid the black hat ones at all costs. By the time you’ve finished reading, you will be equipped with the knowledge to successfully attract a relevant audience to your website in an ethical way that also saves you the risk of Google penalties.
What Is SEO?
Search engine optimization is the process of increasing quality traffic to your website through improving the visibility of your content in organic search engine results.
Learning about SEO is challenging and exciting, especially if the desired output is not purely about making your website engine-friendly, but also about making the customer welcome.
In a nutshell, it is about improving the user experience.
However, while there are many ways to boost your ranking, not all of them are generally accepted and some should be avoided altogether.
So let’s see how white hat SEO vs. black hat SEO can affect your online performance.
White Hat SEO Vs. Black Hat SEO
White hat and black hat SEO may be two ways to reach the same goal, but they follow a completely different approach.
Black Hat SEO
Some people like to play it safe and reach the finish line moving by the rules. However, there are various players out there who love to take risks and cut short their road to success in a rather unethical manner. This is how black hat SEO works.
The term “black hat” originated from the western movies where the bad guys usually wore black cowboy hats whereas the good cowboys wore white hats. Black hat SEO is comprised of dishonest strategies which are defined as aggressive and unethical. These are strategies that deviate from the usual search engine guidelines.
Also referred to as spamdexing, black hat SEO is risky and follows no rules. These techniques are directed towards search bots in hope that search engines can be fooled into ranking the webpage higher.
White Hat SEO
Contrary to black hat SEO, white hat SEO consists of actions that can improve your search rankings on SERP while preserving the image and the reputation of your business.
Examples of white hat SEO practices include:
- Quality and valuable content.
- Improving website speed.
- LSI (latent semantic indexing) keyword-rich website.
- Excellent site navigation.
- Quality backlinking.
- Internal linking.
- Mobile optimization.
Search engines actively encourage marketers and business owners to focus on white hat SEO techniques in order to provide a good user experience for consumers.
An Oxford Journal study on evaluating long-term user experience stated:
The goal of UX design in business is to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty through the utility, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction with a product
And that’s one of the many reasons why white hat SEO is a better choice than black hat SEO.
However, it’s possible that although your intentions are pure, you are still using some gray area approaches without actually knowing it, and that should be fixed.
So read on to find out which SEO techniques fall towards the dark side and which are safe to use.
Black Hat SEO Techniques That You Need to Avoid
Black hat SEO techniques may not always seem dubious at first sight so it’s good to know them so that you can successfully avoid them and stay on the safe side.
1. Paid Links
Anything that is paid for, may it be a link, an image, a text or an advertisement is risky. That’s because, once payment has been made, the quality of the content is no longer taken cared of.
In fact, every effort to artificially increase your page backlinks is considered a black hat SEO scheme and has a separate page in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
- Item Value – For example, if you receive an item of a company like a pen or a t-shirt at a tradeshow, does it have the right value to write a blog post about the company.
- Loan or Gift – Google generally doesn’t have rules that limit you from writing if some company loaned you a product for a review etc. But, if the loan suddenly becomes a gift, it’s a whole different story.
- Intent and Intended Audience – When buying paid links, it’s difficult for Google to assess who the post is intended for and what is the main intent of purchasing the links.
- Expecting or Surprised – If you’re a product reviewer, it’s not hard to get a product to write a review about it. But, if you got the product and you want to keep it in order to publish the post, it’s equal to payment for the post.
If you want to build links according to the best practices, avoid link buying and manipulating links at all costs.
However, paid links that serve advertising purposes can still be used under strict rules, and should be marked as “nofollow” or “sponsored” links in the <a> tag.
2. Spam Comments
Have you ever noticed comments on blogs that go “That’s great, now go and check my link”? These people are spammers that bring nothing worthy to the table besides over promoting themselves. These are generally unsolicited and unwanted comments on sites. The bottom line of this risky technique is to create free backlinks.
If you comment on blogs just to promote yourself, chances are that your content won’t even be approved or if it is approved, you will do harm to the blog owner and to yourself. These comments make every blog look unprofessional.
Cloaking is a black hat technique that is used to show one thing to website visitors and another to search engine crawlers. This is a deceptive approach that aims to act as a disguise.
Cloaking leads to a different URL or content which provides irrelevant results. Learn more why cloaking goes against Google’s regulations and rules of thumbs from the following video.
4. Keywords Stuffing
Although it’s an outdated tactic, some marketers still choose to use keyword stuffing.
Keyword stuffing is black hat SEO technique that involves overloading the content or meta description of the web page with an unnatural amount of keywords or phrases associated with the topic.
For example, a bad meta description for a smartphone site would be:
“smartphone, smartphones, new smartphones, two smartphones, 2018 smartphones, light smartphones, metal smartphone.”
The example has only keywords and no sentence construction. There is no logic and no CTA that invites the user to take an action or do something.
This technique involves filling your pages with the same keywords over and over again. As a result, the content is no longer user-friendly and may not look natural.
Keyword stuffing can’t offer results because when search engines examine your website, the algorithms can estimate whether you’ve overused your keywords or not. If the keyword density on a specific page is high, your site will drop in the rankings. In extreme cases of stuffing, your site can even be removed from the search engine index entirely.
5. Article Spinning
Article spinning is a black hat SEO technique that aims to manually or automatically “recycle” a piece of content into a few new articles without bringing additional value to either the original or the replicas. It is done by replacing words and phrases with synonyms, or by compiling pieces from different articles into new pieces of content.
A spun article never sounds natural, because it wasn’t written organically in the first place, and that’s a serious blow to content readability. Furthermore, modern algorithms are capable of detecting the scheme and this negatively affects the ranking of pages that utilize it.
A spun article never sounds natural, because it wasn’t written organically in the first place, and that’s a serious blow to search rankings and content readability.
6. Content Duplication
Duplicate content is text that is written in more than one place on the Internet.
Google calls this “appreciably similar” content. Only one place can be specified as the unique link for the content, so, if the same text can be found in more than one location, it’s identified as duplicated.
Content duplication brings with it the following pitfalls for website owners:
- Search engines will try to recognize the original version of the content and offer it as the best choice in the SERPs. So, businesses that publish the copy will get nothing more than reduced visibility for their websites.
- Other websites that curate content may unknowingly link to some of the copied blog posts and this will hurt their ranking.
7. Invisible White Text
Invisible or white text is a text that search engine crawlers can view, but your readers can’t see. This black hat SEO technique is used to include additional or irrelevant keywords that “can” increase the ranking of the page.
For example, people set their font size to 0 or, they make the text white on a white background. Also, people can use CSS to make the text appear off-screen, or hide a link by connecting it to a single character, even a period.
8. Jump Pages
Jump, or doorway pages are pages that are created for the intentional manipulation of search engine indexes. A doorway page will affect the index of a search engine by inserting results for specific keywords while sending visitors to another page. Doorway pages that redirect visitors without their knowledge use some form of cloaking and fall under black hat SEO techniques.
White Hat SEO Techniques
Now that you are aware what tactics you should avoid in your strategy, let’s focus on the white hat SEO techniques that can boost your ranking and improve your online presence.
1. Research the Right Keywords
One of the most effective white hat SEO techniques is to find the right keywords for your content. Those are words and phrases that people search for online and that are relevant to what your content is about.
To research keywords is to find the best possible phrases that users enter into their search engines. You need to think like your customers and figure out their intent when they use Google or any other search engine. When you know what they’re looking for, it’s easier to improve your existing content and develop new high-quality pieces that can rank well on SERP.
If you know your products and your industry well, you’ll have an idea of what people may search before they start interacting with your company. There are also other places where you can dig out relevant keywords for your niche, such as comments on blogs, hashtags, and forum categories.
Alternatively, you can use keyword research tools, such as:
- Answer the Public – Finds you possible questions that users enter in Google for a given topic.
- Google Ads Keyword Planner – Estimating search volumes for keywords, the competition and the cost per click.
- Semrush – Delivers keyword insight and finds keywords that are related to the phrase that you look for.
The best places to use keywords in your web content are:
- Page Title – The title and the SEO title. This gives Google information about the page relevance straight from the start.
- Meta Description – If you don’t use an SEO tool or plugin for your website, your best bet is to fit in the keywords in the first 150-160 characters of your content.
- Social Media – It’s vital to include the keywords in your web link but, you have better chances to be seen by your social media audience if you include it in your hashtags, which are in fact, keywords used on social media platforms.
2. Make Content Marketing your Thing
Nothing beats high-quality content. And good SEO is impossible without quality content. The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as:
“A marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience — with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
While social media becomes more sophisticated when it comes to content sharing and targeting, it can’t compare to content that ranks on the first page of Google search results.
When your content ranks well, you will improve your brand recognition, you’ll drive more engagement to your site, and that will yield more conversions for your business.
The best way to utilize your keywords is to spread them throughout your content. You should also include links, and if you get your linking strategy right, your SEO rankings will skyrocket!
Your content marketing strategy needs SEO and vice versa. Your SEO campaign will be unsuccessful without content and your content will not be compelling without optimizing it for search engines.
3. Consider WordPress
If you want do white hat SEO like a pro, start using WordPress as your web platform.
WordPress is the number one content management system (CMS), it runs more than 42.2% of all the websites worldwide. The reasons for this success are the following:
- Good Permalinks – You can easily edit your permalinks when you work on your WordPress dashboard. It can be done by visiting “Settings” and giving it the format you want.
- Automatic Metadata – Just install one of the many free SEO plugins that are available for WordPress and activate them. The process does not take more than a minute. Plugins like Yoast SEO or All in One SEO will get the needed information from the title and the first sentences of your content and automatically insert it in your meta description.
- UX – WordPress offers you gorgeous templates designs straight from activation and creates a good user experience. This encourages your visitors to spend more time on your site and become more engaged with your content.
- Speed – For those who already use WordPress, site speed should not be a problem. There are many fast loading themes to meet every need. You also can find plugins that were actually created to improve site speed.
- Mobile Optimization – If you use WordPress, you have nothing to worry about when it comes to responsive design. Most WP themes are already optimized for mobile phones. Additionally, when you customize your website, you can check how it looks on all the different devices.
- Social Media Integration – In WordPress, you can install one of the hundreds of plugins that are created to maximize your social media exposure. You can automate your campaigns, add social media buttons to your content to get shares from your visitors, embed a social media feed on your website, and many other options to encourage your guests to be a part of your social media campaigns.
4. Utilize Google Search Console
Since you want to be found online quickly and easily, make sure to get support for your site through Google Search Central and the Search Console. This will help you troubleshoot your problems, therefore making the user experience effortless.
Google Search Console is vital if you want powerful SEO, because it allows you to look at things from Google’s perspective. It gives you information about what pages have been indexed on your site, what links are pointing to it, your most popular keywords, and much more. If you’re not signed up for Google Search Console yet, do it now.
When you plan your SEO strategy, using Google’s tools can give you valuable insights. The data will help you understand how your site behaves online and how to improve your SEO campaigns.
5. Cross-link Internal Pages
Strategic internal linking is a powerful white hat SEO technique, especially when it comes to content marketing. An internal link connects one page of your website to a different page on your website. The source domain and target domain are the same.
There are three main benefits of internal linking for your SEO:
- Better website navigation
- Defining page architecture
- Giving the page authority and ranking power
Internal linking reinforces the SEO value of your website. This is done by clearing the path for web spiders, continuing user’s sessions, and knitting a connected web of pages and posts.
To execute internal linking properly, make sure that you do the following:
- Develop Content Regularly – When you create content regularly, you’ll have lots of content that you can connect with links. The more links, the better your internal linking strategy will be.
- Deep Link – In most of the cases, you need to avoid links to the top level pages like the “Homepage” or “Contact us” on a site. These are pages to which the main navigation menu already links. The best links for your linking strategy are the ones in a content marketing strategy that are deep within the structure of a site.
- Use Relevant Links – Don’t link just to have an internal link. Link to relevant content that is in the context of the source.
6. Build White Hat Links
Take advantage of your links and strengthen them using various techniques such as keyword analysis and backlinking. All of these links help spread link juice (link power) on your sites.
If you want to increase your ranking and drive more traffic to your website, you should have a white hat link building strategy.
The more relevant links that lead to your website, the more Google notices your website as authoritative. The most effective white hat link building strategies are:
- Content Linking – Content linking strategy is all about the creation and use of content which can be put on third-party websites. The links are placed within the copy, such as an article, infographic, or a press release.
- Resource Pages – Websites that rank well link to a useful resource for their readers. You need to look for pages that need resources and ask them to link to your content if it’s valuable enough as a resource.
- Broken Link Building – This tactic is about discovering broken links on a specific website and then letting the website owners know. You provide value to the website owner by discovering the broken link and in exchange, the site owner can add your link to the site.
- Look for Mentions – Look for mentions of your business online that don’t include your link. Reach out to the website owner to thank them for mentioning you and ask them to include a link back to your site.
7. Explore Featured Snippets
A featured snippet is exactly what you see in the image below.
It can be a passage, a list, a table or a video, representing an excerpt of a piece of content that best answers the user intent, according to Google’s algorithm.
Featured snippets are considered to have the “Rank Number 0” or “Possition 0” in the SERPs.
Although you can’t technically “apply” for a featured snippet or do anything in particular to gain it, you can optimize your content to match the format of different featured snippets and hope to eventually earn one.
8. Optimize Title Tags
A title tag is an HTML feature which provides an accurately brief definition of the information or document on your website. Title tags are clickable headlines that make the search and browsing experience of the user efficient.
A title tag is like a book title – the content readers need to know what to expect from the piece. In your website code, the HTML title tags should appear like this:
<title> Your Title </title>
Title tags are essential because they tell the users what information will be presented when they click on the page. They help search engines to determine the relevancy of the web page as a result in a search query.
To make sure that Google likes your title tags, use the following guidelines:
- Title Tag Length – No more than 60 characters. Stay away from all capital letters in title tags because they’ll use up more space than lower case characters. If you’re not sure about the length and the title tag preview, you can use Yoast SEO WordPress plugin to optimize your title tag and make sure it’s not longer than it should.
- Insert Relevant Keyword – Insert just the most relevant keywords that you want to rank for in the title tag, but don’t exaggerate. Google can recognize keyword stuffing and may change the title of your web page if it feels you’re just throwing keywords in it.
- Avoid Stop Words – Avoid as much as possible stop words such as: A, And, But, So, On, Or, The, Was.
- Actionable Words – Using action words in your title tag will let the users know what kind of content they can expect. Examples: Get, Take, Boost, Learn, Go.
9. Do Not Miss Image Search
Aside from links to text content, you can maximize traffic to your website by adding links to your images. Searching for an image is also one of Google’s features wherein you can either add the link or upload an image and Google will show you exactly where your image is saved on the web.
According to Moz, Google Images receives a considerable number of searches, compared to searches on YouTube, Google Maps, Amazon and Facebook combined. Searches in Google Images are made more than 10 times as often as any search on Bing or Yahoo, and more than 40 times the number of searches on Facebook.
To make sure that you provide good search experience with your images, follow these guidelines:
- Quality Images – Make sure that your images are of high-quality and appealing. Users want to see a quality image about a product or a service that they’re looking for, and those are the images that bring more clicks to your website.
- Lighter Images – Large images can hurt the page load time. But, there’s a solution. You don’t have to sacrifice too much of the quality and size. Use ImageResize to optimize the images on your website.
- Personalized Imagery – Don’t use, if possible, those cheesy stock images for your website or your blog posts. There are far better alternatives. If you can’t afford a photo session of your own, you can find thematic images for free on pages like Pexels or Pixabay.
10. Enhance User Experience Through Social Media
Lastly, social media works well for your brand. Social networking platforms improve the communication process between business and customer. These improve an organization’s productivity and increase conversion rates. At the same time, it makes the user experience better.
Social media helps SEO in the following ways:
- Increases Chances For Linking – The more social shares, the more opportunities for people to see your content. It doesn’t matter whether it’s LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook. With high-quality content that gets attention on social media, you’ll have a better chance of being seen and linked to authority websites.
- Click-Through Rate – The click-through rate can affect you positively or negatively in the search rankings. Social media helps you to build your audience. With a bigger audience, there’s more chance that people will click on your content in Google’s search results.
Although social media isn’t a direct Google ranking factor, it is one of the most powerful ways to promote your content and to be discovered online which is the main goal of every SEO campaign.
As you can see, there are bad, and there are good and organic SEO strategies that can bring long-term results.
When faced with a choice between white hate SEO vs. black hat SEO, you should always stick to the good techniques we discussed.
Black hat SEO techniques may bring quick results, but, don’t be fooled. Google algorithms are more sophisticated than ever and Google can punish your actions if they don’t comply with the rules.
That’s why the best choice for your SEO strategy is white hat tactics. Even though it may take longer to see results, you’ll significantly improve your page ranking and cement it, all in favor of Google’s guidelines and best practices.