Let’s begin with a quick refresher of what SEO is: Search Engine Optimisation helps people find you in the search engines.
Optimising your website for the search engines means naturally incorporating certain keywords into the content on each page of your website, so searchers – using these particular phrases – will be matched to website (and therefore your products and services).
The keywords match the service or products you offer, and provides a fantastic user experience.
Over the past few years, dodgy SEO companies have tried to get away with unethical practices in order to achieve better results on the search engines. These tricky practices became known as Black Hat SEO.
The ethical, approved and safe techniques reliable companies use to improve your website ranking are referred to as White Hat (or Ethical) SEO .
The colour refers to the purity of the tactic you are using, and how well that aligns with search engine guidelines.
Let’s meet today’s competitors
In corner one, we have White Hat SEO! She is the law-abiding queen, who adheres to rules and, as an outcome, reaps fantastic results.
In the other corner is Black Hat SEO! The dunce, the lawbreaker, and the rebel who always gets caught.
The prize: Today, White Hat and Black Hat are competing for the most coveted prize on the internet: high page ranking in the search engines!
Let’s learn a little more about the prize, and our competitors
The prize: search engines
- Can’t be fooled
Competitor 1: White hat SEO
- Follows policies and rules, and focus on the human readership
- Loves churning out valuable, relevant, fresh, great content
- Focuses on a long-term, fruitful investment in the success of your business
- Works in conjunction with blog posts and social media
- Also known as Ethical SEO
Let’s learn a little more about White Hat’s best qualities…
1] Quality content
How many times have we heard that?! Well, it’s only because it’s true!
The search engines LOVE good content. Fresh, relevant, helpful, well-written content better serves a reader, and a search engine’s aim is to serve that reader.
The easiest way to add new content to your website is through a blog. Write about your industry, new products, cool company news, and stories from customers. Write lists, anecdotes, how-to’s, product reviews, interviews, blog series’ and case studies about everything relating to your niche as well as your company.
2] Appropriately named title tags and meta data
Granted, the meta description is not a heavy influence for search engines, but it’s still important that each page has a concise, well-written overview which introduces the page.
The meta data includes the short block of text that appears underneath the title in the search engine results, and it’s an important tool that can be used to describe exactly what a user will find on the page.
If it’s written well enough, it could be appealing enough to encourage that coveted click!
Title tags, on the other hand, are an incredibly important part of every webpage on the internet. The title is a brief yet direct description of what the page is about, and heavily influences the search engines.
3] Keywords used appropriately
A nice rule of thumb that is easy to follow is to pair each page with two or three keywords to focus on. Of course, make sure keywords are inserted naturally and do not disrupt the even flow of the written words.
Apply your keywords, when appropriate, to the following page elements:
→ Meta description
→ H1s, H2s and H3s
→ Alt tag
→ Anchor text
Keywords should also be included in your body text, but only when it doesn’t affect the natural read-through flow.
Competitor 2: Black hat SEO
- Sneaky, impatient and aggressive
- Has a “need-results-now” attitude
- Focuses on the search engine robots
- Doesn’t understand the long-term implications of this sketchy practise
- Looking for a quick buck with no regard for the future
- Black hat risks being penalised or banned from the search engines. May or may not realise this.
1] Keyword stuffing
Read the following paragraph out loud:
Wedding flowers are an ornamental component of your wedding day. Our wedding flowers come in a wide range of wedding flower colours and sizes. Our wedding flower arrangements are all custom-made. If you want wedding flowers, get in touch! We are the wedding flower arrangement experts.
Was that uncomfortable to read? Of course! Nobody talks like that in real life, right? So why would they online? The text above looks strained and is difficult to read. It doesn’t follow a natural, human flow.
If you’re focusing more on inserting a keyword as often as possible rather than your writing’s readability, that should be your first red flag that you’re prioritising keywords over your readers. Switch that up and see how more naturally the words come to you when you focus on providing for your reader.
2] Invisible text
Search engine spiders have become so advanced that not only can they identify keyword stuffing like in the example above, but also if you’ve tried to be even sneakier.
An old black hat technique was to stuff a bunch of keywords at the bottom of your webpage in a font colour that matched the background. This way, readers didn’t see the random array of words, but the spiders still read them!
This is no longer the case. The spiders are so advanced that they can identify words that match the colour of the background on which they are. Bubble burst!
3] Page stuffing
This cunning technique aims to create a page that ranks well in the search engines, then duplicating that page several times in order to push competitors further and further down the search engine results pages. That way, all the top results will be “pages” from your website (really just the same page duplicated), and your competition will be shoved out of the way.
Page stuffing is a foolish manoeuvre though; today, search engines can easily compare pages to see if they are the same. Worth the risk of a penalty from Google? Absolutely not.
4] Selling and buying links
Link farms, a collection of links connecting a number of web pages, can be flagged by the search engines as spammy and insincere, and your page rank can be affected.
Even worse, you could be banned completely from its index!
Some of these pages are merely a list of random and irrelevant websites which serve absolutely no benefit to your site visitors.
If you’re putting yourself in the company of these bad neighbours, you might have to suffer the consequences.
A famous (or is that infamous?) example of devious links is that of American retailer JC Penney, who, apparently, were unaware that the SEO company they hired created a farm of artificial links.
5] Doorway pages
These devious little pages are simple HTML pages focused on a few particular keywords.
The mess here is that these pages are visible only to the search engine spiders, so they get tricked into thinking your site is optimised for whichever particular phrases you’ve used on these pages.
The pages, once identified by a spider, will be marked as SPAM, and your page rank can be drastically penalised!
Google identifies the main purpose of doorway pages as pages created to “rank for a particular phrase and then funnel users to a single destination”.
Doorway pages are also used to make a website look like it has more pages than it actually does.
Black Hat SEO techniques may be enticing…
…because yes, they can work, at least at the beginning, and can warrant results quickly. It’s only a matter of time, though, before your dishonest ways have been identified by the search engines and you’ve been caught out!
Black hat SEO is an impatient practice which will not warrant the long-term results you actually do need for a sustainable, fruitful business.
If you’re resorting to sneaky schemes to try to fool the search engines, take a step back and think about whether it’s really worth it.