High noon. Ten paces apart. Weapons drawn. On the left, scarred and mean, Black Hat. On the right, tall and righteous, White Hat. A glance can tell you who the good guy is, and who is rotten to the core.
It’s a useful analogy. One co-opted by the Search Engine industry to distinguish good SEO techniques from bad.
So what do they mean, and what practices do they include when they make the distinction?
What is White Hat?
White Hat practitioners subscribe to the philosophy, “slow and steady wins the race”. This methodology aims to raise the ranking of a site through hard work. It may take time to get to those high rankings but once there, your website will stay there.
White Hat practitioners believe that Search Engines are friends. They play by the rules set by the Search Engines, and in the spirit of those rules. Ethical SEO is important to them.
The user experience is paramount to White Hat practitioners. Their aim is a good quality site, with great content, that focuses on the end user. It’s a long-term strategy and it carries no risk.
5 White Hat SEO techniques
The typical ways of White Hat SEO are:
This involves making small modifications to a site to firstly enhance the user experience, and then to optimise it for search engines. It includes the use of page titles, headings, meta-tags, easy navigation and backlinks.
2. Quality content
In White Hat SEO, the content of the website is of a high quality. It is aimed at giving the user what they want. It is fresh, original and relevant.
3. Good design
A well-designed site is easy to navigate. It is intuitive. It doesn’t contain internal links. It has no scripts that cannot be read by search engines. It also works on mobile devices.
4. Link baiting
This is the practice of including links to your site from another website. It could be a link offering a useful tool. It could be a sensationalist news story. Its purpose is to incite a user to click through to your site. Whatever it is, the link delivers what it promises.Read more about Content Marketing.
5. The use of keywords
This concerns the prominence and the density of keywords in your content. Where is the keyword placed, how often is it used, and is it relevant to the content?
What’s so bad about Black Hat?
The purpose of Black Hat practice is to gain high-ranking search result as quickly as possible.
In the Black Hat approach the Search Engine is the foe. The intent is to break the rules and trick the Search Engine. It is aggressive and it carries high risks.
The user experience is not relevant in Black Hat philosophy. The intent is to beat the Search Engine. It is a short-term strategy that can bring initial rewards but ultimately it is very risky. Once the Search Engines become aware of the use of Black Hat practices on your site, it will be penalised or even banned.
Sneaky Black Hat ways with SEO
The typical techniques of Black Hat SEO are:
This is the practice of showing human visitors one thing, but showing the Search Engine something else.
• Keyword stuffing
In this practice a keyword is used so many times on a page or meta-tag that the content no longer makes sense. It no longer reads properly. It is clearly aimed at the search engine and not the user.
• Doorway pages
In essence these are fake pages that are filled with content aimed at the Search Engine. The human user does not even see this page but is redirected to another site without their knowledge.
• Duplicate sites and scraping
In this instance popular content is copied from other sites. This amounts to plagiarism. The content could be copyrighted and there could be serious consequences.
• Hiding content and images
Content can be hidden from the human user, for example by making it the same colour as the background. It could be included in comment tags or no script tags. It is aimed at the search engine and all search engines consider this spam.
How good is your SEO?
Improving organic search engine rankings is a slow process. One can see how it could be tempting to include the occasional Black Hat practice, or even to follow that strategy aggressively. That approach, however, carries very high risks.
There are safer ways of improving your ranking, such as pay per click advertising.
Do you know what approach your SEO company uses? They may be getting results, but through which practices? Can you afford to have your website banned?