In the world of online content, it’s fairly agreed upon that pristine search engine optimization is critical to building an audience. And when it comes to the most effective SEO strategy, the webmaster guidelines set forth by Google — still the biggest dog among the search engine pack — sets the standards.
Following the guidelines is considered White Hat SEO. Trying to skirt around the roles is called Black Hat SEO. It’s an easy scenario to remember: The good guys on TV and in the movies wear white hats; the villains wear black hats. The names alone conjure up the image of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys, but the stakes are much higher.
What’s the difference?
At its basic level, black hat vs. white hat is a matter of ignoring or adhering to generally accepted online marketing methods. Black hat’s intent is to intentionally manipulate the search ranking of content. White hat’s intent is to improve the search ranking via ethical and organic methods of SEO.
Among some of the most common black hat techniques:
- Utilizing “private blog networks” (also commonly known as “link farms”) to create backlinks to content. A backlink is a link from a page on one website to another. Specifically, it’s a link from an outside website to your website. Google considers quality backlinks a key factor in determining search rankings.
- Stuffing content with as many high-ranking keywords as possible. Keywords are terms or combinations of terms that best describe an article’s content. For example, if you wanted to buy a new kitchen mixer, you might search for “best kitchen mixer” or “hand blender” on Google. Jamming an article full of keywords makes the article seem less genuine and sometimes even misleading.
- Click-baiting the audience with dishonest titles and headlines. This is surely a method you’ve likely noticed – and felt rightly aggravated by. Headlines that promise “10 Ways To Retire Next Year” only to show you a list of gold-buying jewelry stores might create some immediate traffic, but ultimately is bad SEO that Google will punish you for.
- Spamming your content across the Internet is the epitome of black hat SEO. Search engines are constantly tweaking their algorithms to sniff out spam and discredit the creators.
- Another common temptation is to duplicate content in an attempt to get more eyeballs looking at it. This is one of the easiest black hat efforts to detect and will likely be caught quickly by Google and its competition. Duplicate content will likely end with the content being unranked.
Once a search engine determines that back hat SEO techniques are being used, any search ranking will be in immediate peril. One of the worst possible consequences is that your site can be blacklisted — basically removed entirely from the search engine. At that point, you can expect dramatic falls in traffic, and a professional SEO firm will likely need to be employed to reverse the situation.
What about Gray Hat SEO?
As you might imagine, not all bad SEO techniques are intentional. Sometimes a company or individual either gets bad advice or engages in improper methods accidentally. This is often referred to as “Gray Hat SEO.” While it might not be intentional, it’s still quite likely that the behavior will eventually be noticed and punished by search engines.
How to do proper White Hat SEO
Google has done a great job providing the online community with a set of guidelines to follow. But if trying to stay current on those myriads of rules seems imposing, the next best option is to work with a professional organization that will keep your content up to date with the rules and free of black hat SEO.
As a result, you’ll get authentic and organic traffic to your online content without the risk of alienating search engines.