WHITE HAT VS BLACK HAT SEO

EMILY LYNCH

December 31, 2019

Why Are We Talking About Hats? What’s The Difference?

‘White Hat SEO’ refers to those SEO strategies and optimization techniques that fall in line with the policies and recommendations of major search engines, like Google. These search engines develop their algorithms to reward what they can detect as ‘white hat’ SEO with higher rankings. White hat SEO focuses on optimizing for a human audience and increasing organic traffic through natural patterns of site quality.

On the other hand, ‘Black Hat SEO’ are those tactics that focus on exploiting search engine algorithms in ways that don’t take the audience and users into consideration. They are often spammy, annoying for users, irrelevant, and unattractive. They are tactics that if recognized by search engines to be ‘black hat,’ will get your site penalized.

Here’s the Good News…

Today, it is easier than ever to choose between white hat and black hat SEO, and I don’t mean based on principle. Search engine algorithms have become so advanced and refined that they have reached a peak point, where black hat SEO just doesn’t work that well anymore and white hat SEO does. And as those algorithms are constantly being refined, SEO will continue to move in this direction.

You’re busy. Really busy. We get it. So, if you don’t have the time or attention to read another 1000 words,

We Put Together a ‘SparkNotes’ Version, Just For You.

Clean, well-organized, engaging, informative, user-friendly sites.

Really good, original, content that readers enjoy with relevant external and internal links and a high ‘sharability’ factor.

Orderly keyword optimization with good, relevant keywords.

High-authority, relevant backlinks obtained honestly.

Accurate information regarding your business and location.

Disorganized sites designed around manipulating search engines, not helping users.

A lot of poorly written copy stuffed with irrelevant keywords and information that is unhelpful to users and often stolen or duplicated.

A lot of low-authority backlinks from sites that have little or nothing to do with the site’s industry or consumer base.

Inaccurate business information that is contrived and scattered across the internet in order to make a site seem like something it’s not in order to manipulate search engines or users.

Still want to know more? We put together some more detailed comparisons of specific SEO techniques. We show you some ‘black hat’ tactics to DEFINITELY AVOID in your SEO campaigns, and giving you the inside info into some GREAT ‘white hat’ techniques you can start using today!

WHITE-HAT SEO // KEYWORDS

Keyword Optimization

Even though keywords have been abused by the black hats for a long time, they are still one of the most important factors of on-page SEO. But there is a RIGHT way to use them.

Adding your keywords to meta titles and meta descriptions is a solid and incredibly important SEO technique that is encouraged by search engines,

‘IF it is added in a CLEAR and RELEVANT way.’

It can also help to add them to image titles and descriptions on the backend of the site that users never see.

Likewise, keywords should be relevant and each page on your site should only be optimized for one; maybe two on occasion and only if it makes sense to. Don’t try to rank your homepage for 5 different keywords.

Another mistake that is easy to make with keywords is trying to rank two pages for the same keyword by putting the exact keyword match in the titles and meta titles and descriptions. If you want to rank more than one page for the same keyword, don’t use the exact match keyword in the same order for all of them. Google won’t penalize the pages, but it will split the authority for that keyword between those pages. Instead of one page ranking really well for a keyword, you’ll get two or three ranking less well for that keyword.

It is important to have your keywords somewhere in the h-tags so that when search engines crawl your site, they see those keywords as being important information about your site. H1s, H2s, and H3s will make a difference — H4s, H5s, etc. don’t as much; they’re more for stylistic purposes.

It is good practice to make sure that your pages are properly organized with H1, H2, and H3 tags in the correct ordered and that keywords are included in as many as are appropriate and make sense to the usability of the page.

WHITE-HAT SEO // COPY

Great, Relevant Copy

In today’s blogging world, search engines encourage and reward longer, more relevant copy that is targeted to the proper audience for your industry.

Blog posts (like standard pages) should not be stuffed with spammy links or keywords—they should be orderly, pointed, well-written, and ORIGINAL.

Search engines want to see good content. It’s that simple. It doesn’t have to be put out every day or even every week. It just has to be GOOD. It has to be something your target audience or consumer base will actually want to read.

“But how do search engines know what good copy is?”

Simple. The readers tell them. Part of Google’s ranking criteria is based on something called ‘bounce rate.’ When a user accesses a page and then immediately leaves because they don’t like the content or find it useful, it’s called a ‘bounce.’ High bounce rates mean that high percentages of users are leaving your pages quickly.

Google rewards sites with low bounce rates because it shows that the information on the site is engaging enough that users want to stay and read it.

Original Content

The originality of your content is incredibly important. Readers want useful information that they haven’t seen already and they want information that’s relevant. So, make sure your content is tailored to your specific industry and company, and not just copied from another site that’s ranking better than you.

If you need to have two pages with similar content, just make sure that the copy on those pages are worded significantly different and make sure that having multiple pages is necessary and user-friendly.

WHITE-HAT SEO //BACKLINKS

Today, search engine’s algorithms are designed to ignore irrelevant links and reward pages for high-authority, industry-related backlinks. A good ‘white hat’ link building practice is simple content marketing.

Write really great content that other leaders or locals in your industry will want to republish on their sites, and offer them the content for free or very, very cheap. They will publish it with a link back to your site. Not only will you gain a great, relevant backlink that will help increase your authority with search engines, but users who really like the content will follow it back to your site and look further into your services or other content. It’s often referred to as ‘Guest Posting’.

Another good practice would be to get a business listing on good, RELEVANT directories, where the backlink will increase your authority with search engines AND the right kinds of clients and consumers can find your content and services.

Sites that have been around for a while and may have rebranded or changed their domain and urls once or twice often benefit from a technique called ‘Link Reclamation.’ Link reclamation involves finding content, whether images, video, articles, etc., that originated from you or your site or somehow mentions those. Reaching out to the sites that published your content, you may find that many are willing to update their content to your updated domain, url, brand, etc. And there are a lot of techniques out there for finding content and reclaiming it.

WHITE-HAT SEO // LOCAL SEO

One of the most foundational ‘white hat’ practices for local SEO is creating a Google Location. It’s important for rankings that Google knows your business has a legitimate location and has images, business hours, reviews, your website link, and other important information.

Linking your site to Google Business and Google Webmaster Tools is one of the easiest, most important ranking factors that you can control.

Another really effective ‘white hat’ technique is building ‘Local Citations.’ A citation is an online reference (usually in a directory) of a business’s name, address, phone number, and website. Many of these can be manually added for free—some require membership and a membership fee. They’re a great way to drive locals to your business page and increase your local SEO rankings.

BLACK-HAT SEO // KEYWORDS

Keyword Stuffing

Littering your site’s content and meta data with keywords and phrases in order to boost organic rankings is one of the most common page-level spam techniques. We call it ‘keyword stuffing’ and it is considered ‘black-hat’ for two reasons.

  1. It is unfriendly and uninformative to the user.
  2. It is useful for nothing apart from attempting to manipulate the search engines using the high keyword density factor.

Because it is also one of the oldest spammy tactics, all the major search engines today have removed high keyword density and meta keywords as major factors in improving search rankings and have in fact developed their latest algorithms with the ability to scan pages for particularly high keyword densities and penalize those pages for keyword stuffing.

Another issue with keyword stuffing, is that it usually involves using a lot of semi-related but overall irrelevant keywords in order to artificially inflate the probability of coming up in SERPs. Search engines reward good, relevant copy that users enjoy—not pages filled with useless keywords. Trying to rank a single page for multiple similar keywords that are scattered throughout the page is a red flag to search engines and is terribly annoying for site users.

Another trick that will get you on Google’s naughty list is adding exact keyword matches into the links on your site. Your navbar should never look like this:

BLACK-HAT SEO // COPY

Bad Copy

It used to be common practice to put out multiple blog posts a day with short content that was mostly irrelevant, just to get more text and more pages and more keywords on your site consistently. And once upon a time, search engines actually rewarded that behaviour with higher rankings.

Today, putting out a lot of short, irrelevant copy is considered ‘black hat’ because it is spammy and done only to artificially inflate rankings. While updating content on a consistent basis is still good, it now makes no difference to search engines whether you put a post out once a month or ten times a day.

Duplicate Copy

Duplicate content is another BH tactic. Duplicate content is when you have two pages on the same site with the exact same (or almost exactly the same) copy. Search engine algorithms look for it and penalize it. Don’t try to duplicate a blog post or a page and optimize them each for different keywords.

Scraped Copy

Scraped content is another BH practice. Scraping involves taking content from other sites and republishing it on yours. It is considered ‘black hat,’ not only because it’s a copyright infringement, but also because it adds no value to your users, who need to content that is reflective of your unique business, not generic information about your industry or misleading information stolen from a competitor.

BLACK-HAT SEO // BACKLINKS

It is no secret that backlinks are today one of the most important factors for organic SERPs ranking. Likewise, it should come as no surprise that backlink building has now become one of the more abused SEO tactics today.

One of the ways black hats abuse the link system is by engaging in what search engines call ‘link schemes.’ Buying & selling links that pass the ‘Page Rank’ algorithm is considered by Google and other search engines to be ‘black hat.’

Another ‘black-hat’ tactic is the excessive exchanging (or link trading) of links between sites. Some even create whole sites and networks of sites for the sole purpose of cross-linking between them all. SEO experts refer to them as PBNs or ‘Private Blog Networks.’

While this link-building tactic, thus far, has been difficult for search engine algorithms to spot, it is a technique that is on their radar and you can be sure that they’ll be working towards troubleshooting this blind spot in their next algorithm builds.

Spamming other sites with links back to yours in comments or through malicious behaviour such as injecting hidden links into a site by exploiting flaws in its security are other common ‘black hat’ SEO tactics. Not only is it frowned upon by Google as a link-building technique, it damages the rankings of the site you breach and annoys both their users AND yours. And you can be sure that the webmaster you hacked will make every effort to take down your links and increase their security, so the links won’t stay long anyways.

BLACK-HAT SEO // LOCAL SEO

Over-optimization almost doesn’t sound like a bad thing, right? When it comes to local SEO, the truth is that trying to rank for more than 2 or 3 locations will actually get you penalized and detract from your rankings.

A perfect example of this is duplicating services pages or even whole sites that are exactly the same, except for the locations. ‘Black hats’ will often publish 10 – 50 service pages with the location name changed. Sometimes they’ll even publish pages with just titles with keywords and a city name, with no content anywhere on the page, and leave them unlinked on the rest of the site.

Creating lists of locations and keywords in footers is also a bad practice, though it doesn’t make significant difference either for good or bad when it comes to your rankings.

Another ‘black hat’ tactic is creating multiple Google Locations or Brand Pages for locations that you don’t actually have. Using either P.O. boxes or fake addresses is considered misleading and unfriendly to consumers.

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