In the world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) there's plenty of grey area and misconceptions about what actually counts as legitimate SEO techniques, and those proven to work over time if you follow the rules.
White Hat SEO? Black Hat SEO?
Just like cowboys wearing white hats and black hats to differentiate the “good guys” from the “bad guys,” “white hat SEO” and “black hat SEO” denote good and bad SEO practices:
- White hat SEO techniques are heroes — tactics that work within search engines’ terms of service to improve a site’s search engine results page (SERP) rankings.
- Black hat SEO techniques are villains — tactics that may get a site higher SERP rankings, but are unethical and violate search engine guidelines.
Understanding what’s what when it comes to SEO best practices is essential to maintain the integrity of your website, online rankings, and visibility.
Here are some of the top White Hat SEO tactics you can use to “play by the rules” to boost your website’s presence:
- Quality content
- Content-relevant keywords
- Keyword-rich page titles and metadata
- Lean code/well-structured markup language
- Authoritative inbound links
- Simple website navigation
- Fast page loading times
7 White Hat SEO Techniques
- Quality content written for the benefit of the reader, not the search engine crawler, is the most crucial element of modern day SEO. It is the best way to be rewarded by search engines and how they rank your site or blog. Always remember that quality content is king!
- Content-relevant keywords based on disciplined research around page content is mandatory. Also, pay attention to keyword usage. Stick to one primary keyword and 2 or 3 secondary/supporting keywords.
- Keyword-rich page titles and metadata are also mandatory. It’s easy to overlook or underestimate these areas, but optimization is low-hanging fruit for most sites.
- Lean code and semantically structured markup language, including the use of keyword-rich heading elements on your pages, aid search engines in finding what they're looking for when crawling your site.
- Authoritative inbound links that are gained organically versus paid links have become one of the most important elements in your SEO efforts. Attaining authoritative inbound links takes time and dedication, but the tremendous impact on how you rank in SERPs and increased overall site traffic make it well worth the effort.
- Simple website navigation generally boosts where your site places in organic search rankings. It also helps visitors find what they need without getting frustrated, which is a win for potential conversions.
- Fast page loading times is a necessity because, like simple navigation or mobile optimization, responsive sites don’t frustrate visitors or encourage bounce. From an SEO standpoint, site speed is a search engine ranking signal. Sites that are slow in responding to visitor requests for whatever reason (large images, image carousels, etc.) generally rank lower in SERPs because the user experience is jeopardized. Be mindful of functionality and features and how they impact load times.
Being familiar with white hat SEO isn’t enough to keep you from inadvertently crossing into an SEO grey area or, worse, do something that violates search engine guidelines — black hat SEO territory.
Here are some of the top Black Hat SEO tactics to avoid when boosting your website’s visibility:
- Keyword Stuffing
- Meta Keyword Stuffing
- Link Farming
- Cloaking Your Content
- Publishing Bad Content
5 Black Hat SEO Techniques
- Keyword stuffing — hidden content masked with the use of code but stuffed with keyword jargon so it's only visible to the search engine crawler — may have worked in the past, but search algorithms have gotten smarter. Site owners engaging in this “number one no-no” will be subject to a hefty fine and/or the site may be blocked by search engine authorities.
- Meta keyword stuffing — unnaturally placing keywords in web page meta tags, page titles, or backlink anchor text — is easy enough for a trained monkey to conduct, but does not positively impact your SEO. In fact, it can turn away search engine crawlers.
- Link farming is the process of gathering a whole slew of unrelated website links that are typically hidden from actual site visitors. Being listed on such a page won't get you traffic — in fact, it potentially puts you at risk of having your site flagged.
- Content cloaking is a lot like electronic bait and switch. Search engine spiders are shown content that doesn’t actually appear in the user’s browser. This dual path helps sites rank for irrelevant content, and provides unwitting users with results other than that which they expected. A basic example would be providing HTML to search engines while showing images or Flash files to human users — a classic trick of spammers.
- Publishing bad content provides no value to visitors and reflects poorly on you. Scraping or copying content from other sites was once nearly undetectable by search engines, which made it a bit of a rankings boon. Now, Google and other search engines have algorithms in place that not only recognize duplicate content, but instantly down-rank sites for duplication or other low-quality content.
Wearing the White Hat
SEO can help or hinder your site success, depending on the hat that you choose to wear. White hat SEO is a powerhouse, delivering relevant content, clicks, higher visibility, more conversion opportunities, and other business builders. Black hat SEO, on the other hand, is fraught with peril — potential fines, site shutdowns, bounces, a dissatisfying user experience, and a loss of conversion opportunities. Be sure you’re educated about which tactics are white and black so you choose the right ones.