White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is an Internet marketing strategy that is used to raise a web page’s placement on search engine results pages. By succeeding in gaining a higher ranking for your website, you open your site up to being seen by more consumers and being taken as a credible source of information, especially if your URL appears on the first page of results.

There are several tactics that online marketing firms use to optimize content for search queries. Two categories that have emerged are White Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO. And just like in the cowboy movies of old, the good guys wear the White Hats and the bad guys wear the Black Hats.

White Hat SEO

White Hat SEO tactics are not for the lazy. They will not generate instant results. White Hat SEO can take time and become challenging. But choosing White Hat techniques over Black Hat SEO tactics is a no-brainer to us. White Hat tactics will give your company credible, highlight the unique aspects of your business, and it will bring in and retain consumers. It may have been difficult to tell a trustworthy site from a hacky, spam-filled nightmare 15 years ago, but consumers have evolved along with technology and Internet trends. They can spot the difference between a site that uses Black Hat tactics and one that relies on the tenets of of White Hat search engine optimization, even if they can’t define the two techniques. Websites that employ Black Hat techniques are shady, imposing, flashy in the worst way imaginable and usually filled with advertisements and so many “look over here” features that you aren’t really sure where to look or what to read.

What are White Hat SEO Tactics?

White Hat SEO can be considered challenging because there is a lot of work that goes into creating an effective SEO strategy.

  • Content is the first concern for most clients and SEO experts. Original, informative content is required both to serve your consumers and to satisfy Google’s algorithms. This content can be located on your website, blog, online press releases and anywhere else that your marketing campaign takes you. SEO tactics should encompass your overall online presence.
  • Keywords and phrases are important, but this area can get tricky pretty fast. Of course you need industry keywords on your site so that when people use those keywords in a query, your site is returned. When search engines crawl your site, they look for keywords to easily identify and index your web pages.
  • Creating a network of links to and from your website, social media profiles, blogs, etc., can help establish credibility and promote your business. It might be difficult to get other sites to link back to your site or blog, so that’s where an SEO comes in a finds ways to extend your network.
  • Geo-targeting can help identify and reach your target audience. Even if your consumer base isn’t considered local, setting up an optimized local marketing strategy can improve your search engine results page ranking.
  • Website structure, functionality and usability may not have anything to do with content, but they can directly impact search engine rankings. An effective SEO needs to keep these features in mind.
  • Social media marketing provides an ideal opportunity for SEO practices in postings, advertisements and even in correspondence with consumers.

Black Hat SEO

So, what exactly is Black Hat SEO? Keyword stuffing, fake link building, paid link building, manipulating followers or consumers, posing as official social media accounts, glomming on to existing URLs to sell and less reputable product, and so much more. There are hundreds of ways that businesses will try to scam the reader and other businesses. It can be difficult to stay abreast of all the emerging Black Hat trends, and admittedly, search engines are behind the times. Yes, every time Google updates its algorithms, more Black Hat optimized sites take a fall, but new ones pop up every day, and algorithm updates take time. Google must identify these Black Hat practices, find out whether they have permeated the search results, and then develop a way for the algorithm to identify the practices and penalize the sites.

Black Hat Tactics

There are hundreds of ways to manipulate consumers and search engines. We’ve compiled a short list of the most popular ways Black Hat SEOs inflate page rankings.

  • Keyword stuffing is the most widely recognized form of Black Hat SEO. Sometimes the content featured on the website doesn’t even make sense, but when key phrases are inserted (sometimes more than 20 times!), search engines see the keywords and index the site accordingly. These sites often provide little to no information other than simply repeating keywords and geo-targeted locations.
  • Doorway pages and page swapping are telltale signs of Black Hat SEO. A doorway page is a web page that has been designed to rank highly in a search query result by appealing to the search engine crawler. However, when that page is clicked on by a human, a quick redirect takes place and a different page is shown. This page would never rank well on its own and it’s often filled with spam and, sometimes, with malicious code. Page swapping is similar. Once the page has been indexed and highly recommended, the webpage is changed to include new or different information. So the search engine ranks a page well, but the page has completely changed by the time a consumer sees it. This is sometimes called cloaking.
  • Artificially enhancing citations is the Black Hat version of link building. Because getting reputable sites to link and recommend your website can be difficult, and no one is going to recommend a spam-filled page of gibberish, Black Hat SEOs often turn to paid link networks. These networks promise to link to your website with descriptive text. And it works. But it also violates Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Black Hat SEO tactics will probably never be stopped. They’re the bane of a White Hat’s existence. But just because a company is getting top results doing something that is underhanded and sneaky doesn’t mean they will benefit in the long run.

Every time Google releases an algorithm update, these websites’ rankings will plunge to the bottom of the lists. It takes work to repeatedly redo a website with new tactics aimed at getting the top spot. Had those sites used White Hat practices from the beginning, they may have been placed at the top of search engine results pages organically when the other Black Hat sites failed. But it’s hard to say. With Black Hat SEO, it seems that old habits die hard.

The SEO Dilemma

The problem that we’ve seen beginning to develop is that companies don’t want to put in the effort to provide their consumers with a worthwhile product. “It’s too time consuming.” “I don’t have the resources.” The rationalizing goes on and on.

What you should realize is this:

  • Every time a search engine’s algorithm changes to penalize new and emerging Black Hat tactics, you’ll have to completely redo your website.
  • Consumers can spot Black Hat tactics (even if they don’t know what these tactics are called) and they know to avoid websites that practice Black Hat SEO.
  • The reputation of your company and brand are at stake. When you practice Black Hat SEO, you’re admitting to the world wide web that you don’t have what it takes to provide useful, quality content to your consumers and site visitors, and you’d prefer rank placement over doing what’s right for your consumers.

Don’t get caught up in the rush to be No. 1 on search engine results pages. The fascination and greed can lead your company down some sorry paths from which it isn’t so easy to come back. We offer White Hat SEO marketing to our clients, and recommend it to those who decide to go the online marketing route alone. And for those who opt for the quick-and-easy Black Hat route, when the next Google algorithm update is released, and your site plummets to the bottom of the rankings, we’ll be here to dig you out of the SEO hole you’ve created with long-term strategies that will pay off.

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