Anyone who’s ever run a website knows how pulling in visitors can be hard work. Whether you’re running a site for profit or you merely want to become relevant in your own particular field, you need to put in the work and do some search engine optimization. Maybe you figure you’d do it yourself, or you may consider hiring an SEO company to help boost your rankings.
But no matter who’s doing it, there are a lot of different ways to do SEO. There will always be those who are standing at the crossroads, trying to discern exactly how they want to be getting their hits. There are two major schools of SEO thought and methods: black hat and white hat.
What Is White Hat and Black Hat SEO?
The color-coded names are pretty simple and evocative of how these practitioners work: black hat refers to gaming the SEO system and algorithm by brute-forcing their sites with keywords and links in order to increase their search engine ranking, while white hat is all about the hard work of catering to your site’s actual human audience. Black hatters are playing the low-effort, high-reward SEO game to increase rankings and gain hits quickly, usually looking for the fast ad money payout; this means that if their rankings do increase, they likely won’t stay that way for long once users realize what they’re clicking, or search engines punish them.
Meanwhile, white hatters are more interested in building the same ranking over time using more credible strategies, so that when they get on top, they stay on top. You always want to be a white hatter, because search engines work hard to keep ensuring that black hatting your site’s SEO doesn’t become too profitable.
White Hat Techniques
White hat SEO practitioners are more traditional site runners and content creators. They want to make sure your experience is worth the click on their link by doing the following:
- They create unique and informative content – The #1 rule of running a website, no matter when you’re doing it: content is king. User experience and interface does matter, but without the content your users actually look for, you’re nothing. This is why white hatters always strive to regularly create the kind of quality content that keeps visitors returning and affiliates linking back to them, and that builds up actual credibility that translates into higher search engine rankings.
- They optimize their site for all platforms – This is why UX matters, because you need a good, reliable way to deliver your quality content to your audience. The easier it is for people to access your site — that is, faster loading times on both desktop and mobile, intuitive and simple navigation, and full readability on mobile — the more people will recommend it and keep coming back to it, increasing its ranking.
- They create well-thought-out meta tagging – Keywords shouldn’t just be meaningless phrases containing the search term. They have to be descriptive, and in the age of voice searches and even more personalized queries, they have to follow the user’s line of thinking. Consider using questions and full sentences in your meta tags, and your site will match up with actual searches more.
- They put in the effort to build links – Good white hatters will put in the digital legwork to create backlinks to their site on others in the same field or niche. This is done by constantly engaging with other similar (not to mention reputable) sites and getting them to link back to yours so your page ranking goes up.
Black Hat Techniques
Black hat SEO practitioners usually employ the following rule-breaking techniques and methods to increase their search rankings:
- There are too many low-quality keywords – Spamming keywords (some of which may be unrelated to one another) in a site’s text is a glaring sign that the site is stuffing their content with them in an attempt to look like they’re credible. Having a bunch of these keywords is guaranteed to hit on searches, but that doesn’t always mean you’ll find good content behind that link.
- They use bots to manufacture engagement – Some black hatters will employ bots to fake human interaction on their sites and posts, and you’ll easily spot them when these “comments” include mentions of certain keywords that are either grammatically incorrect or just plain unnatural.
- They redirect you somewhere else (and unrelated) – There are some page results that are just doorway pages to something totally unrelated. They’ll stuff these doorways with a bunch of keywords so that they can rank on search engines and prey on unsuspecting users, redirecting them to a site that’s not about what they were looking for (and sometimes may even include malware). Watch out for these.
- Their sites contain invisible text or links – Sometimes, black hatters will also put in invisible or small text or links containing a keyword so that their page will rank on those related results. They’ll employ a number of ways to hide these links and text, but it’s often not hard to find.
Do Your Research
When you hire an SEO company or consultant to help you make your site more relevant, it pays to make sure you’re not paying for a black hatter. Black hatters aren’t always incompetent, but what they all have in common is that they’ll use underhanded methods to try and improve your site’s SEO and search rankings — and these methods are swiftly punished by search engines, wasting their attempts to boost their relevance and, in turn, your hard-earned money.
Make sure you keep these questions and considerations in mind when you’re shopping around in Huntsville, Al for an SEO guy or team for your site.
The real difference between white hat and black hat SEO isn’t just in the methods they use to improve your website’s performance and achieve your goals. No, the real difference lies in whether they actually care about building something credible and long-lasting on the internet. It pays to do SEO the right way.
Also published on Medium.