The purpose of good search engine optimization (SEO) is to improve the rankings and visibility of your website to attract more traffic through search. This can be done in so many ways as there is no shortage of SEO strategies that can help drive traffic to your website and improve your visibility in the search engine results pages (SERPs). However, not all SEO strategies are legit. There are some tactics out there that can help you at least temporarily achieve better visibility and more traffic by bending or even breaking Google’s rules and best practices.
These illegitimate SEO practices are known as black hat SEO tactics. Black hat SEO strategies are designed purely to boost rankings and generate more search traffic while skirting the rules of Google. These tactics are considered to be unethical and while they may bring temporary success, it is only a matter of time before Google catches on and either penalizes or bans your website. A penalty or ban from Google will immediately ruin the rankings of your website and make it very difficult to recover.
It is best to avoid black hat SEO strategies, but for those who are not well-versed in SEO, it may be difficult to determine which strategies fall under black hat SEO and which strategies are legitimate white hat SEO tactics. One way to avoid black hat SEO is to work with a trusted digital marketing agency like Proceed Innovative that engages in white hat SEO that follows the rules and best practices of Google. However, not all digital marketing agencies stick to strictly white hat tactics, making it important to tell the difference between the two.
In this guide, we will address some of the most frequently asked questions regarding white hat and black hat SEO so you can recognize the strategies of each and avoid practices that can get your website penalized or banned.
What is Black Hat SEO?
Black hat SEO refers to SEO strategies that are specifically designed to boost rankings in the SERPs while bending or breaking many of the rules put in place by Google and other search engines. These strategies tend to be aggressive and they only focus on the search engines themselves with little to no concern about the value they are providing to a human audience. In short, black hat SEO tactics attempt to “game the system” to essentially trick search engines into improving their rankings.
Sometimes the line between black hat and white hat SEO tactics is not so clear as all SEO tactics are designed to improve rankings by manipulating search engines in one way or another. SEO strategies that were once considered legitimate are now considered black hat tactics due to changes in Google’s algorithms and Terms of Service. While some SEO strategies are undeniably black hat tactics, there are some that still exist in a gray area. Digital marketing professionals who stay up to date on Google’s algorithm changes and Terms of Service can tell the difference between white hat and black hat SEO and avoid SEO strategies that are against Google’s rules and best practices.
Why is Black Hat SEO Considered Unethical?
One of Google’s main goals is to provide those using their search engine with quality content that has value based on their search query. As mentioned above, black hat SEO strategies are not designed to provide users with valuable content as much as to get the top spots in the rankings. Therefore, much of the content that achieves visibility through black hat tactics is of little or no use to Google’s users. Some black hat SEO tactics are also deceitful as they can trick users into clicking on a link that does not provide the content or information that the user is seeking. Websites that reach the top of the rankings through black hat SEO strategies are also taking a spot away from a website using legitimate SEO strategies that offers more value to users.
What are Common Black Hat SEO Strategies?
There are many SEO strategies that are definite black hat strategies and many more that exist in the gray area. For the purpose of this guide, we will stick to common black hat SEO strategies that are clearly against Google’s Terms of Service.
- Keyword stuffing: This is the practice of loading a web page with keywords to attract rankings with no regard for the value of the content. This can include using main keywords at an unnatural frequency to drive search traffic or using keywords unrelated to the content of the page simply because they are highly searched terms. Web pages with keyword stuffing often do not read like natural content and because the same keywords are used in repetition, the content itself offers no real value.
- Auto-generated content: Creating original content that provides value to your audience is the most effective way to get good rankings from Google. This is because Google wants to deliver value to their users, and it puts a premium on good content. However, writing original content takes time and effort and some companies get around this with auto-generated content. Auto-generated content is content created by a software program using targeted keywords. This type of content is usually full of bad grammar and is very difficult for readers to comprehend. Google will penalize your website if it contains auto-generated content.
- Doorway pages: Doorway pages are pages of a website that are keyword stuffed to rank in the SERPs, but they typically redirect users to a different page. This is one of the more deceitful black hat SEO practices as users expect to land on one page but instead get taken somewhere completely different.
- Cloaking: Cloaking is a tactic in which the content displayed to a search engine for a specific page and the content displayed to users is different. This tricks search engines into displaying a link that is not as it is presented. Cloaked pages are not visible on the website and they serve no purpose other than to trick search engines into showing the link.
- Hidden text and links: Hiding text and links on a page can help boost rankings but they provide no value to users since they cannot be seen. Websites hide text by using 0 size font, placing the text behind an image, and using white text one a white background. Links can be hidden by hyperlinking something small, like a comma.
The one characteristic that all of these black hat SEO strategies share is that they provide almost no value to users. Google’s main intent is to provide its users with the most valuable content available and it rewards websites that provide valuable content with high rankings. If Google determines that your website is using one or more of these black hat SEO tactics, it will lower your rankings, de-index your website, or ban it altogether.
What are White Hat SEO Strategies?
In short, white hat SEO tactics target real users and provide them with valuable content that will improve their online experience. These strategies involve creating original, relevant content and building links organically to build trust with Google and your audience. The following are common white hat SEO strategies:
- Creating quality content: Original, quality content is the most important element of white hat SEO. You should create original content that provides real value to your users and if enough people deem it valuable; they will share it and help it reach a wider audience organically. Make sure you use relevant keywords when creating your content and remember that longer content tends to get better rankings.
- Relevant keywords: Using relevant keywords is important for ranking in the SERPs and driving traffic to your website. There are tools available, including Google’s Keyword Planner, that allow you to research keywords and phrases that are searched by users. The more unique the keywords are while still being relevant to your content, the better chance you have of ranking well for those keywords. When writing content, use your keywords naturally and avoid keyword stuffing.
- Authentic backlinks: Backlinks are the links to your website that are found on other domains. Backlinks from other websites build your authority because it shows trust from other websites, leading to higher rankings. You should focus on building backlinks from websites with high rankings or relevant content to your own. It is better to have fewer quality backlinks than a high number of irrelevant backlinks.
- Internal linking: Internal links refer to the links within your website that bring users from page to page. This can include the navigation menus as well as links within the text of your content. A well-organized navigation menu enhances the user experience by giving users an easy roadmap to navigate between the different sections of the website. When it comes to links within the text of your content, it is best to use them sparingly.
- User friendly meta descriptions: The meta description is the few lines of text that are usually visible under the page title in the SERPs. These descriptions should include your relevant keywords but be written for your audience instead of the search engines. A good description will get users to click on your link instead of scrolling through the SERPs for another link.
The main characteristics that these SEO strategies have in common is that they are done for the user, not the search engine. The idea is to show the value of your website to the user through quality content and relevant backlinks which will establish your authority and trustworthiness with Google.
Which SEO Strategies are Better?
In short, white hat SEO strategies will yield better and longer lasting results. Black hat tactics will boost your rankings in the SERPs faster, but Google will eventually catch on to these tactics and penalize your website which will make it extremely difficult to climb back up in the rankings. White hat SEO tactics may take some time to establish trust with Google, but they will have a much better return on investment (ROI).
The list above explains some of the most common black hat SEO tactics, but this is not a comprehensive list. There are other black hat strategies out there that may not be as obvious but can still get your website penalized. Your best bet is to work with an SEO expert who uses only white hat SEO strategies.
Proceed Innovative is a digital marketing agency and certified Google Partner that understands Google’s best practices and how to implement SEO strategies to improve rankings and drive traffic to your website. We will take the time to understand your digital marketing goals and form a multi-faceted strategy to achieve your goals using organic, white hat tactics.
You can contact Proceed Innovative for a free competitor and website analysis or give us a call at (800) 933-2402.