It is the typical story of good versus evil; the white hat versus the black hat, but which one wins in the end?
If you are looking to optimise your website and get noticed by your audience, there are two differing approaches to SEO: White hat and black hat techniques.
Let’s look at the differences.
The White Hat SEO Approach
As the name suggests, white hat SEO techniques are those which are considered to be ‘good’ and ethically sound, and they abide by Google’s rules.
Google rewards websites that create a good user experience with higher ranking in its Search Engine Results Pages or SERP.
How can you achieve this?
A fundamental part of your white hat SEO strategy is creating compelling content that is informative to the user and provides answers to their search queries. This means that they are more likely to share your page, building links back to your site
Keyword strategy also highlights the importance of writing content that people want to read. Research what questions are being asked about your business sector and build content that answers those questions and naturally includes the relevant keywords within the article. I highlight the word naturally here because there is a line between white hat and black hat methods when using keywords. Google will penalise you for keyword stuffing – more on that later.
Site navigation and indexing
Make sure your site is easy to navigate around by linking relevant pages together and providing an accessible menu for your visitors.
Then tell Google about it!
Good content does not necessarily mean that Google will find your site. It reads code, not content. Therefore, upload your sitemap to the Google Search Console, thus directing its crawlers to it.
SEO strategies that use white hat techniques are known for being long-term, inbound marketing strategies, but use them properly and your site will be rewarded with good rankings from Google.
The Black Hat SEO Approach
In contrast to the white hat approach, black hat SEO techniques are an aggressive form of online marketing that provide quicker results. But, use these techniques at your peril, as Google does not look fondly on those websites that adopt them.
Below are a few examples of black hat methods. However, it should be noted that these no longer work and are likely to negatively affect website rankings.
The idea of using hidden text on web pages was to add more keywords and links to improve website ranking. Words could be written in a colour to match the page background, therefore hiding them from the human reader, but visible to search engines. Google quickly became aware of this method and now penalises sites that adopt this black hat technique.
Using keywords effectively within a good quality article is a reputable, white hat SEO technique. However, when keywords are used repeatedly throughout the content, the titles and the meta tags, this is known as keyword stuffing and is a method that is not so favourable. You can tell when a piece of content has purely been written for the benefit of search engines and has used keyword stuffing. It reads poorly and is very repetitive; not a good user experience.
Cloaking is a method of presenting different content to human users and search engines by using different URLs. The objective of this method is to improve indexing. Google frowns upon this technique because it provides different content to that which the user is expecting. Previously, this was frequently done by using Flash and presenting the user with images, whilst displaying HTML text to search engines.
Link farms are when a number of sites all link between one another. Link building is another valid white hat SEO technique, when human users engage with content and share it on their own sites. However, the use of link farms is an artificial method of building these links and also faces penalties.
There are other black hat techniques that have been used in the past to try and trick search engines and achieve higher rankings, but Google is not easy to fool and is exposing most of these now.
Which hat will you choose?
With any process that takes time, consideration and skill, there will always be attempted shortcuts or cheats.
Search engine optimisation is one of these instances. It is a long-term strategy, which rewards intelligent, thoughtful work that uses white hat SEO techniques. These techniques are working for the good of the audience, making their experience of browsing online better. Whilst black hat SEO techniques may seem to have initial success, Google will catch up with them in the end. Certainly, considering the giant that Google is, it is not advisable to be caught wearing the black hat because in the typical story of good versus evil, the good guys always win in the end!