Once you start investigating search engine optimization (SEO) techniques for websites, you’re bound to uncover all sorts of advice: good, bad, outdated, cutting-edge, sensible, questionable, and downright dangerous. While there is no shortage of “SEO Experts” and “Tips for Top SEO Rankings” articles online, be aware that the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) know what tips and tactics you’re using to enhance the rankings of your business’ website, and if you’re caught using questionable or illegal SEO strategies (also referred to as “Black Hat SEO”) your business’ website is going to be severely penalized and possibly even banned from all search results. And having that happen is going to severely hurt your marketing and outreach efforts!
This is why it’s important to make sure you’re either working with a highly reputable company for SEO or that you critically evaluate and take time to fully understand the relative merits and failures of all the tips and suggestions available online. This article will give you an introductory overview of black hat, grey hat, and white hat SEO techniques for websites that you can use when conducting your own SEO research or having a consultation with a digital marketing company about SEO improvement for your business.
Understanding What Black Hat SEO Techniques Are
Black hat SEO is any strategy to quickly improve the ranking of your website that uses tactics deemed in violation of the search engines’ terms of service. Black hat SEO can be successful in the short term, but promoting your website in this manner will ultimately have serious consequences, and will do you greater harm in the long-run.
Black hat SEO often greatly improves the ranking of a page or website, but without providing much value to people searching online. Chances are you’ve had the experience of clicking on a search result link that looked good, but once directed to the website, you were confronted with “garbage” – page content that was not relevant, lots of questionable advertising… you might even get a pop-up message from your browser warning you about malware or security issues the website has. If you’ve ever had that happen to you, you’ve experienced black hat SEO! Yuck!
Black hat SEO is unethical, deceitful, and just plain nasty and chances are, that is NOT how you want to run your business. So, if someone gives you a “hot tip” on how to get to the top of the charts using any of these tactics outlined below, save your money and your time and move along.
Have you ever read an article online that just didn’t sound natural? Maybe it repeated the same words or phrases over and over or the sentence structure and syntax sounded stilted and awkward? Welcome to the black hat tactic called “keyword stuffing.” This is when you try to jam as many keywords and phrases you want to rank for into your text, regardless of whether they really make sense, or sound natural. In addition to being frowned upon by the search engines, it’s also going to make your visitors and customers REALLY annoyed and confused. Using keyword stuffing tactics hurts your credibility and it makes your website sound robotic and spammy. Nobody wants that.
The hidden text tactic is another form of keyword stuffing, except this time all the keywords that don’t fit into the natural language text are made invisible – so search engines read them, but humans don’t. This is done by setting the text to be invisible against the background or making the size so small it is unnoticeable. SNEAKY and wrong!
There are times when hidden text is a good thing, such as when alt-text descriptions are set for images and graphics. These forms of hidden text are designed for accessibility purposes (screen readers for the visually impaired and those who turn off image display) and using them will help your SEO and your visitors.
Building links is an important part of your SEO strategy, and search engines looks to your inbound links as a factor in ranking your page – the more websites that link to you, the more relevant your content is. But these links must be relevant and natural. If you make the decision to buy links through underhanded, black hat means, you’ll be spending money for no return. Search engines take into consideration where the links are coming from and if they’re relevant to your website. If all your inbound links are from link-farms, then you’re going to experience a negative hit on your SEO.
Excessive posting of links to your website or a product you are selling on popular Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts isn’t a black hat SEO tactic; but it could get you blocked or banned from those platforms – and getting banned from social media is NOT a good marketing strategy EVER.
Adding new, relevant content to your website or blog on a regular basis is a great, 100% legitimate SEO practice. However, the black hat version uses software to take an article and move words and phrases around to create a new article or articles, temporarily fooling search engines into thinking there’s something new and exciting on your website. Articles generated using spinners are terribly written and don’t provide any new information to readers. Much like keyword stuffing, visitors to your website will look at these articles and quickly leave, wondering what the heck is wrong with your website!
Trying to Rank for Popular, but Unrelated Keywords
It’s tempting to try to add in keywords and phrases for terms that are highly searched, and in the short-term it might get you a little boost in traffic, but if you’re interested in having high-quality visitors who are truly looking for what you have to offer, why bother with an influx of traffic that is looking for something else (the latest photos of X celebrity, videos of X political candidate…). Your bounce rate for that page will soar through the roof and that not a good move for your SEO or your business.
Bait and Switch
Some websites are fortunate to have many inbound links to a particular page – this could be a very unique product or offering, or maybe it’s a highly useful article that many other websites want to reference. Having that is great for your SEO. However, black hat tactics would exploit those links by using a bait and switch technique where the link is re-directed to another page or an advertisement. That’s a pretty lousy move, and your short term gain will come to a crashing end when the referring websites realize what you’ve done and decide to pull the plug on you altogether!
Are Gray Hat SEO Techniques Safe to Use?
Gray hat SEO techniques for websites come about when you mix approved white hat tactics with unethical black hat ones. Think of it as speeding down a residential street at 65mph BUT you’re wearing your seatbelt and not texting. You’re not a full-blown outlaw, but you’re clearly breaking the law and at some point you’re going to get nabbed. Using gray hat SEO techniques can be attractive as they will get you results faster, but the fact is, you’re still engaging in some questionable practices. Here are a few to be on the look-out for:
This is where you, or your unscrupulous SEO marketing company, buys some expired domains that are related to your business and adds content with backlinks to your site.
Creating fake friends
In this tactic, phony social media accounts are created to give the appearance that your business is more popular than it really is. The fake accounts post images, glowing reviews, and product links to your website.
Yes, you want your business’ website to be user friendly, and to provide clear and distinct information to encourage visitors to sign up, request more information, purchase… but excessive use of call to action and social sharing buttons is not a good idea. You want to lead your visitors through the sales funnel, not hit them over the head with it!
Just Do the Right Thing, Use White Hat SEO Techniques!
White hat SEO tactics are used by reputable marketing firms looking to foster long-term, strategic growth for a business’ website. Some of the best white hat techniques include link building campaigns, providing quality content to visitors, and linking to relevant content on your website. In addition, keyword and keyphrase monitoring and planning is also a part of a reputable, white hat SEO strategy. A good marketing firm will help you to research the top search terms that relate to your business’ website and then monitor their performance over time and offer concrete actions for improvement. Here are a few additional white hat tactics to consider:
Have the Text Your Visitors Need
Make sure your business’ website contains accurate and appropriate text in three different categories. The first is the “call to action” or transactional text. Don’t assume the visitor knows what to do when they land on your website! If you want them to sign-up, register, complete a task or buy an item, you need to provide clear directions and well-positioned opportunities for them to do so. The second is information text, you need to effectively communicate who you are, what your business is, and why a visitor should patronize you over any other website or bricks-and-mortar store. The final form of text your website needs is navigational. If a visitor can’t make heads-or-tails about the organization of your website, they aren’t going to stick around for very long!
Provide a Good User Experience
When you combine your text, images, navigation, and design, make sure that your visitors can use your website with minimal or no problems. Does your ecommerce platform function correctly? Do your images and forms load quickly? Is your website mobile friendly?
Keep it Clean!
Does your business’ website look neglected? Do you have broken links, images that don’t load or are very outdated, or content that hasn’t been refreshed in months? You can give your website a white hat SEO boost by scheduling regular “housekeeping” where you update content and photos, fix broken links or add/remove new widgets and plug-ins. It’ll keep your website looking fresh and relevant.
White hat SEO does work, but it doesn’t work overnight and it requires consistent and persistent effort. Knowing what SEO techniques won’t work or will get your website banned is very valuable but so is the understanding of how to go about improving your organic search rankings in ethical, approved ways. Reaching the top of the keyword rankings chart isn’t a get-rich-quick-magic trick but rather a collection of tactics, techniques, skills and strategies. When you make the decision to use white hat SEO techniques for your business, you’re committing to a long-term, solid plan that will enhance your business’ reputation and commitment to providing a superior customer experience.
LET US HELP YOU!
At Road Warrior Creative, we offer a variety of digital marketing services including white hat SEO strategies, website development, social media communication, e-commerce support, and design, branding and corporate identity creation. Whether your business needs to create a complex digital marketing campaign or assistance with social media communication, just think of us as your in-house digital marketing department! Contact us to learn more about how we can help.