Black, grey and white hat SEO

Q. What is the difference between black, grey and white hat SEO?

A. Since its inception, SEO has evolved from being a simple case of adding some keywords to your meta description and page title, to a complex and popular marketing tool.

As such, the methods and techniques used to achieve results have also changed and Google has become a lot smarter when it crawls sites and is better able to determine whether SEO techniques are in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines.

There are three ways in which SEO techniques are classed or defined and this article will explain these. When it comes to SEO, you obviously want to ensure that your techniques get you the results you are after in the shortest possible timeframe and unfortunately many website owners turn to “black hat” techniques that are fast, easy and cheap.

Black Hat SEO

There are many companies and individuals that utilise black hat techniques for SEO, which is seen by Google to be in violation of their webmaster guidelines. There might be short term gains in your rankings by using these techniques, but Google will also penalize your site once it realises what you’re up to and it may take you a long time and a large amount of money to recover your losses.

These black hat practices can include any of the following:

  • keyword stuffing: adding lists of keywords to your site in an unnatural way that has nothing to do with users and is only there for search bots.
  • hidden text on your site, be it lists of keywords or text that cannot be seen by the user eg: black text on a black background
  • fake or “doorway” pages that are only used as an entrance for search engine bots, the user will see a different page, or text when they view the site, (otherwise known as cloaking).

Grey Hat SEO

Something that can confuse many people attempting SEO is what the community labels “grey hat SEO”. Grey hat techniques are not quite frowned upon by the search engines in small amounts, but you will run the risk of a penalty to your site if these techniques are overused or utilised in a way that makes you appear to be attempting to manipulate the search results.

These items can include any of the following:

  • using paid advertising to promote backlinks to your website (webmasters are meant to use a nofollow tag for paid advertising as per Google’s guidelines) and if all links to your website are keyword related this doesn’t promote a natural looking link profile for your domain.
  • low quality content that has obviously been added for SEO purposes which does not provide valuable information to visitors and exists only to use more of your targeted keyword on your webpage.

White Hat SEO

Ideally, you want to work with a company or individual that utilises “white hat” SEO techniques. These techniques may take longer to return the results you’re after, but good things come to those who wait and this is definitely true for SEO.

An SEO strategy that is carried out in an ethical manner, within Google’s guidelines is what is required for you to build a long term, stable online marketing campaign that will continue to deliver you returns years from now.

Common White hat techniques:

  • making your navigation and site structure easy for Google to index, ensuring that your most important pages are given a higher authority by search engines
  • promoting inbound links to your site due to interesting, unique, fresh ideas and content. If people like what you do and what you say they’ll share it with others!
  • high quality content is important. Focus on unique, relevant content that will allow you to be an authority on the subject your site is about. Appearing authoritative can help your rankings immensely (especially if you have others linking to you proving the point).
  • articles and blog posts are a good way to keep your site up to date, and keep Google revisiting your site to see what’s new
  • readability of a site should not be sacrificed for SEO purposes. Any SEO related changes should be natural sounding, and not overuse the keywords you are targeting.

Important Note: Google has mentioned that a strong focus on minimising low quality content in their index is a high priority in 2011 so if you find yourself about to make a change solely for search engines and there would be no benefit for your users – stop!

SEO takes time and patience to achieve the best (and most stable) returns for your business. If you are under severe time pressures to increase your traffic other short term solutions should involve paid search like Google AdWords or Social Networking via popular sites, Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin.

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