White Hat versus Black Hat SEO
White Hat SEO is the term given to search engine optimization practices carried out in line with Google’s Webmaster guidelines, whereas black hat SEO techniques fall outside those guidelines. Black Hat SEO is not an illegal practice but its practices are contrary to Google’s guidelines on what is acceptable SEO practice, so they are essentially a gamble. Would you gamble with other areas of investment where the odds are stacked against you and the reward is short-lived? In most cases, the answer is no.
Black hat practices are still widespread in the world of SEO – some companies actively promote black hat techniques online. While black hat may enjoy short-term success, Google and its sophisticated algorithms will eventually find out and the consequences can be dire.
With Google accounting for around 95% of internet searches in Australia, they effectively own the ball, so it’s recommended you play by their ‘white hat’ rules. If you stick to white hat techniques and apply them consistently, they will provide better success in the short, medium and long-term.
JC Penney was a big brand that suffered Google’s wrath for black hat SEO
In early 2011, the black hat SEO practice of paying for backlinks famously saw US department store JC Penney heavily penalised by Google after the search engine discovered the black hat SEO practice. In the short term, JC Penney benefited significantly from the black hat efforts of their SEO services provider, successfully ranking at the top of Google search results for scores of keywords across several categories.
However, once the black hat SEO technique was uncovered by Google, JC Penney’s rankings plummeted from top of page one to deep in the lower SERPs and as a result JC Penney inevitably parted ways with their SEO provider.
The problem with this linking practice is that the links were not organically generated and in many cases were not even relevant to JC Penney’s line of business. Securing multiple links from a wide range of sources is an ethical, white hat SEO practice as long as there is some fit between the linked websites and as long as links are not paid for.
Paid links are the most common form of black hat SEO
Paid links are probably the most common form of black hat SEO and while it can be difficult to prove, once linking is scaled to the necessary levels to secure top rankings quickly, patterns emerge and draw Google’s attention, which can have lasting negative implications on rankings.
Other such questionable SEO practices that fall under black hat techniques include hidden links and hidden text – essentially where the text colour and background colour are the same. These are easier for Google’s crawlers to spot, so are used less frequently amongst black hat SEOs.
Another common practice is cloaking which essentially involves serving up different content to users and search engines. Where website owners have HTML and flash versions of their site, both should be targeted at a human audience, rather than having the HTML version heavily optimised and the flash version purely geared at user experience.
For Legitimate White Hat SEO, stick to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines
If you want to build a successful long-term presence for your business online, SEO presents a cost-effective means of doing so. Tips and advice on how to apply legitimate SEO techniques to your website are available online from various resources including the ROI Blog.
Google also provide extensive resources including Google Analytics, the Ad words Keyword Tool and Google Webmaster Tools (where you will find their guidelines). Their aim is to deliver the most relevant search results to web users as fast as possible, so these free resources are designed to help.
Their white hat webmaster guidelines include best practice initiatives on design and content, technical elements and quality. Google’s guidelines also offer extensive help resources on the topic. Here are a few white hat guidelines that should form the basis for your SEO strategy:
- Sitemap – If your site is bigger than 15 pages, a sitemap with a clear hierarchy is a must to help Google access the entire site. Sitemaps make it easier for your site to be indexed, which helps your pages to rank
- Information-rich content – Quality of content is an issue for Google in 2011. Avoid duplicate content and be informative for your target audience.
- Check HTML – Webmaster Tools offers suggestions on where this needs fixing on your site. Also optimise page title tags and image ALT tags with relevant terms.
- Keywords – Think of words internet users input to search for your product or service and use them (naturally) in your on-site text.
- On-page links – Keep this to a ‘reasonable’ number is Google’s instruction. Reasonable is quite vague but as a rule of thumb, if it looks unnatural, don’t do it.
To get legitimate (white hat) assistance with your SEO campaign, call roi.com.au on 1300 650 274. Our SEO services in Australia are carried out in accordance with Google guidelines and help hundreds of businesses to rank at the top of Google’s search results.