What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (or SEO for short) is the practice of increasing both the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
All major search engines, such Google, Bing, and Yahoo, have developed and refined algorithms that rank results for a specified search from a user. The rank dictates the order of sites that show up as results.
Leveraging SEO is a great and inexpensive way to improve your website’s rank. Achieving a high ranking means more visibility. Visibility is critical. Each day, search engines are used for billions of searches. Typically, these searches are done with intent, meaning the searcher is looking for something specific. That something could be on your site and showing up as a top result will lead to brisk site traffic and, hopefully, more sales. Conversely, if your website does not appear as a result until the third or fourth page of a Google search, your organic web traffic will be miniscule. It might as well not show up at all.
Companies therefore have a very strong incentive to improve the ranking of their website through search engine optimization. While there are a number of common SEO practices (which this article will cover) they are generally divided into two categories: White Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO.
White Hat SEO:
In simplest terms, White Hat SEO means playing by the search engines rules. Every search engine has terms and conditions that site creators are supposed to abide by. By abiding by them (White Hat SEO), you are organically growing site traffic while not having to worry about being penalized. Penalties can be detrimental to sites and businesses. Google or other engines can push your site down the ranking or completely ban it from the search engine. Site traffic and, ultimately, sales will suffer if your site is caught breaking the terms and conditions. The easiest way to avoid this is by targeting actual humans with your content creation as opposed to trying to fool an algorithm.
Black Hat SEO:
Black Hat SEO strategies, by contrast, attempt to boost a website’s ranking by manipulating search engine algorithms. The upshot of this tactic is that Black Hat sites are built to appeal to algorithms, which usually isn’t conducive to appealing to actual humans. Bending the search engine’s guidelines may rapidly increase site traffic but it comes at a cost: search engines, to deliver the best quality to their users, will administer penalties to sites that break their rules including a suspension or ban.
Many Black Hat SEO strategies are derived from White Hat strategies but are taken to the extreme.
Here are the main differences:
Keywords are a great way attract the kind of web users you want. Keyword research tools allow companies to see the keywords that are most relevant to their business and customers. This allows sites to tailor their content to these keywords. For a White Hat strategy, content creators can implement the keywords into content they upload to the site – how to videos, blogs, etc. This attracts relevant customers and make your site more visible in search results.
Black Hat strategies take advantage of this by overdoing it. They saturate their content with keywords to the point where it isn’t user friendly.
Here is an example using the keyword SEO:
"SEO helps company gain site traffic. Using SEO and refining SEO practices will pay dividends. SEO is helpful and you should be using SEO to increase foot traffic.”
This strategy creates content that reads unnaturally and will deter users from revisiting – something that Google tries to suppress. Companies should know key buzzwords but focus on topic content rather than keyword usage.
Other sites linking to your page is viewed positively by Google’s algorithm. It shows that other content creators trust you and view you as reputable. This results in ranking your site higher and becoming more visible to relevant searches.
A White Hat strategy achieves this by link building. This means creating content that other sites can use and link it back to your site. Creating content that can be used as supportive query for others’ sites whether that be in the comment section or as a blog segment is a great way to build a linking ecosystem.
Black Hat SEO tries to fool this system by buying backlinks. Backlinks link source part of an article directly to your webpage. Buying them is a violation of most search engine’s terms and conditions which could lead to a penalty. There are many ways Black Hats try to exploit this: buying backlinks, private blog networks that’s sole purpose is to backlink to an article and link farms – websites that strictly developed to link to the original source in the hopes of pushing them up the ranking.
Earning backlinks is a great way to shoot up Google’s rankings. Firms creating original and unique content have a better shot a being linked in other articles and comment sections. Buying links and creating a link farm may pay short term dividends but there’s a higher risk of being caught.
3) Content vs. Cloaking
Creating unique content is a great way to generate clicks and attract visitors to your website. This comes in the forms of blogs and articles that appeal to your desired audience. Unique content is valued by search engine algorithms, leading to your site shooting up the ranks.
Black Hat strategies try to take advantage of this through “cloaking” and “redirects”.
"Cloaking" refers to showing one piece of content to the users but a different one to the search engine, while "redirects" means sending a user to a different URL than the one they clicked. Both strategies try to manipulate the algorithm to rank better. Google has refined their algorithm and has been better at identifying both strategies, making Black Hat strategies riskier.
White Hat and Black Hat strategies both aim to improve a site’s ranking. The strategies differ in whom they target; White Hat tactics target actual users while Black Hat tactics target an algorithm.
White Hat strategies are not only just as effective, but are sustainable long term. Black Hat, on the other hand, may pay dividends in the short term, but as the algorithms get smarter, they’ll be able to identify these strategies. For long term sustainability, business owners need to focus on content creation that their audience actually wants to see. – leading to clicks, sites linking their work and optimized keyword usage.
The reality is that search engine optimization is a slow process and a long-term investment. There is no magic ‘silver bullet’ that can instantaneously improve a website’s search engine ranking. Marketing agencies that promise quick SEO improvements are most likely employing ‘Black-Hat’ SEO tactics, and should be avoided like the plague. The search engine optimization process is a long-term investment because, like any worthwhile investment, it takes time to grow.