uprise guide to SEO part 1

avoiding black hat tactics

Since SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is becoming a lot more important to businesses, you’ve probably heard it mentioned at some point. But how much you know about its meaning and origin will depend on whether you’re currently using it for your website.

From keywords and meta-tags, to white hat tactics and link building, we’re going to take an uncomplicated look at what SEO means and how it can help your business.

Where it started

In the mid-1990s early search engines started to catalogue websites, but the first documented use of the term SEO wasn’t until 1997. As a result of this cataloguing, webmasters and content providers began to optimise their sites by submitting the address of a page, or URL, to various search engines. The search engines would use software to “read” the pages, extracting links to other pages, looking at what words and phrases are used on the site and how often they are used. When someone searched for those particular words or phrases, a search engine would use this information to index and rank that particular site in the search results.

Unfortunately, it became apparent that the system was open to manipulation. Site owners saw how valuable a high ranking was and began to find a number of ways to slip under the radar and increase their ranking. Some of these tactics were deemed less ethical than others and search engines started to penalise their use.

What hat should you wear?

Essentially there are two approaches to SEO; black hat tactics and white hat tactics.

The terms originate from the way that Western movies in the past would distinguish the bad guys from the good guys; villainous cowboys wearing black hats and heroic ones white hats. Today it relates to the SEO methods used for increasing your website’s ranking on a search engine by any means possible. Black hat tactics will, more often than not, lead to a site being penalised on a search page or even banned entirely.

Black Hat

While most black hat tactics were always frowned upon by search engines like Google, some actually used to be considered ethical, white hat tactics. Unfortunately, due to overuse and misapplication, opinions changed and Google has gradually adapted and evolved its algorithms to penalise them. Black hat techniques include:

  • Duplicating content – This includes either copying content directly from another person’s site, or replicating your own content throughout your web pages. Either way, search engines see it as bad and will penalise you.
  • Keyword stuffing – This can be done through overly using keywords throughout your site in an effort to improve your rankings. It doesn’t work because an unnatural amount of the same words will now be recognised by Google’s algorithms.
  • Invisible text – Another attempt at keyword stuffing in which you place your targeted keywords within a page as many times as you can but in the same colour as the page background, so that it can’t be seen. It’s the same as regular keyword stuffing and won’t improve ranking.
  • Blog/comment spam – This involves writing unrelated comments on web pages belonging to other people or businesses. There are also programs that could do this for you.
  • Submitted web pages to link farms – This is where a group of sites link to every other site in the group, it’s a quick way of getting links on many sites in order to improve your website visibility.

Black Hat SEO penalties have became a little more serious as of late. Seikaly & Stewart, a Michigan law firm, is suing its former SEO provider, Rainmaker Institute for providing black hat SEO services that violated Google’s webmaster guidelines. They are accused of knowingly building ‘link farms’ and duplicating content across a number of sites.

While these are techniques best avoided, it is possible to use SEO to your advantage ethically, without being penalised.

White Hat

SEO can be a powerful method of getting your company known by the people who are looking specifically for the services you offer. Using recognised white hat techniques will not only improve your ranking, it will also position your business as a knowledgeable, informative business in your sector. Here are a few of the best ways you can do this;

  • Write for humans, not search engines – make sure website has high quality content that’s naturally written and not directly duplicated across the website or taken from other sites.
  • Don’t overuse keywords – correct keywords are the gateway to a successful SEO campaign; however, if they are ‘stuffed’ throughout the website’s content, you will find yourself with an unintelligible and penalised website. Don’t forget, placing keywords in invisible text might hide them from the human eye, but the search engines’ ‘spiders’ that crawl a site for content can still see them!
  • Provide proper meta-titles and meta-data – this ensures proper on-page optimisation, which is another gateway to successful, white hat SEO. Meta title/data enables human users to see exactly what is in each page on the search engine results page (SERP). Done correctly it will increase your rankings and increase website visitors.
  • When creating a link, only target high authority websites – despite a lot of misuse, link building can still be a white hat technique. When done properly, it enables your website to have content on other relevant sites, which in turn increases word of mouth and visits to your website. The important point here is making sure that it’s a relevant site. It should be clear that the content being shared is appropriate to both sites and relates to the kind of information that visitors will be interested in. If a link is created to a low authority site or a spammy comment is placed on an irrelevant page, this can become a black hat tactic and won’t improve your rankings.

When in doubt, the best way to gauge the ethics of any SEO tactics is to look at whether it’s providing a quick-fix solution. The majority of the time, black hat techniques will get fast results, but ultimately they will be short lived and, because of the improvements being made by search engines to detect them, possibly result in your site being penalised. White Hat SEO may take time, effort and lots of quality, relevant content, but by adhering to the rules and regulations set by search engines, a site will not only have a high organic ranking, but also be seen as a reliable source of industry knowledge.

Written by Claire Fisher, SEO Account Executive

Categories: Digital Marketing

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