White hat, black hat … it sounds like a line from Dr Seuss, but the term “white hat and black hat SEO” refers to different styles of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategies.
And as you have probably already figured out: white hat is the “good” version, while black hat is bad – very bad and can end up doing your business considerable damage.
Google’s Number One Priority
When it comes to Search Engine Optimisation, you want to stay in Google’s good books. Why? Because Google is “top cat” of the search engines – so they get to set the rules.
And this is what Google wants to achieve with these rules: They want to give users the best possible experience, and the information they need, so they keep coming back to Google.
It’s important to understand this before we drill down to what white hat and black hat SEO techniques are.
Black Hat SEO
In the early days of the internet, marketers and website owners quickly figured out that getting backlinks was a great way to make their site look more important to Google, and therefore do better in search engine results.
So they started paying other website owners for backlinks, to manipulate search engine results.
Google however soon became aware of this practice and clamped down heavily. It’s not very fair when you think about it: big business can afford to buy lots of links from other websites. It doesn’t mean that their website content is any better, or that they are experts in their industry, giving searchers the information they need (remember Google’s Number One Priority). It just means they have more money!
There are a number of other underhanded black hat techniques used by some SEO agencies, such as:
- cloaking – having lots of invisible text on a page that the reader can’t see, but Google can. Why is this bad? Again, back to Google’s Number One Priority – it doesn’t improve the user experience.
- keyword stuffing – while a page stuffed with keywords like the example below might signal to the Google machine (bot) that it should rank high in search engine results – it’s not useful for the human reader (Google’s Number One Priority).
So why would an SEO consultant use these black hat techniques?
In the past, black hat techniques did work – until Google got wise to them.
Today, black hat SEO may still generate quick results BUT it’s extremely risky. Rest assured, Google WILL find and punish sites utilising black hat techniques. Not only could you lose your high ranking in the search engines (and therefore most of your traffic), but you could even disappear from search engine results altogether!
White Hat SEO
White Hat refers to an ethical, above board, approach to SEO – and it takes time and effort.
Yes, backlinks are still important, but Google much prefers that website owners earn them, rather than pay for them.
The good news is, Google hasn’t left website owners in the dark – they offer heaps of handy resources. In my view, as an SEO specialist working with small businesses, these two in particular are essential reading:
White hat techniques rely on things like:
- keyword research – figuring out which keywords are most popular and generate the most searches, and looking at competitors’ websites which are already ranking for them (so you can do a better job!); and
- website content – providing fresh, quality content which meets the user’s needs.
This is how I’ve been able to develop a business specialising in search engine optimisation – as a writer, I love creating web content, and content is an important aspect of white hat SEO.
If you have any questions about SEO, or would like to find out how your website is currently performing in search engine results and how it can be improved – feel free to get in touch with me.