Do you want to optimize your website to drive more traffic and overall growth?
If you’re looking for long-term success amongst the ever-evolving digital world, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the one-way ticket to exactly that – if you do it right, of course! The question is, what is it and how does it work?
Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about SEO, the difference between Black Hat, Grey Hat, and White Hat SEO, and which strategies you should be applying – and avoiding!
What is SEO?
When you want to know something, you likely head straight to the internet and type it into a search engine (like Google or perhaps Bing), right?
As this is what the people you’d like to visit your website are doing. You need to optimize your website for search engines. SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization, is an essential part of any successful website which does exactly that.
SEO focuses on boosting a site’s visibility by improving the rank in which it appears on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Meaning, with good SEO, a site is likely to be seen first above its competitors.
It involves a range of techniques that, together, deliver an excellent user experience while ensuring search engines can gain a good understanding, and measure credibility and deliverability.
To understand how SEO works, and how to use it, it’s important to know the ins and outs of search engines. Note that the search engine guidelines addressed in this article will continue to be based on Google, considering it is the most used.
How search engines work
Think of search engines like the cool kids at high school that you want to befriend, mostly, so they help you out when you need them. However, if you try to screw them over behind their back, eventually, they will find out – and you best be prepared for the consequences.
As for the tattletales in between doing all the gossiping, they’re the crawlers (sometimes referred to as bots or spiders). In SEO terms, these crawlers gather information throughout websites, sneaking their way through pages, links, content, and more, to create an index.
Every piece of information is assessed by algorithms, from relevance and usability to Expertise, Authority, and Trust (also known as E.A.T) and back-end settings. This then concludes where the site should be ranked on SERPs.
Google set’s out guidelines and algorithms that are constantly updated, and claims that those sites which abide by them, will benefit from improved rankings. For example, they state:
“Website owners who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking than those who spend their time looking for loopholes they can exploit”.
Essentially, if you want your site to rank well and drive quality traffic organically, you need Google’s quality rankers (the cool kids) to be your friend. Implementing good SEO strategies is what you need to do this.
Different types of SEO
Unfortunately, mastering SEO and ranking high on SERPs isn’t as easy as following guidelines and making your website easy to read. There are various types of SEO that all need to be taken into consideration and applied for optimal results:
On-page SEO refers to everything that can be optimized and controlled directly on your site. For example:
- Ensure the site is easy to navigate and digestible
- Utilize keywords, headers, page titles, meta titles and descriptions, images, and internal links
- Create unique, relevant, and valuable content regularly.
Off-page SEO connects your audience to your site through external promotion, such as:
- Guest posting with relevant links, along with considering anchor text and link authority
- Trust signals – any positive mention or comment on other sites or social media platforms
- Active social media channels and engagement.
Technical SEO refers to everything involved in making your site easy for search engines to crawl and boosting user experience. This includes:
- Monitoring and fixing errors
- Creating a Sitemap
- Optimizing robots.txt to give or refuse Google access
- Promoting efficient speed, easy structure, and mobile-friendliness
- Utilizing internal links to promote concise structure
- Securing site with the use of HTTPS
- Adding Schema Markup to communicate content with Google clearly
- A consistent URL structure.
Local SEO, while only relevant for those building local businesses, enhances a highly targeted audience based on a site’s proximity and relevance. This can be done through creating a ‘Google My Business’ profile, in addition to area-specific landing pages, profiles, and links.
What’s the difference between Black Hat, Grey Hat, and White Hat SEO?
You’ve seen the old-school movies with the villains in black hats, and the heroes in white hats, supposedly. That’ll give you an idea of the differences between the good, the bad, and the ugly piggy-in-the-middle.
Considering you don’t live in a black and white movie and are instead surrounded by today’s advanced technology, it may be more relevant to refer to them as rebels, conformists, and the guys dabbling somewhere in between.
To ensure your SEO strategies are in check, and to get you the long-term results you’re looking for, understanding the difference between black hat, grey hat, and white hat SEO is crucial!
What is Black Hat SEO?
The black hat signifies the rebellious one who doesn’t play by the rules. In SEO, black hat tricksters purposely put in place techniques in an attempt to trick search engines, resulting in a boost in rankings and fast-tracking increased traffic.
Black Hat SEO is essentially any tactic that goes against the guidelines presented, such as Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, including these basic principles:
Google Webmaster Guidelines that are ignored in Black Hat SEO:
- Optimize pages for the purpose of user experience, not search engines
- Don’t deceive users
- Avoid tricking search engines to improve rankings
- Create unique, engaging, and valuable content throughout the website.
Black hat techniques to avoid:
- Keyword stuffing – such as overusing them or including invisible text
- Duplicating or stealing content – to increase keyword count and relevant content
- Using doorway pages and redirecting – multiple domains that direct traffic to another site
- Cloaking – displaying a different HTML for the visitor than for Google’s crawlers
- Using non-relevant links or link schemes
- Implementing negative SEO – false reporting or directing irrelevant links to competitors
- Abusing affiliate programs – not contributing properly
- Creating pages that contain viruses or trojans
- Sending automated queries to Google.
Although these sneaky strategies may work for some, it’s important to note that it holds an extortionate number of risks that simply aren’t worth it. Particularly, if you’re wanting to augment your success through longevity.
As mentioned, search engines have systems in place to track these loopholes down, so the chances of getting away with it long-term are extremely low – while being unethical. Violating these guidelines runs the risk of facing Google’s manual spam action, preventing sites from showing up in search results, or being removed completely!
What is Grey Hat SEO?
The grey hat refers to the middleman who knows how to bend the rules and get away with them.
Grey Hat SEO is exactly as it’s labelled – a grey area. It refers to tactics that aren’t officially forbidden, but neither are they completely ethical and within the guidelines. Whether they fall under black, grey, or white hat SEO is unclear.
Grey hat SEO involves implementing techniques with the intention to boost traffic and rankings, while still providing relevant and valuable content – rather than content that naturally ranks well, or that doesn’t actually provide any value.
These borderline risky tactics are quite common due to the patience involved when rules are followed, particularly with some competitors using black hat strategies.
Grey Hat strategies (that remain debated) include:
- Subtle keyword stuffing
- Updating content length and adding keywords
- Clickbait headlines
- Paid reviews
- Building microsites
- Link exchanges and directories
- Multiple social media accounts
- Buying expired domains – enhancing backlink profile
- Building own PBN (Private Blog Network)
- Use of social bookmarking sites
If you choose to apply these or other strategies that don’t feel as though they’re ticking Google’s quality boxes, be sure to note that it only takes one algorithm change to turn these into risky black hat practices!
To avoid falling the wrong side of the fence and facing the consequences, it’s essential to monitor search engine changes constantly, which requires an investment of time, energy, and money.
What is White Hat SEO?
The white hat refers to the conformist who follows the rules, regardless of the patience that is required to reap any rewards.
White hat SEO is the ethical approach that respects and follows search engine guidelines, optimizing sites organically while focusing on the users (rather than only pleasing the search engine bots).
By following the rules, Google will help you out and boost your rankings. You just need to deliver content that is appropriate and useful – and then convince search engine crawlers that it’s better than your competitors. Sounds simple, right?
However, besides going up against a competitive market of rebels, playing by the book requires a lot of hard work and time to get right – alongside the risk of not working.
Put simply, if you want overnight success, you’ll need to look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you want to build a website that will play the long game, then these SEO strategies are exactly what you need!
White Hat SEO strategies to optimize your website:
- Create relevant and helpful content
- Obtain relevant links without exchanging money or services
- Correct spelling and grammar
- Use standards-compliant HTML
- Make page titles unique and relevant
- Improve overall user experience – optimize site structure to be easy for Google to crawl.
- Use keyword research tools and do competitor analysis – to learn the intent of users (and spy on others)
- Keep in the know of algorithm updates
- Build trust – with the use of HTTPS, SSL certs, and external trust signals
- Use relevant internal and external links.
- Follow EAT guidelines – to enhance expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness of the site (and externally linked authors).
Key differences between Black Hat vs Grey Hat vs White Hat SEO
The difference between black hat, grey hat, and white hat SEO strategies vary considering how they are applied, their risks, and their rewards.
Black hat strategies are put in place to speed up the process of growth, by violating search engine guidelines. They may show results fast, but the risks involved down the line are not worth it.
Conversely, white hat strategies are those that follow guidelines, which over time, present the opportunity to reap the rewards of patience and effort. It is essential for long-term success!.
Grey hat, on the other hand, is more challenging to define. Found somewhere in the middle of the two, these strategies remain debated. They can still be used carefully – but with a great risk of crossing the line and consequently joining other forbidden tactics.
Final Thoughts on Black Hat, Grey Hat, and White Hat SEO
To summarize, white hat SEO strategies are the best practice for optimal, long-term results, however, the results are not going to happen without years of effort. Additionally, you could carefully adopt SEO strategies with the intention to boost your ranking, while keeping users, and search engines, happy. That is if you’re willing to take the risk and apply extra vigilance required when dabbling in the grey area.
Be sure to follow search engine guidelines, keep up to date with algorithm changes, and optimize your site to improve user experience with the strategies and tips shared above.
To scale your site properly without running the risk of being penalized down the road, implementing proper SEO strategies is indispensable.
If this article has left you feeling a little overwhelmed and you would like some professional assistance with developing an effective SEO strategy that will yield results for the long term, then please do not hesitate to contact us today.