You may have heard the terms “white hat” and “black hat” strategies while browsing the web for SEO tips and tricks to help your business in the search rankings, but what do they mean?
Put simply, white hat strategies are used by SEO companies like us to help you rank higher than others by following Google’s rules and not trying to cheat their algorithms to do so.
Black hat SEO companies use a number of other strategies to help websites rank better, which can work well up until the point when Google realises what they’re up to.
Google doesn’t like black hat strategies and is constantly working to identify and punish websites that use them to cheat the rankings and as time goes on, they’re getting better and better at spotting them.
With each Google update comes a more aggressive stance against those who try to manipulate the search rankings by using these black hat tactics.
Whilst it’s tempting to use black hat tactics to help your site rank quickly, it doesn’t pay off in the end. When Google does find a website that is using black hat tactics (and it will eventually), it punishes it.
You can expect at the minimum to receive a ranking penalty which can be disastrous for an online business that relies on Google to bring in traffic.
Other cases have led to entire sites getting removed from Google listings completely (also known as deindexing).
Google owns the search rankings and they have the final say in what is advertised or not. It’s entirely up to them and you have no say in the matter.
We’ve had experiences where clients have come to us explaining that the SEO company that ‘helped’ their site has actually gotten their website penalised due to the strategies they used, and they don’t know what to do to remove the penalty. We have helped these clients, but it’s not an easy fix and will take time.
While we don’t use black hat strategies ourselves, it’s definitely important to know what to look out for from SEO companies who may not be so reluctant to use them for your site.
By the way, it’s really important you ensure you know what your chosen SEO company is up to. If they keep you in the dark about what strategies they use, it might be a good idea to get in touch with us.
Here are a few examples of black hat strategies:
Link farms are websites which can give a lot of low-quality backlinks by linking to other websites which can then link back to them.
Whilst this can help build a big network of links together which Google loves, it’s easy to spot when these links are spammy as they rarely point to anything relevant to your website.
This might work for a time, but Google will recognise it sooner or later, so it’s best to avoid these sites and spend the time and money working on your link building with reputable websites.
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Is another common strategy used by black hat SEOs.
Hidden text is seen less frequently nowadays however as the sites that use them quickly disappear from search results.
Google and other search engines look at the text on a website’s pages in order to work out what the site is all about, some people will add a wall of keyword rich text to the page in order to give the search engine more content to read.
Unfortunately, this leads to problems with readability, so black hat SEOs hide it by placing it off the page or changing the font colour to the same as the background.
Google has since wised up to this sort of keyword spam and now understands text readability, using it as a ranking factor and penalising unnaturally keyword stuffed copy.
A much better approach to website content these days is to spend your time and money writing good keyword rich content that is helpful, optimised well, and is interesting and useful to your audience.
The chances of them staying on your site, sharing your website with others, or recommending you is a lot higher when you play by the rules and offer decent content.
Cloaking is a tactic used to present a different page depending on whether a human or search engine is looking at the site. With cloaking, black hat SEOs can make the page rank highly in Google and then send you to whatever page they want.
Again, this is a similar tactic to hidden text in that it hides what the customer sees from Google.
This used to be more common in the era of flash websites (which are now obsolete and should be updated) but with the world heading towards text and content based websites, cloaking for legitimate means has all but disappeared. It’s now extremely rare that you’ll see a website using cloaking appear in the Google results.
What Makes White Hat Better Than Black Hat?
Firstly, they’re verified by Google, which means if you follow the rules, Google’s next update won’t completely trash your websites ranking. You may need to do a little bit of tweaking to ensure your content is fresh and up to date, but you’ll still rank well.
Not only that, but it works out much better for your website audience as good content is usually received well, meaning you’ll have a lower bounce rate, more inbound links to relevant websites, and you’ll get a larger audience over time as your business grows.
All of this is taken into account when Google ranks your site too, so it’s worth taking the time to do properly.
Perhaps the most important point of all however, it also means you can sleep easy at night knowing that when you wake up the next day, your site will be safe from any Google penalties, something which many black hat SEO companies struggle to achieve.
Oh, and by the way, if you’re worried that your current SEO company might be using Black hat strategies for your rankings, we offer a free website review to all of our new clients so if you can’t tell, we will be able to.
Want to know more about how Google ranks your website? Check out our best-selling SEO book.