Although it has only been a few years since Internet usage has seen wider integration into people’s lives, the practice of search engine optimization or SEO has been carried out for more than a decade.
With its history, SEO practitioners have devised many methods to get websites ranking at the top of search engines. These methods fall under two major categories – “white hat” SEO and “black hat” SEO. These two “hats” are separated by their ethical legitimacy in how they boost a website’s visibility.
White Hat SEO
White hat SEO uses strategies, which comply with the guidelines set out by search engines, mainly Google. White hat strategies include
(1) creating quality content that people will want to view,
(2) making key adjustments to a website’s structure, and
(3) establishing links with other relevant websites built through organic relationships. Executing such strategies will not produce results in search engines immediately, but the positive effects which will manifest in the long run will be more sustainable.
The clients that white hat SEO practitioners service enjoy long-term rewards from highly optimized websites that receive frequent visits from a dedicated user base, as well as from other sources connected to their niche. Their brand will gain more recognition online, and their credibility will be cemented through the fresh content they produce and the number of websites constantly and naturally linking to them.
Black Hat SEO
Black hat SEO employs techniques that exploit search engines’ algorithms, taking no heed whatsoever of their guidelines. Examples of such techniques are keyword stuffing, duplicating content and participating in link farms. Most of the time the quality of the website itself will be severely lacking, as black hat practitioners only focus on fooling search engines and not on delivering a good experience for actual human visitors.
Using these black hat SEO tricks can provide a significant increase in search engine rankings, but only temporarily. Companies running search engines have developed ways to recognize anomalies in a website, making search engines ignore these websites instead of rewarding them with high rankings. These websites are also penalized depending on the severity of the infraction. They either experience a great fall in their rankings or get banned altogether, making them virtually invisible to the average Internet user.
Grey Hat SEO
In between white and black hat SEO is grey hat SEO, which toes the line of ethical methods. It takes advantage of loopholes in the guidelines so as to game the system without breaking the rules outright. Cloaking or displaying content different to search engines and human visitors, buying links, and borderline keyword stuffing are just a few examples of grey hat SEO.
Cloaking can be necessary for some websites with complex coding that humans don’t need to see but search engines do. Buying links for a quick surge in rankings is frowned upon, but buying links for advertising is legitimate. Inserting multiple keywords in one page up to a point before it is considered spam can still look unappealing for people, but search engines won’t immediately notice.
Search engine developers look down on such methods as they still see it as manipulative. Websites that exercise grey hat SEO techniques run the risk of getting penalized, especially if their owners can’t provide reasonable arguments for applying them.
The Reality of White Hat SEO Implementation
With the previously stated definitions for each SEO “hat”, it might seem obvious that white hat SEO is the only kind of SEO that should be pursued. It brings in genuine popularity to a website and guarantees continued results if done correctly. However, it does face real problems that can prove disastrous to even the most honest SEO specialists in the industry today.
Start-up Problems with Extreme Niche Websites
The adage “content is king” still contains some level of truth to it, as good content will more likely attract attention from people and be followed soon by search engines. However, content for websites that cater to a particularly small audience with topics such as credit card debt relief or DIY pipe furniture, no matter how good, will not gain much traction compared to more “interesting” topics like app development for mobile devices or console gaming.
This is much more apparent for start-up websites in those niches. A common white hat advice is to leverage social media, but chances are just as slim trying to get content from such niche markets to spread throughout social networks. Methods such as mass sending articles advertising the company itself through directories and paid press releases are viewed by some white hat SEO practitioners as out of bounds due to their monetary nature.
More established websites with authority can also simply spin the fresh content created by the new website. Search engines will favor them instead of the start-ups, thinking the former were the original producers and even penalizing the latter. This leaves business owners new to the Internet at a loss on how to get a good and legitimate search engine ranking.
Unnatural External Links
Getting other websites to link to one’s own is crucial to attaining a high search engine ranking, but the process has to come naturally for them to matter. In the beginning, getting links requires plenty of work through building a relationship with other webmasters but later on, other websites will just give links if that certain website has enough credibility. This can’t be controlled all the time.
Unfortunately, there are ways for the competition to sabotage another website through bought links and similar sounding domain names linking to the targeted business’ website. Google will penalize that website for having those unnatural external links even if it was not the intention of the webmaster.
The Defense for White Hat SEO
The previous points are serious issues that both white hat SEO specialists and search engine developers need to address. However, the benefits of following ethical methods still outweigh the costs especially when compared to the dangers of black and grey hat techniques.
First and foremost, white hat SEO specialists do not have to constantly worry about getting caught by search engines and getting their clients’ websites penalized. This lets them focus on building good websites that will last and continue to provide business to companies online for years, instead of figuring out ways to hide one’s tracks. The websites they build will also have a strong foundation, weathering any updates in search engines’ algorithms.
The money and effort poured in by black hat SEO practitioners jumping from one temporary website to another while avoiding search engine penalties might as well be put to better use into long-term investments.
In a nutshell, the best way to optimize your website is by focusing on the readers, and not on search engines. By creating content that readers will want to read and share instead of manipulating your site for search engine spiders, you’re sure to generate organic traffic that search engine companies are sure to recognize. Needless to say, the best way to do that is through white hat SEO.