SEO is crucial to succeeding online. You have a website, and you want potential customers to find you instead of your competitors. You’ll need an SEO strategy to get your site ranked on search engines. Unfortunately, it gets more complicated after that.
Just like in Star Wars, there’s a dark side of SEO and a light side. The dark side possesses great power, but that power does not last, and eventually corrupts those that succumb to it. [Dramatic music plays]
Not all SEO practices are good for your site, and some are so harmful to your site that you could be banned from search engines entirely!
What Do the Hats Mean?
SEO practices are sorted into three main categories: white hat, gray hat, and black hat:
- White hat SEO is approved by Google and will help you rank higher. This is the “light side” of SEO.
- Gray hat SEO is made up of practices that don’t technically break any guidelines but are questionable at best.
- Finally, black hat SEO is made up of techniques that will negatively affect your website and could lead to being removed from Google entirely. This is the “dark side” of SEO.
So why does this matter?
Let me tell you the story of Bob. Bob just started a business, and he’s really happy with it! Everything is going well, but his website isn’t getting the kind of results he was expecting.
Bob decides to look into some ways to market his business and discovers SEO. The problem is that all the SEO services are out of his price range. But then Bob gets an email from a man saying he can get Bob’s website to the front page of Google within a few weeks, and for a lot less than all the other digital marketing companies.
Bob is super excited by this and hires the guy on the spot. And it’s true, within a few weeks, Bob’s website is on the top of Google, and he’s getting a ton of business! But it doesn’t last… In a few more weeks, he notices that his business has slowed down dramatically. He checks Google and his website doesn’t even appear anymore!
Frustrated, Bob emails the SEO guy and asks what’s going on. There’s no answer. The man Bob hired was using black hat SEO techniques, and although they provided a temporary boost to business, it’s done more harm than good.
As a result of the black hat SEO, Bob’s website will never be listed on Google anymore. His business is done for.
Why am I telling you this? Because I don’t want you to be like Bob. I want your business to flourish and grow, and that’s not going to happen with black hat SEO.
Putting It in Context
As search engines have evolved over time, they have gotten much smarter about how to read content. The goal of a search engine is to provide you with the most relevant results for your search.
Search engine web crawlers go through page content and determine what each page is talking about, and what queries to display each page under.
In the early days of search engines, website creators tried to game the system through what are now considered black hat techniques, which include: stuffing keywords, link farming, hidden text/links, duplicated content, and blog content spamming.
Black hat SEO is not concerned with the quality of the content, or the impact on the reader, the only goal is to manipulate search engine results. Nowadays, search engines can and do punish sites that are writing content for web crawlers instead of people.
Black hat SEO is a short-sighted, short-term investment that will hurt a site in the long run.
It’s worth mentioning that gray hat SEO practices, while not specifically banned by Google, are not worth risking your site over. Stick to techniques that are approved and within guidelines. What is considered gray hat today may be black hat tomorrow. It’s important to think long-term and use methods that won’t come back to bite you.
Creating Quality SEO Content
The best way to boost your site’s search engine ranking is simple: Create quality content that helps people.
If a reader is looking for the answer to a question, make sure you answer it fully. If a reader needs some information, give them what they need.
Think about what sort of searches would lead a person to your content, and how to best address their search query.
This is why all white hat SEO practices are aimed at making it easier for users to find relevant content: quality writing, structured data, meta descriptions, etc.
Consistently creating and posting quality content with the proper white hat optimizations is what will get you more traffic in the long run.
Over time, Google’s SEO algorithm has continually improved. This is the focus of their algorithm: “whoever serves people the best will rank the highest.” User experience is the key. SEO is all about making results better for users.
Ask yourself the question, “How can I serve better?” SEO is really about serving people.
And remember: If you give, it will come back to you.
Wrapping It All Up
Black hat SEO is a short-term strategy focused on crawlers that may or may not provide some limited benefits until your site eventually gets blacklisted and removed from search engines. These techniques include:
- Stuffing keywords
- Link farming
- Hidden text/links
- Duplicated content
- Blog content spamming
White hat SEO is the Google-approved strategy focused on human-readable content for improving your ranking in search engines and will have lasting effects that will continue to generate traffic. These techniques include:
- Relevant keyword usage
- Link building
- Creating great content for humans, not web crawlers
- Improving website user experience
The choice is pretty clear, and while white hat content requires much more effort, the results will be well worth it.