The world of SEO has undergone many facelifts in its time, going from the keyword-cramming days of old to what we have today: the sophisticated, tech-savvy optimisation techniques that see businesses climb to the top of search engines.
Yep, it’s been through a lot. And those involved in SEO have become less like tight-lipped sects and more like engaged communities of likeminded individuals.
Back in the day, SEOs used to hoard their ranking secrets away and be super-protective about them. Today? We have hubs like Moz and Inbound.org sharing world-class hints and tips to everyone looking to improve their SEO.
We’re now better at spotting old fashioned SEO hacks that, honestly, should be left in the past. We’ve even given them a name: Black Hat SEO.
If you’re unsure what ‘black hat SEO’ is, let us give you a whistlestop tour.
What is Black Hat SEO?
Black hat SEO is a term used to refer to a set of methods and techniques that increase a site, or page’s rank in search engines and that are also in violation of search conduct. You can see some of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines here.
They’re not just frowned upon, they are illegal. And yet, many continue to carry their practices. A piece of trivia: the term ‘black hat’ came from cowboy films to distinguish the ‘bad guys’ from the ‘good guys’.
Interesting, right? Well, now us SEOs have taken the word for ourselves.
As with everything in life, there’s a light side as well as a dark side. In SEO circles, we call that White Hat SEO.
What is White Hat SEO?
If Black Hat is the little devil on your SEO Manager’s shoulder, White Hat is the angel telling them to play by the rules. White Hat SEO are approved techniques proven to increase ranking potential for businesses.
We’ll run through some of these techniques shortly.
Black Hat techniques to be aware of
We’ve gathered some Black Hat methods that you should be aware of. Often, SEOs will unknowingly step over the mark and violate the guidelines.
Don’t let this be you. Google like to make examples of underhand techniques - and, they penalise heavy!
Here’s what you can look out for.
Optimising for irrelevant keywords
SEO is all about helping searchers find what they’re looking for, and having your business ready and waiting to serve relevant content.
What happens when you optimise for keywords that have no relevance to your content is that Google finds it to be irrelevant and will penalise.
You want to guide your readers the right way, not lure them in with keywords that have little to do with the content in question.
Essentially, a doorway page is a ‘fake’ page that have keywords crammed into them that, as a result, make it easier found by search engines. Often, these pages have little cogent content on there and instead link to separate pages.
Similar to doorway pages, cloaking is the illicit act of creating one impression for visitors, and a totally different one for search engines. This split demonstrates how optimisation can lead the visitor down one avenue while ‘telling’ search engines to go down another.
SEOs do this to deceive search engines so they display a URL that wouldn’t have otherwise been displayed.
Invisible text and links
Hidden, invisible links are often strategically placed into webpages for the sole purpose of building links and increasing rank. Of course, these links are illegitimate, and will get you in deep, deep trouble.
Page swapping, where SEOs get a web page indexed, ranked and then change the page entirely has come under fire on countless occasions.
Again, it deceives search intent and will lead to being penalised.
White Hat techniques you should definitely follow
We’ve explained Black Hat techniques now - you’ve worn the hat and didn’t like it one bit (we hope). Now, it’s time to don the angelic lily-white crown that is White Hat SEO. Wear it with pride SEOs, wear it with pride.
Here are some White Hat techniques that you should scribble down into your little notebooks and implement immediately.
Prioritise User Experience (UX)
According to a recent study from the Oxford Journal: “the goal of user experience design in industry is to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty through the utility, ease of use, and pleasure provided with a product”.
In terms of White Hat SEO, the goal is to then better understand a user’s intent and answer that with seamless, smooth navigation.
This is a somewhat obvious tip, but it is integral to positive web experience.
Thorough keyword research
Good, thorough keyword research will always be a priority for SEOs worth their salt. It’s all about being armed with enough information, relevant and precise, with which you can target keywords and be found by searchers.
If you’re looking to drive conversion, good use of CTAs are your best bet. They give visitors clear indication as to how they can make good on your website’s service and become a returning customer.
As opposed to link farming (another black hat technique to be wary of), proper and legitimate inbound links are one of the best ways of building authority for your site.
Getting linked to by an authoritative site is a great way of building your own credibility and creating content that your industry notices.
Getting into trouble with Google is not worth it! It can take months upon months for your site to recover, and in that time anything could happen.