When discussing SEO, two terms commonly get used to determine the quality of works being implemented. These terms are known as White Hat / Black Hat techniques and play a role in helping you avoid penalties from breaking search engine rules.
Black hat tactics try to outsmart the search engines and sometimes provide quick results, making them appealing to some. The risk associated with black hat tactics is severe if caught by search engines, as they can penalise and remove sites from search results. Google and other search engines constantly update their algorithms to try and uncover these tactics to ensure their results maintain the highest quality for users.
White hat techniques differ from their deceptive counterpart as they offer SEO options that do not trick search engines and have little to no risk of being penalised or removed from search results. By ensuring your SEO utilises white hat techniques, your site will see properly sustained growth and improvements in rankings over time without risking authority.
What are some black hat tactics?
As mentioned above, any SEO attempting to trick search engines is considered a black hat tactic. These tactics aim to trick the search engines to believe a site is more important and trustworthy than it is.
By tricking search engines, sites that aren’t relevant to user searches can rank at the top while being irrelevant to the search and making the overall user experience poor. Misleading results are the exact opposite of Google’s primary goal: to provide the best search results to users. This is why search engines are so strict with sites that attempt to manipulate the search results.
Even though the risks are extreme and Google has made a clear stance against black hat tactics, many people and agencies still think they can outsmart search engines. One of the best things you can do for your site is avoiding these tactics and agencies, as they could potentially cause major harm and permanently damage your site’s future growth.
Some SEO tactics that are considered black hat but still commonly seen on websites include:
Keyword stuffing is when a site spams its tags and content with an unnatural number of keywords that users would not naturally write and read. The goal of this is to attempt to rank higher for a specific keyword by using them as many times as possible, typically within the content on the site.
An example could be: “White Hat vs Black Hat | Black Hat SEO | White Hat SEO | SEO”
This title attempts to make search engines rank higher for White and black hat SEO. This, however, does not read well, as it has little regard for grammar or integrity for the users.
Another extreme method of keyword stuffing is when some sites have large volumes of keywords repeating throughout the main content on a page.
Hidden content typically works hand in hand with keyword stuffing. This is done by using tags to make content invisible to users and trick search engines to think it’s part of the site’s main content. Stuffing keywords into part of the site’s code is one example of how people do this. Some developers will also attempt to hide spam content with tags that make the content invisible to users throughout the page.
Bad paid links
While having links point back to a site with relevant anchor text helps increase a site’s SEO, there are specific guidelines to avoid getting flagged and penalised. If Google finds out the links to your page are not genuinely made for relevant information, it will be considered manipulative and black hat because of the payment.
One of the riskiest paid links to a site comes from spammy directories and exist to make money from linking to customers websites. Over time, Google has increased the likelihood of penalisation for the association to these directories, as they are not organic.
On the flip side, useful, relevant, and insightful links to visitors will always benefit and help a site’s overall visibility. This is the white hat method for link building.
What are the penalties for black hat practices?
It’s the goal of search engines to offer the best and most relevant search results to users. Sites utilising black hat methods could ultimately lead to a poor experience, so search engines strike extra hard on these sites to maintain quality. Google penalises sites by either removing the page or potentially the entire site from search results for either specific searches or even the whole search index.
A real-world example of this occurring is the website Rap Genius during 2014. Google caught wind of the site offering bloggers promotional placement if they made several spammy links back to the lyric website. Once caught, they disappeared from search results. They were penalised so harshly by the search provider they no longer ranked for many of their original placements and did not even rank on the first page for their own name, “Rap Genius.”
If a site corrects its black hat practices, Google will begin to take away penalties. There is still a high chance that a site will never reach the original position it once achieved. It’s said that Rap Genius lost over 700,000 daily site visitors due to the penalty from Google.
White hat SEO techniques
Countering the shady tactics of black hat SEO, white hat techniques attempt to work with search engines and the guidelines for their algorithms. These methods are updated constantly to ensure websites meet the requirements for search engines and avoid breaking any rules and penalisation.
Another main difference between white hat and black hat SEO practices is that white hat techniques help rank a site higher, but it typically elevates a user’s experience. Some recommended white hat techniques are:
Quality content writing
Search engines find it essential to send users to websites with good quality, relevant and well-researched content. Suppose your site contains information relevant to your topic while showing high quality and expertise on the subject. In that case, search engines will see it as valuable and reward you by ranking you higher in search results.
Good SEO agencies can help create content that is relevant, informative, and high quality. This content can also contain specific industry tactics that are not spammy to increase your chances of ranking high on Google.
While It may be damaging to stuff keywords within your site, keywords play a vital role in a site’s SEO. Good agencies have tools to help see how many people are searching for topics related to your site and what keywords are appearing in these searches. They can then implement these keywords on your site to help more users find your content and let search engines see if your content is relevant to these searches that are not deceiving and spammy.
Good web design
If a site is functional and easy to use, it will be more likely to rank higher in search results. This is because Google and other search engines place high importance on user experience. There are many ways to achieve a better user experience on your site. From internal linking, precise coding, structural markup to more straightforward navigation, these methods help your site provide an elevated user experience and potentially rank higher in search results.
The main thing to take from this article is the importance of choosing white hat SEO tactics and avoiding potential pitfalls. These tactics will help not only help your site rank better and lead to a site that is overall designed better and will avoid penalties from search engines. While it may take more time, technical knowledge, and even imagination to implement white hat techniques than black hat ones, it will ultimately pay off down the road and lead to a better site and rankings.