Rob Swystun, Pristine Advisers
We all love a cheesy Hollywood movie once in a while, right? I’m talking about the kind where the word “ambiguous” doesn’t exist and everything is laid out for you in neat little categories with the good guys wearing the white hats and the bad guys wearing the black hats. (Actually, come to think of it, that describes pretty much every Hollywood movie.)
But out in the real world, where things aren’t dumbed down for people to point of spoon feeding, you rarely have those kinds of definitive categories for good guys and bad guys.
But search engine optimization (SEO) is an exception and, as crisis management expert Melissa Agnes points out, firms looking to get their websites higher up in the search engine rankings need to avoid black hat tactics (the bad guy stuff) and concentrate on white hat tactics (the good guy stuff).
Black hat SEO tactics utilize what search engines deem to be illegal tricks and SEO techniques to try and fool search engines into vaulting a website to the top of search rankings.
White hat SEO techniques are the long-term SEO strategies that meet the search engine’s criteria for increasing a website’s search engine rankings. They’re the legit way to gain a higher ranking in the results pages.
So-called black hat SEO tactics will get your site higher in the rankings, but only temporarily and at the risk of being black-balled from a search engine. Google, for one, is always updating its algorithms for ranking websites to try and catch organizations that use these black hat tactics.
But many of the organizations using these tactics are shady businesses that claim to specialize in SEO and charge legit businesses for their services. The legit businesses that pay for these SEO services enter into the agreement thinking they’re going to get a valid service, but only end up with a ruined reputation and can actually get dropped from search listings altogether.
So, what are some of these black hat practices that shady “SEO specialists” use?
This is when you stuff keywords related to your business into your website’s pages via:
- Hiding the keywords within the website’s source code like meta tags, meta descriptions, comment tags and other behind-the-scenes areas.
- Over-using targeted keywords in the content of your website (this is fairly easy to spot, as it makes the content sound unnatural).
- Hiding your targeted keywords on your website in a way that is invisible to viewers, but visible to a search engine’s crawlers. This can entail putting the keywords on pages but making them the same color as the background so only the crawlers can read them.
These pages are created solely for search engines. Visitors to your website won’t even see these pages or be able to view them at all. They will only be accessible to search engine crawlers and will contain an insane amount of your targeted keywords to try and influence search engines.
In addition to keywords, links are how search engines rank your website. Having other websites frequently link to your website tells the search engines that it is relevant, it has value and others think highly of it enough to share its content. Legitimate linking comes from your site being linked to by high-quality, third-party websites whereas link farming is the practice of getting as many websites as possible, regardless of the quality, to link back to your website. In the case of link farming, these sites are usually low-quality, spammy websites and will often not have any relevance to your website at all.
The white hat SEO alternatives
There really is only one thing you need to concentrate on to get both good SEO and high-quality links from reputable websites and that’s to create good content in the form of original, well-written and well-researched articles and blog posts, as well as well-written content on your pages. Don’t focus on keywords or getting links at all costs. Focus on providing top-quality content instead. The better your content, the more likely it will be to attract viewers, get recommendations from people on the web and have other sites link back to it in an organic manner. Remember; if you build it … something something baseball. (That’s right, isn’t it? I’m a little off on my movie references.)
What happens if your organization uses black hat tactics?
If your business is busted using these black hat tactics, it will result in the exact opposite of what you originally set out to do, which means your business will be dropped from search engine rankings and could result in it getting banned from search engines altogether. This is essentially the death knell for your website. If people can’t find it, there is no way they can visit it.
To avoid these black hat tactics (great band name, by the way), the best thing you can do is to avoid working with shady “SEO experts” in the first place. If you are looking for a company to handle your SEO and online reputation management, perform your due diligence by researching any companies you’re thinking of hiring and checking out their reputations and the work they’ve done for others.
- Don’t hire one that has sent you a spam email that offers link building or SEO services.
- Don’t hire one that guarantees high search engine rankings or overnight success. Legitimate SEO is a slow but steady process that comes with no guarantees.
- Get referrals from their past customers. (And fake testimonials on their website don’t count.)
- Perform your own search for the company’s targeted keywords and see how well they perform SEO for their own company. In theory, if they’re any good, they should be near the top, n’est pas?
- And remember the ol’ adage; if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
So hire only the good guys. They’re easy to spot. They’re the ones with the white hats.