For those of us who are not up to date with all of the ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ (SEO) jargon, here is a quick breakdown of what so-called ‘black hat’ and ‘white hat’ SEO techniques are, where and how these are deployed, and why it matters which approach you choose.
Put simply, white hat techniques are ones which fit within the guidelines laid out by search engines such as Google. Conversely, black hat techniques are ones which specifically do not; that is not to say that these methods are illegal (though some are), but may result in your website being removed from Google’s index pages. It is also worthwhile noting that the boundaries for both white and black hat techniques are constantly changing, as the algorithms that search engines use are constantly updated.
Now, if you’re already confused about what SEO is, here is a link to a great website with all sorts of information about Search Engine Optimisation, and yes there is a lot to learn, but even understanding the basics opens up a whole new world of online marketing potential. We highly recommend taking a look.
So let’s start with white hat first. How does it work? What are its advantages?
White hat techniques are frankly the best long-term solution to improving a website’s search engine visibility. This is mostly due to the fact that they don’t breach Google’s rules, meaning you don’t risk having your site removed. Although as already mentioned you should be aware that the ‘best practices’ for SEO are constantly changing, and your techniques would need to be adapted alongside this. To improve the results of your site, you have various options, some of which are listed below:
Quality content: This might sound very obvious, but Google themselves[i] claim that this is a key component to improving your search result ranking. This is principally because search engines aim to provide exposure to the most relevant and appropriate information searched for. By improving your content, you can help boost this.
Create for the consumer: Many black hat techniques create a website optimised for search engine ‘crawlers’ (this is basically a search engine’s way of indexing everything on a given website) rather than for consumers. Indeed, creating for the consumer ensures that Google’s clever algorithms don’t pick up your site as spam, and it has the bonus of improving your content too!
Keywords: Using keywords is perhaps one of the most vital components to successful white hat SEO. However, what is most important here is that these keywords are relevant. If you place spam keywords all over your articles, this would most likely constitute a black hat technique instead. We also highly recommend that you research keywords that are relevant to your field first.
The main attraction to the dark side of SEO, black hat, is that it is fast. Unlike white hat which can take months before you reap the rewards of your hard work, black hat can provide almost instant exposure to searches, albeit coming with a risk of removal.
Hidden content: This is when content is placed on your webpage which is not visible to a consumer, but can be seen by ‘crawlers’ such as an HTML comment tag (a line of code which is intended to describe that particular section of code, visible only to developers <! — a comment line example →). This can allow a black hat user to hide keywords all over a webpage. This sort of black hat technique is being heavily clamped down on by Google, so beware!
Link farming: This occurs when a web page has the only purpose of increasing the link traffic to another site in a group by increasing the number of incoming links[ii] (essentially link spamming).
Metadata stuffing: Normally, metadata keywords[iii] are located in the <head> element of a webpage, and are meant to contain an accurate description of what this given site is about. However, black hatters can actually ‘stuff’ this HTML element with incorrect or bloated data which helps raise the profile of the website in a search engine list.
In an effort to keep this article concise we have opted to give only three examples of each type of SEO technique, but you should be aware that there are countless others which can be deployed. If you want even more examples of black hat and white hat methods, check out this awesome infographic here.
What is also worth noting here is why you should use one technique over the other. We would certainly recommend sticking to using white hat techniques. Whilst they are certainly slower in gaining the exposure that black hat methods might offer swiftly, the short-term benefits do not outweigh the cons here.
Let’s say that you use all of the black hat techniques mentioned above as well as a handful of others to gain some quick popularity and traffic towards your site or product. Great, for a month maybe you suddenly shoot up the list of search results. You may even make a quick buck or two. However, if, and most likely when, you get caught the results can be devastating. Google (and/or other search engines) will probably remove your site from their index altogether. This now means you’ve wasted all your hard work creating the website, as well as all of that time using black hat methods. On the other hand, a successfully executed white hat technique is much more like a small investment in a stock. It probably won’t pay off immediately, but if you have researched and chosen wisely, then in a few months or maybe a year later you will reap the rewards!
About the author:
Lucas Bainbridge is a regular contributor to our blog. He is currently studying Geography at UCL, and has written about areas including sustainable development projects, SEO, new technology and start-ups. He is constantly expanding his portfolio and has been writing for a number of years.