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Practicing SEO requires you to make many decisions each day—but the most foundational decision you make is this: Will you engage in white hat SEO practices, or black hat? Or, to put it differently, will you be one of the good guys, or will you choose instead to be an outlaw?
We’re exaggerating, but only slightly. Search engine optimization really does fall into these two basic categories, white hat and black hat, and the distinction between the two of them is considerable. In a nutshell, white hat SEO involves practices that are endorsed by Google itself; the white hat SEO practitioner believes Google to be an ally, not an enemy. Black hat SEO, meanwhile, bends or even breaks some of Google’s stated rules and regulations.
Understanding Black Hat SEO
When you practice SEO, you have to pick one of these two camps, whether you’re cognizant of it or not. As such, it’s critical to understand them, in both their strengths and their drawbacks. We’ll start with black hat SEO, which relies on rule-breaking techniques that might include any or all of the following.
Using unrelated keywords. If you’re writing a blog about plumbing techniques, and you throw in keywords like Beyonce or George Clooney just to try to juice your rankings, that’s a signifier that you’re not really trying to offer valuable content to the reader; rather, you’re just trying to lay bait for the search engine algorithms.
Doorway pages. A doorway page may be loaded with keywords to draw search engine attention, but when you visit the page, it redirects you to another page altogether—likely one that has nothing to do with the doorway page itself.
Invisible text and invisible links. Including keywords or links that only the search engine can see is a prime example of black hat SEO—offering no real value to the reader, but essentially trying to trick Google’s algorithms.
These are just three examples among many, yet they provide a good insight into what black hat SEO is all about. Remember that Google wants to provide its customers (search engine users) with a quality product (relevant and value-adding search engine results), and its rules are in place to promote this reader-first mentality. Black hat SEO tries to circumvent this and ditch the reader’s best interests altogether, all in pursuit of quick and easy rankings.
To be fair: Sometimes, these black hat strategies work. They only work temporarily, though. It’s very difficult to outsmart Google, and sooner or later, these duplicitous techniques are exposed. When that happens, it can result in search engine penalties—which means it is actually counterproductive in the long run.
Understanding White Hat SEO
The alternative, of course, is white hat SEO—and though it requires hard work and may not offer as rapid results, it’s ultimately a more viable and lasting way to achieve rankings.
White hat techniques are all about playing by Google’s rules—and that means caring about the value you’re offering to content consumers, not just the rankings you stand to gain from the algorithms. Here are a few of the hallmarks of white hat SEO:
Quality content. White hat SEO can really be boiled down to this—providing content of real substance and value, content that answers the reader’s inquiries and is worthy of being shared or linked.
Judicious keyword use. White hat SEO doesn’t have room for keyword stuffing or manipulation, but it does have plenty of space for well-researched keywords that actually enhance the content in question.
Earned backlinks. When relevant sites and blogs link back to your content, that suggests to the reader (and to the search engine algorithms) that the content is high-quality and trustworthy. Note that these links must be earned; paid backlinks fall under black hat practices.
Internal links. Linking within your website is another important way of showing that your content has relevance and value, so long as you don’t overdo it.
Meta descriptions. A meta description lets the search engine and the reader know, basically, what your content is about. Relevant meta descriptions can include keywords, but should also offer accurate and helpful summaries of your content.
The Choice Between White Hat and Black Hat SEO
Both schools of SEO are ultimately pointed toward the same goal. They are both ways of achieving greater visibility on the Google search engine results page. However, they differ in both their methodologies and their outcomes.
Black hat SEO has some real advantages that should not be discounted. It’s the best way to get a big increase in traffic quickly. However, Google has become more and more sophisticated at sniffing out illegitimate SEO, and its penalties are increasingly severe. As such, black hat SEO is a short-sighted approach, and not one that we can ultimately recommend.
Practicing white hat SEO, meanwhile, may mean that it takes a little bit longer to see results. That can be frustrating, but remember that successful SEO is ultimately about proving that you can offer reliable and relevant content to human readers—and that’s just not a process that can be rushed. The upside is that white hat SEO practices tend to have longer-lasting results—and if you are willing to play by Google’s rules, you can expect to be rewarded for it eventually.
Ultimately, the marketer must choose which approach to take, and there’s not much middle ground. Keeping within the confines of white hat SEO may require you to enlist the services to an experienced SEO firm—and that’s where enCOMPASS Agency comes into play. We’d love to chat with you about the best practices for improving your search rankings—not just now, but in the long term. Reach out to enCOMPASS to learn more.