Search engine optimisation, as with all things in life has a good, wholesome, fair and right way of doing things and a bad, unfair, downright naughty way of doing things. To describe the two SEO methodologies the terms “White Hat” and “Black Hat” SEO were coined.
We sit very firmly in the white hat camp believing that while black hat SEO techniques might have some short term positive effect, the long term implications can be disastrous for your website and in turn your business.
In this article we’ll examine the top 5 black hat SEO techniques in a bid to help you determine whether the SEO firm you’re currently using are potentially compromising your business website. Then we’ll examine the top 5 white hat SEO techniques that we believe will have a positive effect on your search position without putting your business website at risk.
Top 5 Black Hat SEO Techniques
1. Hidden Content
Top of our list of black hat SEO techniques is hidden content. Hidden content comes in many guises but the basic principle is that within the code for the site there will be content stuffed with keywords, this content will not be visible to the end user of the site.
One way of doing this is by using comment tags.
Comment tags look like this;
<!– Comment Tag –>
The real purpose of comment tags is for developers to add in useful reminders within their code explaining what that piece of code does.
Here’s an example of the comment tag being used correctly,
<!– Start of the Main Content –>
Here’s an example of a comment tag being used incorrectly in a bid to promote a hypothetical page targeting search engine optimisation,
<!—Search engine optimisation, SEO, professional search engine optimisation company, spamming search engines –->
Another popular way of hiding content is the use of the <noscript> tag. The <noscript> tag should be used to inform a user that a script is being used but their browser either doesn’t support the script
language used or they have that function turned off.
Here’s an example of the <noscript> tag being used correctly,
<!– document.write(“Hello World!”) //–>
Here’s an example of the <noscript> tag being used as a black hat SEO technique again in a bid to promote a hypothetical page but this time targeting car hire,
Imaginary Car Hire Firm do Car Hire which is very affordable so if you want to hire a car call our car hire firm because we are the best car hire firm in the world
Other HMTL tags misused in similar ways include the <noframes> tag and hidden inputs in forms.
Content can also be hidden from the end user by using CSS, excessively small text and coloured text on the same coloured background.
All of these techniques are frowned upon by search engines and if detected can mean your website will be penalised or even banned. To the untrained eye it can be very difficult to spot the use of some of these techniques which is why we offer a free website MOT test at PushON.
2. Meta Keyword Stuffing
There are two Meta tags that are generally used to inform search engines of the content on the page. They reside between the <head> tag of a page and when used incorrectly they can alert a search engine that a site is using spam techniques in an attempt to improve its ranking.
The meta description should be used to describe the content of your page honestly and concisely and be 1 or 2 sentences, 3 at most.
Here’s an example of the meta description being used in the correct manner,
<meta name=”description” content=”PushON are an Online Marketing agency providing a full range of digital marketing services throughout Greater Manchester and the North West UK. If you need Search Engine marketing (SEM), Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) or Pay per Click (PPC), we can help you. Contact us now.” />
Here’s an example of the meta description tag being used incorrectly for a page promoting a restaurant called “MadeUp”,
<meta name=”description” content=”MadeUp restaurant website is the best MadeUp restaurant website, our restaurant is better than any restaurant,great restaurant,best food restaurant,visit our restaurant” />
3. Meta Keywords
Meta Keywords should be a short list of words that inform of the main focus of the page. Meta keywords have been so misused in the past that there are few if any search engines that take any heed of them.
Here’s an example of the meta keywords being used in the correct manner,
<meta name=”Keywords” content=”Online marketing, digital marketing, search marketing, search engine marketing, e-mail marketing, SEO” />
Here’s an example of the meta keywords tag being used incorrectly for a page promoting a restaurant called “MadeUp”,
<meta name=”keywords” content=”Restaurant,restaurants,food,feed,take away food,fast food,junk food,eat,eating out,dinner,dining,meal,eating,MadeUp,steak and chips,chicken and chips,pie and chips,pudding,desert,big restaurant,small restaurant,best restaurant,great restaurant, exclusive restaurant,cocktails,wine,drink,pizza,sandwhiches”>
4. Doorway or Gateway Pages
Doorway or Gateway pages are pages designed for search engines and not for the end user. They are basically fake pages that are stuffed with content and highly optimised for 1 or 2 keywords that link to a target or landing page. The end user never sees these pages because they are automatically redirected to the target page.
Off-the-shelf SEO software often encourages the use of gateway pages as do SEO firms that don’t know what they’re talking about. Search engine spiders are being enhanced continually to detect these pages and will get ignored or worse still, flag your site up as being spam and ban you all together.
5. Link Farming
In the real world if you were to build your house in a bad neighbour hood then your house would be affected by its surroundings. The same is true of the virtual world. Link farms or free for all (FFA) pages have no other purposes than to list links of unrelated websites. They won’t provide you with any traffic and you run the risk of having your site banned for participating. Don’t participate in link farming.
Top 5 White Hat SEO Techniques
1. Quality Content
When we first started looking at SEO as a separate entity to website build there was one phrase that we would continually hear, “content is King”, and it’s true. There is nothing more valuable you can do to optimise your site for search engines than offer unique well written content. A search engines aim is to serve up what it believes to be the most appropriate website for any given search to the end user.
Imagine we are the end user and we are searching for a portable air conditioner for hire. We go to our favourite search engine and search for the phrase “portable air conditioner hire”. In this imaginary scenario let’s assume there are only 2 websites that target that phrase,
Website 1 consists of a single page with 3 paragraphs of text. The text tells us that the company does portable air conditioning hire and give us a phone number to call.
Website 2 contains 30 plus pages all focusing on various portable air conditioning units that we can hire, costs and technical explanations of how portable air conditioning units work.
Which website do you think the search engine is likely to offer to the user first? It’s a rather obvious example but it illustrates the importance of good content so your priority should be good quality content.
2. Use Structural (Semantic) Mark Up and Separate Content from Presentation
Semantically structuring your mark up helps search engines understand the content of your webpage which is of course a good thing. Making proper use of heading elements is essential because search engines give more weight
to the content within the heading elements.
Using CSS to separate the design elements from the content makes for much leaner code and makes it easier for search engines to find what they’re looking for, which is content. Remember content is king!
3. Titles and Meta Data
Providing pages with proper titles and meta data is essential. As discussed in the top 5 black hat SEO techniques section the meta description and meta keywords elements have been so misused in the past that Search
Engines now regard them as less important, it’s still important to use them and use them properly. Titles however still carry a lot of weight and when we think of semantic mark up it is obvious why. The title of anything is a declaration as to what the content might be, so make sure your page titles are a true representation of the content of the page.
4. Keyword Research and Effective Keyword Use
Create your website with keywords and key phrases in mind. Research keywords and key phrases you think people might use to find your site. Single words are not always the most effective target, try multi-word phrases that are much more specific to your product/service and you’ll be targeting end users that are much more likely to want what you are offering.
Use the keywords and key phrases you’ve identified effectively throughout your website. Assign each page 2-3 of the keywords you’ve identified and use the keywords throughout all the important elements of the page. Those are,
- Meta Description
- Meta Keywords
- Heading Elements
- Alt Tag
- Title Tag
5. Quality Inbound Links
Having inbound links to your website can be likened to having a vote for the good but there are good links and bad links so therefore votes for the good and votes that are bad. Good links are links from other web pages
that are regarded highly by the search engines and are contextually relevant to the content of your page. Bad links are links from web pages that aren’t regarded highly or potentially banned by search engines and have no relevance to the content of your page.
Imagine we have a website that sells telephones.
Link A: Link on the homepage of the British Telecoms website. = Good
Link B: Link on John Smiths Beer and Ale appreciation links page = Bad
The amount of quality inbound links to your site therefore have some relevance on how high up the search engine your site is placed. When sourcing links you should be thinking of quality over quantity and deep linking to pages within your website not just the home page.
To the untrained eye, identifying if your site is potentially at risk.
In the world of Search Engine Optimization, there are a wide variety of techniques out there that people and companies use. While there is a safe way of doing things in SEO, there also is a risky way, which is forbidden by Google.This risky way of doing search engine optimization is referred to as black hat SEO, in which certain techniques are used to gain higher rankings by breaking the search engine rules.
For all the SEO beginners out there, black hat SEO techniques refer to practices that are used to get higher rankings in an unethical manner. These techniques are strictly technical, which Google disapproves, and if they catch a site using these methods, the site is penalized. Black hat SEO also generally focuses only on search engines and not so much a human audience.
Black hat SEO was used, and still is being used by those who want to gain results quickly. There are many risks involved when using black hat SEO techniques. Some of these risks include penalties from Google, the site being banned from the search engines or become excluded from the SERPs. Algorithm updates from Panda and Penguin are the main causes of the latest penalties that have occurred when Google discovered that black hat SEO methods were used. A site can be hit with manual penalties as well as algorithmic downgrades at the same time.
Black Hat Techniques and Why You Should Avoid Them
Keyword stuffing is the practice of filling a web page with keywords or numbers so that the search engine will think the page is relevant to the search. Usually these keywords are irrelevant to the actual site. Sometimes these keywords are hidden so that they are not seen by the user, but are still scanned by the search engine. Keyword stuffing can result in poor user experience and ultimately harm your site’s ranking.
Cloaking refers to the technique of showing different content to crawlers than that of what you show to your users. One form of cloaking is using various keywords, titles, and descriptions that are entirely different from what your actual content is really about. There is a high chance that if a search engine determines that the site is cloaking, it will be banned.
Link farms are a group of websites that use hyperlinks to connect with one another for the pure interest of trying to increase their rankings. These links ultimately won’t provide any traffic to your site, but are used to trick the search engine into seeing that the site links to many other sites. This method could be used because based on the amount of links and their quality, the search engines can calculate the popularity of your web page thus, it’s position in rankings on the search engine result page.
Link Buying and Link Exchange Programs
Link buying is the act of purchasing links from another site to give you a link to your website in order to get a link to your website. These links are intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google so it appears higher. Link exchange programs are programs where one can exchange links with others. Excessive link exchanging is forbidden by Google.
Article spinning is a technique in which website owners post a unique version of relevant content on their site by rewriting existing articles and replacing parts for a slightly different perspective on the topic. Article spinning reduces the quality of the original article no matter how it is done. Article spinning also limits the places that you can put your articles in the future.
Doorway pages are where you spam the index of search engines to catch visitors using a page of no real value, which then redirects the user to a completely different page. Doorway pages are created to be visible to only specific search engines and their crawlers with the purpose of deceiving the search engine into giving the site higher rankings.
Although these methods can help you get a higher ranking in a short period of time, once a search engine discovers that these black hat techniques are being used, it won’t take long until a penalization comes into action. In the long-run, it really may not be worth the risk since the results can be quite destructive to your site. This list doesn’t cover all black hat SEO techniques, but it should be noted that it would be best to avoid these methods. There are many ways to properly improve your website’s position in the search engine results page. Even if it may take some time, the results are long lasting and well worth the wait.