What is White Hat SEO?
What Google and Insiders say about Black Hat SEO, White Hat SEO and Grey Hat SEO?
What is White Hat SEO? Can a site rank only with white hat? Is black hat SEO safe? Which one method suits you best?
First we need to start with the definition of what does SEO stands for.
In search engine optimization (SEO) terminology, white hat SEO is all the techniques and actions needed to rank for a specific keyword in Google and in the other major search engines that comply with the webmasters guidelines of Google.
White Hat SEO has to do with on page optimization for the proper keywords, speed page improvement, user experience optimization, great and unique content creation and finally improving link popularity of a webpage using link baits and attracting links from other websites, rather trying to build links from them.
Needless to say, Google finds any notion of link building as part of Black Hat SEO.
White Hat SEO is more frequently used by those who intend to make a long-term investment on their website. Also called Ethical SEO.
White hat SEO is focused on satisfying the human need for information and better content and fulfils these needs by providing better content and better quality of information, while Black Hat SEO is more search engine driven.
What is Black Hat SEO?
On the opposite direction there are hundreds of SEO tactics that Google finds unethical and forbidden because they try to manipulate the Search Engine Results Pages (aka SERPs) and to outrank the competition by dark SEO methods.
Many of these Black Hat SEO tactics are named and condemned by Google on the Quality quidelines for webmasters.
The most known of these Black Hat SEO shenanigans are:
- Automatically generated content
- Participating in link schemes
- Creating pages with little or no original content
- Sneaky redirects
- Hidden text or links
- Doorway pages
- Scraped content
- Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
- Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
- Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware
- Abusing structured data markup
- Sending automated queries to Google
Any use and abuse of the above techniques can make your website fall victim of a future punishment from Google. These punishments are also know as Google penalties and in many cases can lead to total deindexing of your website of Google’s Search Results for ever.
And believe me after a Google Penalty the road to return back to your previous rankings is very difficult.
Does Google take manual action on webspam?
The head of Google’s Antispam Team or Google’s Quality Team, Matt Cutts confirms that Google takes many times manual action to protect the quality of the search results from manipulation.
Now lets dive deep into the world of what Google considers as Black Hat SEO and elaborate more on this.
Automatically generated content
According to Google, automatically generated content is content that been generated by a software or a computer programme with intention to manipulate search rankings and get you on the first position of Google.
As a matter of fact, Google indexes not simple website urls but the content which is inside a webpage, by saying content we mean the text, the photos, the videos, the podcasts and every other thing such as the infographics.
Content generation which is made artificially can easily help a website to rank for certain keywords without too much effort. It is way much easier to write content with a software or an Artificial Intelligence helper, you can find on the internet, than to write it by yourself.
Which content or text creation Google forbids:
- Text that make no sense to the reader but which may contain search keywords.
- Text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing
- Text generated through automated processes, such as Markov chains
- Text generated using automated synonymizing or obfuscation techniques
- Text generated from scraping Atom/RSS feeds or search results
- Stitching or combining content from different web pages without adding sufficient value
Participating in link schemes
According again to Google, any links with intention to manipulate PageRank or the website ranking on Google search results maybe considered as a link scheme and Black Hat SEO. Google still uses PageRank as a meter of importance and relevance of a website.
Every link passes link juice and PageRank to the linking website. Google feels unprotected from link exchange schemes or link buying schemes and every other backlink creation method that is not natural.
Which are the only natural link building methods?
The first is the blogger outreach, trying to find new blogs to link and the second is to get mentioned by receveing passive backlinks as a result of the great content.
Sounds a bit hard? Hmm it is.
How many times had someone, a completely stranger sent you an email saying that he gave you a link because of your great content? The answer is never. Sometimes it happens that you can gain a link but usually people are not so generous with their time and backlinks.
Google Algorithm relies heavily on link by 70% or more so Google wants to frigthen anyone not to link to any other website in order to use Google Ads which in every case are quite expensive.
Creating pages with little or no original content
Creating pages with thin content is not a good SEO practice and it doesn’t give any value to your clients and potential users of your webpage but also will harm your rankinkg on Google.
Here are a some pages which have thin content with little or no added value:
- Automatically generated content
- Thin affiliate pages
- Content from other sources. For example: scraped content or low-quality guest blog posts
- Doorway pages
Content is a big key ranking factor according to Google and if you see which websites rank on the first pages, usually they have plenty of good quality, well writen content. The average content length of the wining top 10 pages of Google search results are 2.500 words and you have to stick to this length if possible in every page you have on your page.
Notice that every webpage you have on your site is an asset and it is a potential landing page for every new visitor to get to your site and buy something from you, a product or service.
Cloaking is to use other web pages for the users and other web pages for the search engines. Today this does not make any sense. Why someone have two pages for its website? Is this a waste of time?
The answer is yes and definetely it’s not an effective way to rank your site on Google. But on the early days of Google, many webmasters with Flash websites found them out of the search results of Google and they thought it was clever to make a search engine version only to serve Google and make Google rank them higher. Be careful and never use two versions, one for the people and one for the search engines.
There are many kind of redirects, the most common is the 301 redirect, when a webpage or website has moved to a new address and there is a real need to redirect the old domain to the new one.
Sometimes in the past the Black Hat SEO experts discovered that the 301 redirects where transfering PageRank and link juice from one site to another and they used it to manipulate the rankings of this website.
Google considers it as a violation of its Quality Guidelines to show other sites or pages on the search results and to redirect the end user to a total different website.
Hidden text or links
Keyword stuffing is a usual method of having hidden text for the user, but not hidden for the Googlebot to your website. Instead of using and placing the right keywords strategically on the text, you can simply add some hundeds of keywords in the html file making them invisible to the final user.
Some techniques for doing that are:
- Using white text on a white background
- Locating text behind an image
- Using CSS to position text off-screen
- Setting the font size to 0
- Hiding a link by only linking one small character—for example, a hyphen in the middle of a paragraph
The same happens many times with the meta keywords stuffing.
Black Hat SEO specialists where also hiding links with the same manner.
Doorway pages are pages generated to funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site(s). That means you have one main money site and several other websites pointing to it.
Doorway pages can be created automatically by the thousands and can fill a great portion of the SERPs, leaving only a little space for the competition and creating more advertising space for Google.
Content scrapers are computer software programms crawling the internet, finding and stealing content from your website and using it to another website for ranking purposes. The content scraping industry is in a period of booming and every day new websites are being created with no genuine content at all.
Most of the websites today are unprotected from content crapers but there are many things the website owners can do to prevent theri content from getting scraped and stolen. You may find helpful this post.
Google says that punishes and devalues any scraped or stolen content and its own bots can figure out which site is the real source of a post or article.
Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
Affiliate marketing is a huge business, a billion dollar business and every big e-commerce site such as Amazon, Ebay and many other run their own affiliate marketing programms, Today there are thousands of affiliates earning from zero to 7 figure income per month and there are many venues around the world about affiliate marketing and how to succeed.
There are two types of affiliates, the White Hat SEO savvy affiliate who creates content, writes reviews and ads value for the end user and the Black Hat SEO affiliate with quite outdated or not so white methods to rank.
l prefer to be on the first type club, while Google is in a witch hunt taking down many affiliate sites that are not creating value, with thin or no content at all. Many of them are using the exact same product description from the original seller site and exactly the same photos and videos.
Only the affiliates that create their own content and their own videos and review pages are the affiliates that are winning the search game, gathering more traffic and more leads than the average affiliate marketer.
Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
Irrelevant keywords is about stuffing your website with irrelevant information or irrelevant keywords to achieve the optimal keyword density and rank for them. Google says that repeating your keywords in an unnatural way is not good for your users and often results in a lower – not higher, ranking in Google.
l think it is an old school Black Hat SEO technique and keyword stuffing withour any proper content or backlinks cannot help your site rank, remember that Google Algorithm consists of more than 200, or maybe 300 ranking factors and getting in line with all of them needs a more holistic approach.
Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware
This one includes any criminal behaviour from trying to steal passwords, email passwords, hijack facebook accounts or trying to infect the competitor’s websites with viruses and trojan horses in order to make them obsolete or to force Google to deindex them.
Abusing structured data markup
The structured sata markup is a new fruit on the loom. l personally don’t use the structured data markup as it is easier to improve the content of the website than to get into so many technical implications with little gains on the rankings.
Sending automated queries to Google
Sending automated queries consumes resources and includes using any software to send automated queries to Google to determine how a website or webpage ranks in Google search results for various queries.
Automated queries software can harm your ranking simply by consuming resources from Google computing system and resources are valuable.
Which are Google’s White Hat SEO principles?
Google also provides some direct guidelines about what to do in order not to get punished and play safe when your are doing SEO for your website.
The Basic principles are
- Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
- Don’t deceive your users.
- Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
- Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.
- Monitoring your site for hacking and removing hacked content as soon as it appears
- Preventing and removing user-generated spam on your site
Maybe these principles are a bit generall and l could say not enough for a SEO beginer to start doing SEO for his or her website. l thought it would be very helpfull to explain to you further what are the above 6 SEO principles.
Let’s start with the first principle.
Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines
This principle is a common ground to every SEO community site and every SEO savvy person and the truth is that every new website should be have unique and outstanding content for the end user that will cover a need on the market that now is not covered properly from the website that still is online.
The first question to answer before starting building a website or an eshop is:
Is there an information need or a gap in a specific market niche that l can fill cheaper, better and faster than my competitors? The same logic is behind every marketing strategy and it is the same when designing a new product or a new service.
Your product or service in terms of SEO is the valuable and new content or the differentiated information the final user is searching and cannot finding on the web.
Remember success is just a few inches apart from failure and the little more or the little different is what makes the difference.
Don’t deceive your users
Another funny and phony advice is don’t deceive your users. l think Google trys to make it very clear and wants to warn all these people that are using deceptive titles, deceptive information or everything else to take the final click and to make the searchers to click on them.
Rich snippets manipulation to gain clicks is also a not so ethical strategy but still works today.
Also includes all the online bagaponts who want to take your money or something else from you.
Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings
A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
With other words, you managed to outrank the competition, fine, but you have to explain that to a Google employee because Google wants to know how you done it.
Don’t be afraid, Google will never send someone on your door to ask questions like the FBI guys, but they will make manual reviews to your website and see whether it deserves its first position or it is there by tricking the Algorithm and doing Black Hat SEO.
Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field
This is the most difficult part of all, content creation could cost thousands of dollars, endless hours of writing or conducting research on Google or testing products for the end user. And you still haven’t finished yet because you have to present all these information to an outstanding manner.
You must find a way to stand out from the other in yor field. A good example of this is the Dollar Shave Club. Their product is one of a kind and their USP too. USP stands for the acronym Unique Selling Proposition, it is a marketing word but it has its application on SEO.
According to CNBC, Dollar Shave Club founder and CEO Michael Dubin knew there was a problem with buying men’s razors. They offered a monthly membership and you could have razors delivered straight to your door at a fraction of the retail price. This concept, along with a viral video, disrupted the razor industry and ultimately led to DSC’s billion dollar acquisition by Unilever.
Their videos on YouTube went viral from the first days the became published and their message is quite simple and attractive: Look, Feel, & Smell your best.
With more than 26 million views and rising Michael Dubin feels very comfortable with his business and mixes the personal branding with its own corpotate identity!
So one of the first rules of uniqueness is branding. What branding? Every kind of branding starting from personal branding and promoting yourself to promoting your company’s brand and values to every occasion.
Google loves brands and always gives to brands some points of credibility and trust in terms of ranking, usually the brands are doing better on Google search results, leaving many no name sites behind.
Sometimes Google makes discrimination on lifting penalties on big brand sites that violated its Quality Guidelines, a very well know example is the BMW. BMW admitted using doorway pages to boost search rankings, but denied any attempt to mislead users.
This tactic considered illegal by Google and penalized BMW for one week, only to lift the penalty later on. Being a brand always helps.
Monitoring your site for hacking and removing hacked content as soon as it appears
Every day million of websites are getting compromised by hackers and by malware bots. Usually the hacks are innocent but sometimes the hacker tends to be a threat as soon as he places spammy links on the hacked website.
When a website has vulnerabilites and security is not so tight, does not only drags the attention of one spammer but from many other with automated tools. Google wants to keep the users for safety reasons away from hacked sites and when she founds a suspicious site, she deindexed it, so noone could search for it on the search results and click on it.
Security starts from the hosting level, find a reliable hosting and do not choose the cheapest hosting solution. Then you need to use more complicated passwords and try to avoid plugins and coding practices that are not safe.
You can see more about website safety on this post.
Preventing and removing user-generated spam on your site
Google hates user-geneted spam content such articles and spamming on forums or any other simular websites. In the early Black Hat Days, it was very easy to rank a website by simply posting hundreds of spam backlinks to the comment section of a website using only one keyword.
After many updates, Google adjusted it’s algorithm to be more sophisticated. So beware of spam and take action if you find any spam on your website to remove it instantly.
What is Grey Hat SEO?
Grey hat SEO is the little grey ground between White hat SEO and Black hat SEO. It drives towards the boundaries of search engine policies but stops before getting you banned. As the name suggests, the area is very grey and has a chance of venturing into the darker side.
The penalties of getting caught black handed are steep, and thus, it’s better to stay away from these as well.
Which are these Grey Hat SEO techniques?
- Link Buying
- Three-way linking
- Insincerely enhanced keyword density
- Duplicate or content spinning
- Buying followers or automating social media
- Buying old domains and rebuilding them
Can a website rank only with White Hat SEO?
Many experts and SEO specialists from the SEO community believe that every big brand is in one way or another involved into a Black Hat SEO scheme. Some link buying, some paid posts in big journals and many other little things.
Also the not equal treatment of the big brand name websites from Google is a widely discussed topic in the SEO conferences and the SEO blogs.
Today, just using White Hat SEO techniques a website can aquire some ranking on Google and on other major search engines, but the problem is the competition.
If your competitors are implementing Black Hat SEO methods in conjuction with the White Hat or Grey Hat, then it is very difficult to outrank them. You could always be second or below them with only small exceptions.
By saying that l am not encouraging anyone to start now doing Black Hat SEO, but to stay alert about the methods the competitors are employing to rank their websites.
As a final thought White Hat SEO is the safest method to rank your website, the one that has long term effects and l think that can pay well if done it right.
If you have a website and want to rank it you may ask for a quote, we are doing this job for more than 7 years and our team of SEO experts can find the best solution for you.
See more about SEO:
- 10 Things l Hate Most In Blogging
- 4 Hour SEO Week: How to achieve more with less
- 5 Things To Do Before Designing A Site On WordPress
- 6 Mobile SEO Tips For Business