Google used to be easy.
Easy to fool, we should say.
Back when the Google search algorithm was first put into play, exploiting weaknesses to earn the coveted top search spot was child’s play. Keyword stuffing, page swapping, and doorway pages were top strategies employed by less-than-honest creators looking to rank fast.
But the algorithm got smarter. Today, while there are still black hat services willing to give you their secrets for a quick buck, it won’t get you far. Googles crawler bots can sniff out these shady practices a mile away. So while black hat SEO might shoot you to the top of the heap in a hurry, you won’t be able to stay there without some white hat link building.
But what’s the rationale here? Surely a little keyword stuffing here and there can’t be that detrimental, can it? And what’s with this white hat/black hat stuff anyway? Who is wearing hats?
Let’s take you through it. The history of the white and black hat, the reasoning behind it, and the reason you should be using white hat SEO.
Why a Black Hat?
Rumor has it that this is a call back to the days of early Westerns.
If you aren’t familiar with the works of John Wayne, a major trope of old westerns was that of the black hat. The hero always wore a white hat, and the villain always wore a black hat.
Which paints a rather sinister picture of black hat link building. It’s a shady practice, obviously, but comparing it to the villain? It’s harsh.
And not entirely unmerited.
The practices of those who practice black hat SEO are mostly to make a quick buck however they can. They use practices that are dishonest and hurt actual companies in the process.
The real question here though is this: which strategy is more effective? Because obviously, people wouldn’t use dishonest strategies unless those strategies worked, right?
And if white hat works so well, why doesn’t everyone use it?
We’re going to take a look at those questions. But before we do, let’s make sure we define a few things and look at the strategies SEO experts use to help pages rank high.
White Hat vs Black Hat SEO Strategies
It’s important to know exactly what we’re talking about in SEO in terms of strategy. So let’s look at the key strategies for both types of SEO.
White Hat Link Building
White hat is essentially using SEO by the playbook. There is room for innovation, but it’s doing things in a way that is honest and helps both company and consumer. Some examples:
- Solid Site Navigation–Structuring your site in an intuitive way and having a good sitemap makes it much easier for search engines to index your site, bettering your chances of high rankings.
- Keyword-Heavy Meta Descriptions–Your meta-description is where to stuff those keywords. Think of it like hashtags on Twitter or Instagram. Your use of keywords in the meta description helps direct the flow of traffic directly to you.
- Quality Content–Beyond anything, good content does more than any other method to drive traffic and help you rank high. If the content is good and useful, search engines will give it to users looking for information.
Black Hat Link Building
Black hat, again, is any kind of SEO that goes against Googles terms of service. There are a lot of kinds, but three of the most common are:
- Cloaking and Keyword Stuffing—this is a pretty ingenious method, actually. Basically, a website has two different versions of itself. One is presented to human visitors and the other to search engine crawler bots. The one for humans is pretty much worthless, despite its high ranking, and the other is stuffed with keywords that trick the algorithm into thinking it is quality content.
- Paid Links–This is exactly what it sounds like. A strong link is bought and paid for and placed on the page. Strong anchor text and a good link are often enough to send a page skyrocketing through the ranks, so there’s no reason to make the content good.
- Spam Comments–This is a familiar one to anyone who runs a blog. You get a comment and its a string on unintelligible gibberish and a link. It creates a backlink without the hassle of producing content.
Why Black Hat Doesn’t Work
So what’s the draw behind black hat link building?
Honestly? It’s easy. Stuff in a few keywords, rocket to the top of the Google rankings, pull in a few bucks, the end.
And it doesn’t matter if Google figures it out and penalizes the site owner because, at that point, they’ve dumped the domain name and moved on.
Black hat is easy, it’s fast, and it’s effective for what it is and what it’s trying to do. That’s why SEO specialists offering black hat tactics can promise fast, explosive results.
BUT. And it’s a big but.
Black hat is a temporary fix. Yes, it will get you to the top of the rankings fast. And it might even pull in a few bucks.
But Google’s system is getting smarter and smarter. It won’t take it more than a day or two to sniff out the black hat link building you’re using and penalize you.
By the way, “penalize” means you just won’t show up in the rankings. At all.
And here’s the other thing. Because the Internet is basically alive at this point, black hat users are constantly trying out new ways to get around the system. So a new tactic will show up and start working pretty well. You might even be tempted to try it out yourself, especially if they seem to be getting away with it.
But this is how Google’s algorithm works. The more folks use a tactic, the more attention it gets, and the quicker Google closes in to crush it. If you’re serious about building a good site, it just isn’t worth the risk.
Why You Should Be White Hat Link Building Instead
If you want to get to the top of the search engine heap and stay there, there’s no contest: You need white hat SEO.
The issue, of course, is that a lot of site owners get frustrated with white hat because it’s a slow burn. Building a reputation with other sites takes time and effort. Choosing good keywords takes research, and producing great content takes practice. It’s hard work.
Creating a good website is not for the faint of heart, after all. You need to be ready to invest time and effort into making your site the best it can be.
But if you can learn to balance content, keywords, and quality links, you’ll be well on your way to a top three Google ranking.
So how should you do it?
First, and we know this is the third time we’ve said it, but it bears repeating. Make sure your content is amazing. Make it useful, authoritative, insightful, controversial, even.
Just make sure it’s quality. Figure out the questions your audience is asking, the things they care about and write.
Then you can think about link building. Link building takes a ton of time to get right. To build good links, you’ll need to do a few things:
You have to meet others within your niche. Follow other blogs and sites. Comment and interact with their content.
Link back to their content and share it with your own followers. This will help you build a reputation and relationships that will give you link building opportunities.
Invite guest bloggers to your site and try to get gigs guest posting on other blogs. This kind of activity is good for both sites and creates links between the two that improve the search rankings of both.
Social media is still king when it comes to getting your name out there. Twitter is a must, and Instagram isn’t far behind. Facebook and LinkedIn are good options as well, depending on your audience. Encourage your followers to share, because the more shares you have, the more traffic you gain.
This is your viral piece. Something shareable and immensely useful that can be shared and linked to. Lists are great for this, as are purely informational posts and how-tos.
Using White Hat Link Building
White hat is slower, it’s harder, and it can seem discouraging, especially at the beginning.
But in the long term, white hat link building is a sustainable way to grow your audience and improve your search ranking. Not only that but unlike others using black hat techniques, your site will actually keep its rankings while others are purged by the almighty Google.
For those who are ready to really invest in their sites, white hat is the only way to go.
For more on link building and how to make it work for you, check us out here.