The SEO sanity check part 3: White hats always win

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May 30, 2013
The SEO sanity check part 3: White hats always win.

ThumbnailThe last two articles have dealt with black and gray hat techniques employed by some search engine optimization specialists, and how these can affect rankings in Google. This time we’ll be examining white hat techniques and why they are the safest and most ‘ethical’ methods to use.

White hat describes techniques used for SEO which are fully approved by search engines and take quite a lot of skill to carry out. Whilst the same can be said for some black and gray techniques, these carry the risk that a site will be penalized by the search engine for breaking the rules.

Whilst everyone agrees that black hat SEO is unethical, bringing the quality of the internet as a whole down, the lines are more blurred with gray hat as some SEO professionals will get away with using these to some extent.

However, it’s not really worth the risk using black or gray, as if a site is penalized it pretty much disappears from the SERPs. A site will recover, eventually, but by that time enough damage may have been done to make a business fail.

Why is white hat the best technique?

Apart from what is mentioned above, sites which stick to using white hat will fare better in the long term. Whilst it will take longer for a site to rank than using other, less ethical techniques, once ranked, a site will gain long lasting results when it does.

White hat SEO includes:

  • Quality unique content is essential to every site and should include static content as well as blogs, articles and so on. While it’s OK to use keywords on-page, density must be kept fairly low or it could be seen as keyword stuffing. For the most part, since the Google updates, many sites are having content written in a natural way, allowing keywords to occur naturally.
  • Guest blogging is a simple and effective way to build a site’s link profile. A guest post should address the same industry as the site it’s being linked to. The idea of guest posting is that a backlink is created back to the site, which is good for SEO, so long as it’s a quality link.
  • Internal linking is important as it makes the structure of a site easy for search engines to read. In order to get ranked well, search engine spiders should be able to crawl every page on the site in order to index them. Often, scripts in drop-down menus and sliders will stop the spiders crawling effectively, so it’s as well to embed internal links throughout the site.
  • Site optimization is important too. Tweaking content and structure so that it’s search engine friendly is vital. Titles and meta tags should be solid throughout the site, as should altering content so that it’s looked upon favorably. This means that keywords should be used lightly and should already have been researched in analytics, and that content should contain a high standard of spelling and grammar. It’s also worth bearing in mind that it should look good (layout) and have a high readability factor.

Create strong, brief, unique titles and tags, and descriptions that accurately describe the site’s content. Also try to use different descriptions for each page so that each snippet that the spiders crawl has something different and relevant to say about the page content.

Readability is all about keeping wording and paragraphs simple and short. The Flesch-Kincaid readability score can be enabled when using Word, or a good plugin for Office can be found at Grammarly. Basically, it’s a formula which looks at the length of sentences, paragraphs and words, as well as how many syllables words contain.

White space should be left in between paragraphs so the reader can scan easily, as people tend to read differently online and will take in information in bite-sized chunks.

When looking at site structure, ensure there is a robots.txt file and an XML site map and build the site with a logical, easy to follow and organized structure.

  • Link baiting is probably the most important area for SEO optimization and possibly the most difficult. Link baiting describes a process whereby content is created purely to tempt backlinks to it. Content could be a news story, sensationalist headlines, useful articles such as how-to pieces, and informative or even controversial content.
  • Back linking is probably the most skilled area of SEO and requires a fair amount of work. Firstly, it’s important to do some research and look at a site’s visibility when compared to competitor sites. This allows an SEO professional to determine which links have the most value and what kind of content that they link to.

Looking at competitor strategies can be rewarding as it affords a chance to see what kind of content is popular within an industry and how a content strategy can be employed to have the best chance of back links. This is of course just link baiting, under a different name, but a term that is used so often instead of link baiting that it’s worth giving some space to explain further.

For keyword performance, analyzing keywords and pages is vital, especially if competitors are ranking higher. The idea is to get on the first page of the search engine as 90% of all clicks come from the first page of result.

It’s not always necessary to do this via Google Analytics, although this is an excellent resource which should be used by every site. Software can be purchased that automates the process. This allows a SEO professional to study the backlink profiles of competitors in order to see which links are classed as high value by the search engine.

It’s also necessary to keep a sharp eye on links site wide to check that they haven’t degraded. This could mean a site has been taken down and so therefore a link is broken and should be removed. It is also useful for checking the performance of backlinks.

Anchor text is something that needs to be considered carefully too and should contain target keywords, where possible. This is an ongoing process and should be carried out on at least a monthly basis. Again, it’s possible to purchase software for this, but it’s better to employ a reputable SEO professional or agency.

Is it worth taking a chance on black or gray hat?

White hat SEO is undoubtedly the most time-consuming and skilled technique which doesn’t promise to deliver results as quickly as the other, less ethical, practices. However, once a good rank is established, it’s likely to remain that way, so white hat is the most sustainable.

Links and keywords are still probably the most useful aspect to white hat SEO, but this does take time and skill and as such, it’s often tempting to take the easy way out and use black or gray hat. However, in the long term, while a site may initially be well ranked, this isn’t likely to last and it’s possible that a site may be penalized and will never recover.

A recent high profile example of this is Interflora. Not only have Google pulled the ranking of the flower supplier for their own brand name, but they have also taken out key terms such as ‘flowers’, ‘flower delivery’ and ‘florists’, to name a few. This is thought to have come about due to the company purchasing backlinks, as the company had been asking for paid-for in-story links to be removed by outside sites in the run-up to the penalization.

However, some industry insiders believe the problem was deeper rooted than that and the company asked for the links to be removed to “throw Google off the scent”.

“With the penalty that Interflora has come under this week, seeing them lose their top ranking position for their own brand name, as well as the main traffic terms in the flower sector, just shows no one, not even the biggest brands can escape Google’s penalties,” David Naylor, CEO of Bronco Internet, who has experience of working with Google, told The Drum, “Whatever SEO techniques they have used to gain rankings, does it give Google users a good experience when brands are not ranking for their own name. As we have seen previously big brands don’t remain penalized for long so they may appear at the top again in the next few weeks as Google needs them in their index.”

Whilst a brand as big as Interflora will more than likely survive, it does go some way to illustrating that even the biggest companies are not immune to penalization. The florist has shops all over the world and managed perfectly well before the rise of the internet.

However, a smaller company might not survive a SEO penalization such as this and as such, it’s best to avoid using shady practices. Online marketing and SEO is a big area and there are overall strategies to ensure a site’s success. Along with white hat, social media has become a large part of online marketing too and should be incorporated into any plan.

It’s important to plan and research effectively as a part of any marketing campaign, both online and off. With good planning, a solid strategy and skilled SEO professionals, there should be no need to employ black and gray tactics. This will also ensure that the web is high quality and the best resource it can be for everyone.

What tips would you add for white hat SEO? Do you pay attention to SEO at all? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, search image via Shutterstock.

Kerry Butters

A prolific technology writer, Kerry is an authority in her field and produces content for a variety of high profile sites in her niche. Also a published author, Kerry is co-founder of digital content agency markITwrite, adores the written word and all things tech and internet related.

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