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Do You Wear the White Hat or the Black Hat?

December 4th, 2014 Manasi Kulkarni No comments

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a necessity that no website can afford to escape if they wish to see good traffic to their website. It is impossible to imagine a top ranking website on Google without a lot of SEO strategizing and hard work. But as with any other activity to make your business a success, there are good and bad ways of doing things with resulting consequences that could severely damage your brand value.

Search engines such as Google have a set of guidelines that websites are expected to follow when conducting their SEO activities, and non-compliance can get a website penalized by being banned completely from the search engine’s search results. In such cases the company would have to work hard to earn back the search engine’s confidence and redo all its SEO activities ethically.

In this article, we will look at the different types of doing SEO and what you should avoid if you are looking to build your brand online and get your website to rank higher for a long time.

White Hat, Grey Hat, and Black Hat – What Do They Mean?

The various SEO activities can be broadly categorized as White Hat, Grey Hat, and Black Hat activities.

As the name suggests, Black Hat activities are those that are frowned upon by search engines, are against the search engine’s terms of service, and can land your website in serious trouble. The Grey Hat activities belong to that grey area between Black Hat and White Hat practices that tread the fine line and about which the jury is still out. Whereas White Hat activities are strategies that search engines fully approve of, and which focus on a human audience as against simply winning the ranking race.

Guidelines for White Hat Activities

When undertaking SEO activities, the following checklist can help you determine if your activities belong to the White Hat category.

  1. Is your content original? Did professional SEO content writers or guest writers write the content specifically for your website such that it is relevant and adds value for the users visiting your site?
  2. Does your content infringe upon anybody’s intellectual property rights? If it does, then you should immediately take action to remove such content from your webpages, or ensure that the right sources are given credit and linked.
  3. Is your content of high quality with impeccable use of the rules of language?
  4. Do your images and videos include Alt tags and appropriate descriptions?
  5. Are your keywords relevant to your subject matter? Is the keyword density on your web pages unnaturally high such that it makes coherent reading impossible?
  6. Have you used the correct HTML markups for your heading tags etc.?
  7. Does your website have a good sitemap?
  8. Are the links coming or going from your webpages relevant and naturally appearing, or have they been purchased/exchanged with the sole purpose of increasing links and ranking, without regard for relevance?
  9. Are you aware of the search engines’ terms of use and do your activities adhere to their norms and practices?
  10. Does your client (in case of an external SEO strategist) know all about the SEO activities you have undertaken and any risks associated with it?

Avoiding Black Hat Activities

While you follow White Hat activities, it is equally important to be aware of what activities constitute as Black Hat activities. The following are some Black Hat activities that you should strictly avoid when planning your SEO strategy.

  1. Stuffing web pages with keywords: The importance of keywords in search engine ranking is well known. However, simply stuffing your web pages with irrelevant keywords make for a poor user experience and harm your web page’s ranking. A particularly damaging tactic is to use keywords such that they are hidden from users and visible only to the search engine.
  2. Cloaking: A guaranteed way to get penalized if caught, cloaking is the practice of showing different content (keywords, descriptions, titles, etc.) to search engines and users. This is usually done by identifying visitors by IP address and displaying content accordingly.
  3. Gateway Pages: Using this method, a different page is shown to search engines, and when the user clicks on it he is redirected to a different page altogether. These gateway pages are usually stuffed with keywords to fool the search engine into ranking them higher.
  4. Purchasing old domains: It is possible to purchase old unused domains that are lying around dormant with the purpose of creating a lot of backlinks to your web pages and increase ranking. While such back linking might yield results initially, search engines would eventually catch up with you.
  5. Content Spinning: The freshness and uniqueness of your content plays an important role in getting your webpages to rank higher. However, it is not easy to create rich content on a regular basis and SEO strategists tend to resort to article spinning whereby they simply play around with the words on a page and present it as a new page. Such content spinning damages the quality of content. It is possible for search engines to catch on to such content spinning, not to mention the damage it does to your credibility due to low quality, grammatically poor content.
  6. Link buying: A lot of websites engage in rampant link buying with other websites to increase the page ranking. However, such link buying is not supported by search engines and can be severely penalized. At the same time, you can exchange links with relevant websites for things such as sponsorship of events, etc. Search engines usually maintain a list of such approved websites where links can be exchanged. 

While some of the above Black Hat activities when done in moderation could be considered Grey Hat activities, it is difficult to pinpoint specific activities that are definitely Grey Hat. One tactic that is definitely grey because it is not yet in Google’s blacklist as yet is social media automation and purchasing followers on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Various tools are available that automatically follow thousands of social media users for a small fee. This helps increase your website’s social media footprint, which is seen to be of consequence to its overall ranking.

Search engine optimization is a great tool to create long-term value for your brand and increasing loyalty and retention. But such long-term relationship with search engines cannot be achieved by cheating them into ranking your web pages higher. While Black Hat activities might bring you instant gratifying results, they are not sustainable in the long run and can severely damage not just your page ranking but your brand value as well. Following the simple White Hat guidelines provided here will help you generate favorable results, while ensuring a good night’s sleep.

If you have any questions about how to boost search engine optimization for more online business, please email us at eCommerce@ignify.com.

Manasi Kulkarni is a Product Marketer at Ignify. Ignify is a technology provider of ERP, CRM, eCommerce, and Point of Sale software solutions to organizations. Ignify is winner/finalist of the worldwide Microsoft Partner of the Year Award in 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011. Ignify has been included as the fastest growing businesses in North America for seven years in a row by Deloitte, Inc Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine from 2007 to 2013.