In the sometimes arcane world of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), there are activities referred to by hat colours…as in ‘Black Hat’ and ‘White Hat’. Picture a wicked witch. She’s wearing a black hat, right?
In Google’s view of the world, ‘black hat’ activity is seen as evil too, punishable by banishment from the search engine results pages. So what is black or white in SEO, and what is ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in the eyes of search engines today?
Black Hat = Bad
Back in the day, Google used a fairly simple algorithm to determine which sites would show up at the top of search rankings. Smart operators figured out that they could trick Google into ranking their sites higher by using clever tactics like filling the site with ‘invisible’ keywords the same colour as the background, or ‘cloaking’ keyword-stuffed content (that search engines liked but looked terrible to humans) so that it would only be visible to search robots. Other techniques included fabricating elaborate link exchanges or setting up automated systems to emulate huge amounts of website traffic.
The result was of course a lot of crappy sites clogging up the search results. Google didn’t like that.
In recent years, Google has upped the ante with some major algorithm updates that detect tactics like this and penalise websites that use them.
(Image courtesy of Dilbert.com)
Another practice that has been widespread for years and is still flourishing is link building – paying someone to create links that point back to your website. If you run a business, no doubt you’ve had countless emails or phone calls (often from overseas) from companies promising to put you at #1 on Google. Link building is usually their tactic.
It used to work a treat. However in the last two years Google has released two updates (known as Panda and Penguin) that enabled the search engine to identify un-natural link patterns and penalise sites deemed to have engaged in link building. If your search rankings have tanked in the last 12 months and you’ve previously engaged a company to do SEO work for you, chances are this is the cause.
White Hat Tactics
White hat SEO refers to practices aimed at building a website’s ranking in accordance with Google’s guidelines, which pretty much focus on improving the user experience, following best-practice website development processes, building relationships with relevant online communities and above all, creating great content. You can read Google’s own SEO guide here >>
Content Is King
What Google and the other search engines want is to deliver their customers the content they are looking for. That’s what keeps them coming back. In 2012 Google made $116 million A DAY in advertising revenue off their AdWords product. It pays to keep search customers happy.
The way forward for business owners and website managers is all about content. In reality, it always has been, but now that the ‘tricks’ don’t work any more, content is king again.
In upcoming posts I’ll talk about the burgeoning field of Content Marketing. Essentially this is a form of inbound marketing that has your ideal customers find you (vs traditional outbound marketing where you interrupt potential customers with advertising), get you know you, like you and trust you through the content you’ve created that answers their questions, meets their needs and educates them enough to want to buy from you.
This post was originally written by me for the Real Time Minds blog – a great small business resource of which I am a founding member.