While you may understand the importance of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) in having a website rank highly on Google, there are great and not-so-great ways of going about it. Unfortunately, though, getting your business found on Google is not as easy as pressing “publish” – to get good organic traffic, you’ll have to optimise your website’s SEO. If your website isn’t ranking on the first page of Google, it isn’t being seen; in fact, studies show that less than one percent of searchers head to the second page of Google’s search results (8).
Why SEO is so important for your website
The main goal of SEO is to drive more traffic to your website. More traffic equals more visibility, and more visibility equals more sales. Improving the SEO capabilities on your website not only makes it easier for prospective customers to find you online, but puts you at an immediate advantage of both growing your business and improving how you appear online.
Google places a high importance on creating a user-friendly and positive experience for web searchers. Their goal is to put the most relevant and best quality information in front of its users, and it achieves this by using SEO to assist in website ranking. Google is well known for having a number of clear SEO guidelines to follow in order to rank highly in search results, and these guidelines are regularly updated along with their search algorithm (1). This principle is true for any search engine, and best results are achieved when you follow these to the T.
When it comes to SEO practices, there are two unique groups of methodologies which can improve your website’s search ranking. White hat SEO refers to using the search engine’s best practice recommendations guidelines for website design and content, to help the customer find the most relevant result from their search. And its counterpart, black hat SEO, refers to tactics and strategies which breach SEO guidelines in order to exploit loopholes in the system to artificially inflate your ranking (6). Appearing in search results is vital for business growth, but there’s a right and wrong way of going about it (4).
Common white hat SEO practices that will see you ranking higher on Google
White hat SEO practices work within laid-out SEO guidelines to achieve the best, most sustainable results. The techniques focus on creating content for human readers, and lead to developing a trustworthy and quality website and user experience for its visitors (6). While this strategy won’t achieve an instant result, it is an evergreen approach that will improve your search rankings over time (3). By following best practices, white hat techniques help to future-proof your website from further algorithm changes.
Here are some of the techniques used in white hat SEO:
- Content optimisation: Both your website content and any blog content should be created to provide genuine value to your audience with education and information, utilising specific keywords to indicate this. Because it’s written with the user’s needs in mind, this sort of content ranks well. Content optimisation and planning is about creating new content (and revising old content) to draw your target audience to your site.
- Technical SEO: Technical SEO includes the website’s meta-structure, internal links, tags, and keywords. This work is often carried out by a website developer or SEO specialist, although depending on your website platform you may be able to implement some of this yourself.
- Link building: Link building is designed to share your useful content with other websites – having other sites link to your website in a relevant context indicates to Google that you’re a trusted resource for this information, leading to a higher search ranking. You can improve your link building by securing listings in reputable directories that are relevant to your industry, working with other like-minded businesses to cross promote each other, or getting satisfied clients or customers to link back to your site in their reviews.
- Creating a mobile-friendly website: Websites that are not optimised for mobile do not fare favourably on search results. Given that most people research businesses from their phones or tablets, it is important to speak with your website developer to ensure your website is user friendly across all devices.
Common black hat SEO practices that you should avoid
Black hat SEO techniques take advantage of gaps, limitations, or blind spots within a search engine algorithm to achieve a high-ranking result fast (3). However, while the techniques help you to appear higher in search results, they do not provide quality content to website visitors. While refusing to follow Google SEO guidelines is not illegal, it does carry significant risk. Google’s SEO algorithm updates frequently, and if your entire SEO strategy is built upon exploiting loopholes in search engines, when these loopholes have been identified and closed you’ll find yourself ranking poorly, or see your website removed completely. This can mean less traffic to your website, and ultimately, fewer customers.
Search engine algorithms have become more sophisticated over the years, helping them to combat manipulation of search results (1). However, some of these websites still manage to sneak through the cracks.
Here are some of the techniques used in black hat SEO:
- Keyword stuffing: Keyword stuffing involves creating content on your website with an excessive amount of keywords. While this technique is used to help the website rank higher for the chosen keywords, the content is not readable or relevant to its intended audience.
- Hiding keywords: Hiding keywords in a certain colour on a website so they are invisible to the human eye, is used to meet SEO requirements on a website with the intention of ranking higher.
- Misleading redirects or cloaking: Cloaking or misleading redirects are the act of showing a search engine a link and content, but delivering something entirely different to its audience once clicked. The purpose of this is to help a website rank higher for a variety of different terms.
- Auto/scraped content: Auto content involves the use of bots to create large volumes of content in order to appear as if a website is producing relevant, structured blogs. This content is usually gibberish and unable to be read, but includes a large amount of key words or important search terms which enables it to rank higher.
- Link farms: A link farm is a website or group of websites developed solely to link build. This technique inflates the number of backlinks a website has in order to appear and rank higher on search engines.
- Blog comment spam: We are all familiar with spam comments, which usually have no relation to the website content, and instead include a random link to another webpage, or worse, a virus. Comment spamming tries to manipulate search engines into thinking that a website is getting more visits than it really is, in order to rank higher.
What to look for when outsourcing SEO for your website
When it comes to finding reliable, knowledgeable, and experienced professionals to assist in developing an SEO strategy for your website, it’s important to make sure you’re not getting ripped off with short-term black hat strategies. There are some key things you can look for when finding a company to trust:
- Determine the company’s experience, and research their online reviews. Do you have proof that a company can provide what they are proposing? Without a clear understanding of their track record, you’ll have to take it on faith that they can deliver on their promises. Look for reviews and case studies, or if you can, talk to other people for their experiences with the organisation.
- Ensure the company understands you and your goals. Your initial conversations with an SEO specialist should set the scene for what’s to come. Do they understand what you want and propose a solution which best fits your needs? Are they focused on the outcomes that you want to achieve with your website? Pay attention to the questions they’re asking, and how enthusiastic they are about your project.
- Ask about the specific SEO techniques the company uses and the approach they would take to your project. Will the company develop backlinks to your content, and guide you to create online content which captures keywords and phrases that will get you ranking higher online? Are they vague or evasive when asked about their SEO techniques? Determine the strategies they will use, and the results you can expect from working with them. Remember, if the results sound too good to be true, they probably are.
- Determine the level of reporting you will receive from the company. Will the company provide regular reporting on website traffic and acquisition, page performance, competitor benchmarking, and recommendations on keyword refinement and targeting? This type of data should form the basis of an SEO strategy, and provide information on where improvements can be made.
There is no sustainable “get rich quick” scheme when it comes to SEO. It takes time, work, and attention to detail. Focussing on creating quality, helpful content for your audience, maintaining your website, and building genuine links back are the core of any sound long-term SEO strategy, and you should be extremely wary of anyone who tells you they’ve got a secret formula to get you to the top on Google. They might get big results in the short term, but they could be putting your website and your business at risk.
- Helen Pollitt, May 4, 2020, “White hat vs. black hat vs. grey hat SEO: What’s the difference?”, Search Engine Journal, https://www.searchenginejournal.com/white-hat-vs-black-hat-vs-gray-hat-seo/365142/#close
- Neil Patel, “6 white hat SEO strategies you can learn from black hat SEOs”, Neil Patel, https://neilpatel.com/blog/black-hat-seo-strategies/
- Andrew Dennis, 21 may, 2019, “Black hat SEO vs white hat SEO: What they are and how they work”, https://www.pageonepower.com/linkarati/black-hat-vs-white-hat-seo
- Padraig O’Connor, updated April 27, 2020, “An introduction to black hat SEO”, Hubspot, https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/black-hat-seo
- Hilary St John, December 1, 2017, “White hat vs black hat seo: Which hat will you wear”, Semrush, https://www.semrush.com/blog/white-hat-vs-black-hat-seo-and-gray-hat-too/
- Emma Soolepp, February 13, 2018, “What’s the difference: white hat vs. black hat SEO”, Medium, https://medium.com/@emmasoolepp/whats-the-difference-black-hat-seo-vs-white-hat-seo-ae00ff55601b
- DMI blog, “What is SEO and why is it important?”, Digital Marketing Institute, https://digitalmarketinginstitute.com/blog/what-is-seo-and-why-is-it-important#:~:text=One%20of%20the%20most%20important,something%20you%20have%20to%20offer.&text=The%20higher%20you%20rank%20on,click%20through%20to%20your%20site.
Brian Dean, Updated August 20, 2020, “How people use Google search (New user behaviour study)”, Backlinko, https://backlinko.com/google-user-behavior