Black or White, What Color is Your Hat?
Googlebots are coming to town, is your SEO in order?
Yes Googlebots are a thing – and like Santa Claus, they’re watching. What are they watching for? Whether or not you’re following the rules of the search engine optimization (SEO) game – that’s what. Of course Google makes the rules, and when it comes to rules I mean the current algorithm, which happens to be Panda 4.0. These sets of rules are policed by Google’s crawlers, or bots, which are called Googlebots. The information reported back by the crawlers, is what determines your page rank. This is a simplified definition, but it’s basically how it works.
SEO tactics are broken down into 3 categories – White Hat, Gray Hat, and Black Hat. The classifications are based on their relative compliance to the rules set forth by Google – or whatever search engine you are using. Yahoo, and Bing have their own rules and bots. But for ease of discussion we’ll just refer to Google, as it’s the biggest. As you may have guessed, White Hat refers to compliance with the rules set forth by Google. Gray Hat, well, is kind of a gray area. And Black Hat represents the Empire, and if caught could result in your site getting a one way ticket to Alderaan. It’s why your SEO is so important as part of your digital marketing in Santa Barbara.
White Hat SEO practices are techniques that follow all of the rules that Google deems “fair”. Using this approach takes longer to achieve results, but generally provides long term page rankings and sustainable results. Some common techniques are:
- Using good quality research based keywords. Use both long and short tailed keywords. Studies show that short tail keywords drive more traffic, while long tail provides better conversion rates. They are both valuable, so use both.
- Include keywords naturally in your site’s content. That means headers, alt tags, page titles, page content, etc.
- Create site maps so that your pages link. This allows bots to easily crawl every page. Since the overall navigability of the site is considered in your page rank, a well thought out site that is easily read makes sense.
- Update your page often. How often your page is updated is recorded by the bots. A site that is never updated is not considered to be relevant and will hurt your ranking.
- Generate good quality, relevant links. You can do this with blogs, directories, and other reputable sites linking to yours (inbound links). It also includes social links and shares. This is the newest part of SEO, but when it comes to social media marketing, your social presence is gaining importance.
Gray Hat SEO techniques are exactly that, gray. Where as there are not a set of easily enforceable rules, they consist of marginally frowned upon activities that may or may not result in penalties. A good example of this is link building. You remember this from the White Hat practice, but why is it also considered gray? Exactly. This is where it gets tricky. Bots like to see that other reputable sites are linking together. It bolsters relevance and tells the search engine that other people trust your information. Where it becomes gray, is when link building happens as an SEO tool. In other words, links should happen organically as a result of actual information exchange, and not just cramming a site full of links.
One thing to consider is that some competitors may set up link farms and link them to your site to get your site penalized. It’s dirty, but it happens. Yahoo and Bing has a tool so that a site owner can disavow erroneous inbound links. Google as of yet, does not.
Black Hat is sort of the underbelly of SEO. There is plenty of debate about this, but in general the short term benefits of using these techniques are outweighed by the danger of having a life long ban on your domain. Yes, Google will exile your site for life – that’s how they roll. Examples of Black Hat are:
- Keyword stuffing or overusing keywords. One common technique is hiding keywords by making them the same color as the page background. As a general rule, keywords (long and short tail), should appear no more than 2-3% of your total content.
- Doorway or gateway pages are pages that are stuffed with keywords but are only visible to crawlers. Actual visitors to the site are redirected to the real content pages.
- Link farms consist of pages that are filled with unrelated links – set up just to establish links. You’ll notice that links fall under all three banners – white, gray, and black. Be careful.
It is no surprise that the SEO industry is a big one. Companies can live and die based on their page rank. If you get penalized for using Black Hat SEO, you get knocked to obscurity. Then you have to spend resources and time to climb the pages again. Who knows how many customers or revenue dollars are lost in the meantime. This is why a solid and compliant SEO strategy is the best method for digital marketing in Santa Barbara. This includes, good web design, solid social media marketing, and White Hat search engine optimization. All these elements together will provide a long term positive and sustainable page rank.