For some, SEO might seem like a shifty concept. After all, they reason, isn’t SEO, or “search engine optimization” built around the notion of manipulation? Isn’t it about using search engine algorithms, formulas meant to benefit the user, for your own devices? Those who think this way about the SEO industry in general are simply misinformed. Yes, there are those who use SEO immorally, but that’s no reason to demonize every SEO company out there. The fact remains that most professional SEO companies do not utilize manipulative tactics. Search engine results pages, or SERPs, are organized to place the most relevant sites at the top. Type a keyword into Google and the results will show the sites most strongly identified with that particular keyword. Therefore, the best way to build SEO is to increase a site’s relevance, both to the keyword in question and in general. And it stands to reason that the more relevant you make a site to a particular keyword the more beneficial that site will be to a user who inputs that keyword. As such, most white hat SEO practices are truly beneficial to both the companies who utilize them and the users who depend on SERPs to provide them with accurate information and trustworthy services.
Of course, there are those who practice black hat SEO. Those who do so are not only impatient and cynical but close-minded as well. Those who think that numbers are everything really are missing the point. After all, what’s the point of hundreds of people viewing your site if only three of them find it relevant? Black hat SEO may inflate your numbers but it will also build resentment among users, inspire possible repercussions from search engines and make your company seem less reputable. Plus, and this is key, there are ways to accomplish everything those who practice black hat SEO are attempting to do utilizing white hat methods. Below are listed five common black hat practices. Each of these practices has an intended outcome, but will likely lead to a host of unintended circumstances, the vast majority of them negative. Also included below are legitimate white hat means of achieving the same outcomes. By utilizing these methods you can improve the standing and reputation of your business without hurting your credibility in the long run.
#1: Don’t Use the Wrong Keywords
The Wrong Way: Say you work for a mulching company. You want to increase traffic to your site. However, you don’t want to spend money and time in an SEO campaign focusing on a keyword like “mulch.” Sure, plenty of people need mulch, but it’s certainly not as popular a search topic as, say, Leonardo DiCaprio, so you figure you’ll pepper your site with references to Leonardo DiCaprio’s love of mulch to increase its relevance to that particular keyword. This is a fairly common black hat SEO practice despite the fact that it makes absolutely no sense. While you might temporarily reach a higher position on Leonardo DiCaprio’s SERPs than you otherwise would have, chances are low that those who are looking for information about him will click on a site about mulch regardless of how high it appears. Those who click on it by mistake or out of curiosity will almost certainly leave shortly. In the end, all you’ll have done is increase your visibility among users who have no interest in the service you’re providing. Remember, it’s not about getting your content out to as many people as possible, it’s about getting it to the right people.
The Right Way: There’s nothing wrong with threading keywords through your content. In fact, it’s an extremely important component on any SEO campaign. Just be sure the keyword you pick is truly relevant to your site and the service you provide. Focusing on the right keywords won’t only make your company more trustworthy, it’ll help ensure that the right people find their way to your site.
#2 Focus on Making Your Content Useful Above All Else
The Wrong Way: While keywords are extremely important, you shouldn’t craft your content around keyword density alone. Overreliance on keywords can make your content unwieldy or even incomprehensible. If you can’t fit the keywords in organically don’t include them. There’ll be plenty of room to do so elsewhere. Also, if you need to rely upon duplicate or plagiarized content to fill out your webpage chances are you don’t really have much to say, and clients will notice in time.
The Right Way: One of the most important things any business can learn is that they must focus all of their attention, or the huge majority of it anyway, upon the potential needs of their customers. What benefits the client will almost always ultimately benefit the business they serve. There are exceptions to this rule, but your site’s content is not one of them. As such, focus on your client’s needs when you craft it. What information do you think people who access your site are looking for? What do they need to know to make an informed decision about the validity of your business or service? Focus on these needs, not your own, and your site will develop a reputation for being generally useful, a valuable resource.
#3 Don’t Be Deceptive
The Wrong Way: There are plenty of ways to build SEO deceptively, and none of them will endear you in the eyes of users. Some sites feature invisible content: content which is colored to blend in with the background or printed so small that it is virtually unreadable. These methods are extremely transparent and will not inspire hope among those who visit your site. Other sites try to be a bit tricker, using redirects to hide certain spammier pages or using cloaking to lure in unsuspecting viewers. On the other end of the spectrum there’s just about the most obvious type of deception possible: cybersquatting. This is when you register a domain with a URL that has nothing to do with your site to draw traffic for those searching for the thing the URL does reference. For example, if you wanted to sell blenders you might register the site www.onedirection.net in the hope of drawing additional traffic. However, this would do little more than get a bunch of One Direction fans angry at you. Once again, this practice is absurd but quite widespread. Also popular is typosquatting, where you register a slightly different version of a popular URL to catch those users who make typos while typing in the URL they intended to visit. For example, whitehouse.com is an entirely different site from whitehouse.gov, and only one of them has anything to do with the president of the United States. Once again, doing this may get you some additional traffic, but it will also build resentment and likely will not get you any more business in the long run.
The Right Way: I’ve said this before in this article, but it bears repeating: the only people who should be visiting your site are people who are looking for it, or the service you provide, in the first place. 99% of the time irrelevant traffic is just not helpful. There’s no reason to deceive anyone. Be transparent and direct about what your business does and what service you provide and, in time, people will seek you out. The more they know about you and what you can do for them the better.
#4 Don’t Spam People
The Wrong Way: This one kind of goes without saying, and yet spam is still incredibly prevalent. Everybody hates it and just about everybody recognizes it for what it is immediately, but spammers somehow think they’re fooling us. You’ve likely seen it time and time again: a comment on a blog or a youtube video pushing you toward an unrelated site with promises of money or other rewards. You’ve probably received odd messages on your Facebook profile or through your email advertising various sites, perhaps with a friend’s name plastered on it to try to make it seem more trustworthy. Maybe you’ve even clicked on a site that you thought was leading to certain location only to find it lead somewhere. We’re generally not tricked by spam, though it’s certainly annoying, and when we are tricked by it our annoyance only grows. In other words, spam is not a good way to market a business.
The Right Way: You should engage with all of these markets but spam is absolutely the wrong way to do it. Give your visitors a chance to sign up for an email newsletter. Maintain an engaging and relevant social media presence. Link to relevant blogs and try to create content which is useful enough for other blogs to link to. Spam is simply a cruder way of engaging with your audience. It shouldn’t be your solution.
#5 Keep Your Links Relevant
The Wrong Way: Some think that simply linking to popular sites will improve their SERP ranking, and while this might work reasonably well for a very short period of time ultimately doing so will simply make you look less professional and knowledgeable. Some sites fill their content with unrelated links, and while this is a bad idea it’s slightly more elegant than simply dumping all of those links on a page in a giant pile like some sites do. Called “link farms,” these pages are about as transparent and obvious as black hat SEO can get.
The Right Way: Building your SEO is all about strengthening relationships. A big part of staying relevant is being respected. If users consider you a positive resource that’s the best tool you can have in your disposal. If other sites, particularly sites which are well respected themselves, feel the same way all the better. You should absolutely link to other sites when it is organic to do so. Linking deceptively is an obvious an ill advised tactic. Be honest and the relationships that will bolster your SEO campaign will develop in time.
[Related Article: Improving SEO Through Social Media]
In the end, it all comes down to one simple choice: do you want to have a trusted, well-respected site or do you want to risk losing all of that and damaging your business forever for a little extra traffic upfront. Black hat SEO practices often produce results faster, but if you’re caught, and you almost certainly will be, your company’s reputation will likely be tarnished beyond repair and you may no longer be accepted by the very search engines you were trying to reach. White hat SEO practices take longer to work, but they’re far more effective in the long run. With a little patience and care you can use white hat SEO techniques to build your business into one which is both more successful and more highly regarded. It may take a while, but you’ll earn the trust of your users, the respect of your community, and, likely, the tools to allow your business to thrive for years to come.