If you want traffic, SEO is your website’s best friend. But it can get a bad rap sometimes; for those who don’t know the difference between good SEO and bad SEO, it’s usually keyword spammers who spring to mind. We’ve all seen it; it might be less common in realty, but if you’ve ever searched for a product you’ve wanted to buy online, chances are you’ve come across it. “Buy WONDEROUS APPLIANCE because buying a WONDEROUS APPLIANCE will help you out in your daily life. If you don’t buy WONDEROUS APPLIANCE you’ll never know how different your life was before WONDEROUS APPLIANCE because WONDEROUS APPLIANCE will change your life!” It’s copy that makes your brain hurt to read – it’s clearly written for the search engines, not the customers. It’s grating and it’s jarring – and unfortunately, it’s what a lot of people think of when they think of SEO.
How does it go? One hat, two hat, white hat SEO, black hat SEO? No? Well, nevermind!
It’s called black-hat SEO, and sure, it’ll boost you in the rankings – it might even get you some cursory traffic. But it’s a short-sighted strategy that will ultimately alienate your customers and depress your website’s rankings. Google knows what spamming is, and they will catch up to it. It’s the difference between a well-thought out and planned marathon and a cheap shove for the lead in the first 10 meters; good SEO, or white-hat SEO, will slowly boost your website’s rankings – and keep it there. If you’re new to search-engine optimization, here’s a quick list of ways to differentiate white-hat SEO from black-hat SEO:
1) Quality content versus poorly-written spam copy.
We have talked about how important content is several times recently. Quality content is education, it appeals to the reader, and it appeals to the search engine. It makes good use of keywords without shoving them in the reader’s face and it’s written in a legible way to get readers coming back for more. It’s one of the core principles of SEO. Quality content delivered consistently will slowly push your site up the rankings – but putting an article up today won’t put you at number one tomorrow.
In contrast, black-hat SEO content is filled to the gills with its targeted keyword, often several times in a sentence to the point where a human reader goes numb trying to make their way through the block of text. It tends to be uninteresting and repetitive at best, and unreadable at worst. It’s targeted strictly at the search engines so they pick up the keywords. Alternatively, it might be hidden entirely from human readers – black text on a black background, or font too small for the human eye to pick up. The search engines will though – and in the short term, it will boost your rankings…until Google and the other search catch on to the spam.
2) Stolen “scraped” content versus original content.
Fresh, original content helps your site earn higher rankings – but in black-hat SEO, content is simply scraped off another website and plopped in to the site being “optimized”. If this sounds eerily familiar to something you learned about in high school English class, it is – because it’s plagiarism, plain and simple. It might temporarily boost your site up, but unlike real SEO, it’s a short term benefit for a long-term fall. Plagiarism is illegal, and it will earn a penalty in the rankings – if you continue to rank at all once caught.
3) Link baiting and quality links versus link farms.
Link baiting is enticing other legitimate, relevant sites and blogs to link to you. The bait might simply be an amazing, high quality article – or it might be a controversial one. It might be one designed simply to draw a lot of attention to you. But these kind of link backs are good quality ones that will boost you up in the rankings – particularly when they’re linking to internal pages rather than to your homepage. Google and the search engines love these kinds of links; they make your site look popular and useful.
Link farms, on the other hand, or link exchanges, are basic links on non-relevant sites – sometimes the page of links sole function is just to link. There’s no high quality content around it and it’s literally just spamming. These might temporarily boost you, but these spam links aren’t ones Google is going to reward you for having.
Of course, there are shades of grey and black hat techniques that are even worse – but these are the most likely to be confused for “normal” SEO by beginners. In the end, it’s easy to tell the two apart.