White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO: Best Practices for Ethical SEO
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Following best practices for ethical SEO is essential to growing your website traffic. However, if you thought implementing White Hat and avoiding Black Hat practices was sufficient, Grey Hat is one of the biggest threats to maintaining growth and avoiding a Google penalty.
The search engines have made significant updates recently, making SEO more challenging for digital marketers than ever. The result is that many businesses are unable to stay up to date, and in fact are implementing Grey Hat practices without even realizing they are doing so. In this article, we’ll provide the latest advice for ethical SEO.
Search Engine Optimization in 2021
According to Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines, websites that demonstrate expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) will be rewarded with better performance measures. This is part of an ongoing initiative to improve the ability of search engines to match search results with search queries.
Think of it as quality control for search activities. This means that the key to SEO success is creating great content. Google’s guidelines measure website content according to its Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness.
This refers to the creator of the content and its credibility in the industry. Google verifies if a content creator is an expert on the topic by looking at their qualifications, credentials, reviews, and or forums.
This refers to the authority your site has in your industry. This is generally calculated based on the quality and number of backlinks your website has from relevant, authoritative sites. If you are linked by important websites, then Google will recognize your site as recommended and trustworthy.
This refers to how trustworthy your site is. Trustworthiness is demonstrated by having a secure domain, meaning protecting users’ personal information and having positive reviews from your customers. Negative reviews interpret your site as of poor quality which impacts SERP rankings.
White Hat vs. Black Hat vs. Grey Hat SEO
White Hat SEO techniques follow strategies that focus on a human audience, instead of targeting the search engine ranking. White Hat techniques require a strong understanding of the business ideal customer, their needs, characteristics, and buyer journey. This understanding is used to organize and prioritize the content strategy and forms the foundation of the SEO strategy. This work can be seen as a long-term investment for search engine marketing that offers lasting SEO impact and results.
Black Hat SEO techniques, on the other hand, refer to strategies aimed at getting higher search rankings through shortcuts that don’t adhere to search engine guidelines. Its focus on quick and short-term results can result in a penalty from Google, which will reduce search traffic precipitously. Recovering from a Google penalty is difficult and time-consuming. Black Hat techniques include blog content spamming, hidden texts and links, and link farming.
Grey Hat SEO is everything in between. In the highly competitive online world, bloggers and SEO specialists are racing to find the next SEO hack that will allow them to outperform competitors. Some of these hacks gain traction, become trendy, and work for some time. The average business is often using Grey Hat techniques and is not aware of doing so!
However, these hacks are not condoned by Google, and as their popularity rises with greater use, their effectiveness wanes. Typically, low-cost SEO providers will rely on these practices. Since clients are not provided monthly accountability reports, they grow suspicious over time when they don’t see an increase in leads to the website. A common complaint we hear from businesses who are skeptical about SEO is that they paid for SEO services and didn’t see any benefit.
Here are some of the Grey Hat practices that can land you in trouble with Google:
This happens when an original piece of content is written for social bookmarking sites, so they link to your website. As you get more links, search engines improve the ranking of your site. If this is genuinely good content and people are linking to the website that is okay but if you have put content just to gain links with no real value to the reader or are paying social media sites to link to your website, then this is Grey Hat SEO.
People use various online programs and applications to produce new and original content quickly. However, free software does not do an outstanding job. Quite often the results do not make sense or have several errors. Google algorithms understand poor quality content and will flat this content which serves no benefit to your website.
This practice was common when SEO was new. The content is written with the sole intention of ranking. The content is stuffed with just enough keywords to drive visitors to the page. However, this page adds no value to the reader.
Google’s Florida, Panda, and Hummingbird algorithm can tell the difference between genuine content and content with stuffed keywords. Your website can be demoted or even penalized.
How can you avoid these pitfalls and conform to healthy, ethical SEO practices?
Hear From Industry Experts
Read the latest tips, research, best practices, and insights from our community of expert B2B service providers.
SEO guidelines and ethical practices that will help you improve page ranking:
Follow Search Engine Guidelines
Some important White Hat SEO rules are:
Create Quality Content
Create content that offers value to your target demographic. This can be product info, addressing customer pain points, promotions, or discounts, and so on. The more value you pack into your content marketing, the more audiences you will attract.
Make The Content Easily Findable on Your Website
This means anyone looking for certain information on your website should be able to find it easily. This can be achieved by creating a good user experience on the website.
Create Different Types Of Content
Do not stick to just creating blogs for your website. Develop content for different stages of the sales funnel, targeting different audiences – you can develop infographics, short how-to videos, new product videos, case studies, and so on.
Make sure to add CTAs throughout the website. Do not just create valuable content and leave it there. By adding CTAs you encourage your readers to take action and engage with your brand.
Become familiar with the search engine guidelines:
Focus On What Will Work For Your Business
Search Engine Optimization SEO is not a cookie-cutter service. The right SEO approach for your business is as unique as your business. What works for one competitor may not be the right SEO solution for another firm, even if they’re in the same industry. Your business offers unique products and services which solve customer challenges in a way that sets you apart from your competition. Your SEO strategy should reflect this unique market positioning.
Agency SEO experts can advise you on realistic goals based on the budget you’ve set. They will take the time to understand your business, your competitive landscape, your unique positioning, and your offerings. They can bring a fresh set of eyes to your buyer persona or craft your buyer persona if you have not taken this important step yet.
As a result of this foundational work, a customized strategy for your business emerges which improves organic traffic, strengthens the quality of traffic to the website, brings more conversions and better-quality conversions.
SEO is a long-term strategy that does not require paid advertising. Effective SEO can produce growth in market share, revenue, and lower selling costs.
Set Realistic Goals
Successful SEO results depend on several factors. Having the right tactics in place and allocating the right budget to SEO are two essentials to seeing results.
We see three common types of businesses in their approach to SEO.
The first group doesn’t understand the value of SEO and therefore allocates very little budget to it. They are not spending much and unfortunately see very little in the way of positive results. Adding to the challenge is the sad situation that there are many SEO agencies out there competing on price. This “race to the bottom” mentality has removed the customer from the equation because low-cost SEO does not serve the customer and destroys confidence in SEO as a valid, important digital marketing tool.
The second group is doing their SEO internally. Typically, they have some great content writers and are writing excellent blogs and articles. Today’s most competitive SEO strategies require more than the writers – although having writers in-house is an excellent step.
Developing an SEO strategy is a skill set and very much separate from SEO content writing. When we run SEO audits on these websites, we see that they have gaps in their on-page and off-page SEO strategies. Working with a strong SEO digital marketing agency will amplify the work of your internal writers.
The third group outsources its SEO and invests appropriately in it. The reason is that they understand that they can aggressively advance their online presence and overtake competition over time with solid SEO strategies in place. These firms understand that SEO activities will strengthen the value of the business as measured by measures such as organic traffic, conversions and leads, domain authority, and Google page 1 presence.
Canada’s BDC recommends that small B2B businesses should allocate 2% – 5% and B2C businesses should set 5% – 10% of their revenue for marketing. SEO should be at the top of priorities for the allocation of marketing budget in many industries that small businesses dominate.
Degree of Industry Competition
The competitive environment in which your business operates provides a framework. Is your industry SEO-savvy or are they laggards to embracing the power of SEO? If you are fortunate to exist in an industry that has been slow to implement SEO, or which is reliant on cheap SEO, then you can grab the first-mover advantage with a smarter SEO strategy!
The best SEO work is not done by junior teams, but rather by well-trained, experienced teams who will formulate and implement that killer strategy that can be a game-changer for your business.
Alternatively, if your competitors are doing a great job of SEO, then the strategy will have to vary. One practical consideration is that to catch up and overtake your competition, you will not only need a better strategy, but you’ll also need to be investing on par or at a higher level than they are. However, SEO is a highly complex set of tools and skills, and a strong SEO agency partner can bring all of these to the table to find the gaps and opportunities for your business.
Promising Guaranteed Results Is A No-No
SEO is a field that is constantly evolving as the search engines improve their ability to connect search traffic (buyers) to the answers they are looking for (your business). The World Wide Web is full of variables that even the best SEO strategy cannot control.
These include updates to algorithms of which Google provides very little information. The level of malicious online activity has escalated, and every day major global enterprises are getting hit by a range of malware from bots to foreign agents. With tools such as DownDetector, you’ll see the degree and frequency of these attacks.
It’s not surprising that these variables play into SEO results. Being an SEO agency means not only keeping on top of this constant change but also monitoring work for any negative SEO impact and being ready to pivot as necessary.
As you can appreciate, if an SEO agency promises to get your business onto the first page of Google to win your business, you should be leery of their ability to deliver on such a promise.
Finding the Right SEO Agency for Your Business
SEO offers viable strategies to strengthen the value of your website, as measured by abundant, growing high-quality organic traffic and relevant conversions that align with business goals. A great SEO success story requires a team of experts employing today’s White Hat tactics.
Here are ways you can identify an ethical SEO service:
- They can explain SEO in a language you can understand. Overuse of technical jargon indicates a junior practitioner and the risk of using Grey Hat and Black Hat techniques
- They take the time pre-sales to understand your business
- They don’t push any Grey Hat or Black Hat practices. If it sounds “too good to be true”, guess what? It is.
- They update you on regular basis, show you their work, and their progress toward SEO goals
- They offer a range of SEO plans utilizing White Hat practices that are based on your budget and realistic goals.
About the author
Mary-Jane Owen, Founder & President of Asset Digital Communications has been deeply involved in digital marketing initiatives for over 15 years witnessing the revolutionary transformation in sales and marketing. Leading her in-house teams to master these new tools, practices, and platforms she has delivered transformational growth in her own company and for other businesses.
Moving from consulting to founding Asset Digital Communications a few years ago, she offers one of the most seasoned teams in the industry. Says Mary-Jane, “We deeply understand digital marketing and social media marketing, not measured by vanity metrics, but by quality website conversions. We are your partners in business growth. ”