Small Business SEO guide – Black Hat vs White Hat SEO
As a business owner, you obviously want to gain as much traffic into your store as possible. This can mean constantly seeking out new customers through traditional advertising such as ‘word of mouth’ or print advertising, but these tactics are becoming more and more outdated every day.
The most efficient way to focus your time, energy, and money into your business today is investing in your online presence. As much as you want customers to just stumble upon your store, the reality is not so simple. It starts on the web.
But with so many other sites out there, how do you get found? The answer for many today is: Search Engine Optimisation.
What is SEO, and Why Does it Matter?
Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, is one of the most crucial parts of online marketing, especially as a small or local business. In a basic sense, SEO is the process of building and maintaining websites to rank highly on search engine results. The higher a site gets ranked on a search engine page, the more traffic the site receives.
Search Engines determine these rankings using algorithms that crawl keywords and Backlinks. Strategists have tried a variety of different methods in ranking a website. However, these algorithms change as Google becomes smarter and adapts to trends. So what’s the best way to improve your site’s ranking, keeping in mind the fluidity of search engines?
There is no definite answer, but there are SEO schools of thought known as “white-hat” and “black-hat” (and yes, there is also a grey area…!).
As Google continues to raise its standards, SEO companies need to revamp their strategies for optimising a site for search engines. Continuously writing for humans first and search engines second is the key feature of SEO. A web crawler isn’t going to walk into your store… a human is.
History and Changes of Google’s algorithms
SEO has evolved greatly from its first stages of life. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Search Engines were not nearly as powerful as they are now. It didn’t take much to optimise your website to receive traffic. During this time, search engines were basically only concerned with keyword-matching and link-counting. Web content could be messy and spammy, but still rank highly. This was the birth of “black hat” tactics in a way. Quick, cheap, and messy – but they worked.
What is Black-Hat SEO?
“Black hat” is the term used to generally describe SEO techniques that aim to manipulate Search Engines into giving websites higher rankings. Search engines generally do not approve of these techniques, and as a result, a website can be banned or pushed down the Search Engine results ranking as a punishment (penalty).
Black hat SEO is usually focused on quick and high return on business models. It is not uncommon for many who receive these short-term gains to be completely devastated later on though, once Search Engines realise respond.
Example of Black-Hat SEO
One marketer told his story of being a profitable spammer in 2012, at one point making $50,000 a month spamming for Google, (while only having a mere 10-hour work-week). Using a platform called Authority Link Network, the spammer was able to boost the rankings of his users’ websites by exploiting loopholes.
As Google got smarter, his network was de-indexed (dropped from Google altogether) and his business strategy, customers and their businesses? Gone.
What did he realize from all this spamming? Black hat strategies may generate some short-term positive effects, but the long-term effects may be deleterious to one’s website and business. Google’s key goal is to make the web more user-friendly and filling it up with spam that returns inaccurate results when performing searches in Search Engines prevents this. Each Google Algorithm update is designed in some way to enhance the user searching experience – webpages that hinder it are simply removed from the Search Results.
Black-Hat SEO Techniques
Usually when people utilise Black-hat SEO, they’re not necessarily concerned with being penalised by search engines, but rather, they think they can trick the system.
Let’s review some of the past techniques Google has punished:
1. Keyword Stuffing
Keyword stuffing is a tactic of filling your website content with as many keywords as possible, often resulting in sentences that read like gibberish, or just sentences that sound absurd.
One method of keyword stuffing is placing a high number of keywords toward the footer of the site, where visitors most likely won’t see them.
Another trick of keyword stuffing is writing your keyword-overloaded text in the same color of your background. This is known as writing in “invisible text”, which absolutely can and will be detected by search engines, even if your human audience can’t directly see it. This is an old trick that Search Engines have been well aware of for years and is a sure method of getting your page dropped.
Keyword stuffing may have tricked search engines in the past, but it results in poor user experience and a potential site penalisation, which pushes you farther away from the top of the search results.
Do not write this type of copy on your website!
2. Link Farms
A link farm is a group of websites that all hyperlink back to every other site in the group. Link farming is a tactic used in an effort to improve each url’s rank on a specific search engine results page (SERP). A link farm is otherwise known as a “link clique”.
Some link farms may include hundreds of websites, with each page dedicated to listing links to every other site in the farm. Not very organic for a “farm”.
3. Doorway Pages
Doorway pages are web pages created specifically to draw search engine visitors to a website. When a user types in a particular keyword, the SERP will display multiple pages, relating to that keyword. However, each page leads back to the same website. So doorway pages are basically just “doorways” to your main site. For a visitor, it feels more like a trap door.
4. Article Spinning
Another black hat SEO practice is article spinning, or the process of re-writing an article to write new “content” to avoid duplicate content problems and SERP penalisation.
This is an obvious mechanism to avoid having to produce fresh content on a daily basis. The content is usually very poorly written and does not educate readers on anything new. This gives the illusion that new articles are being produced regularly, when in fact, old articles are being re-produced. And very incompetently. That’ll make a user’s head spin. Search Engines are wise to the trick now and can often pick up duplicate content even when it’s re-spun. This not only makes the additional ‘spun’ pages useless, but it hurts the original page on the website considerably too, meaning lower ranks for that page.
In 2003, one of the most significant updates to the Google algorithm, deemed the “Florida Update” delivered drastic changes to SERPs. Instead of letting spammers have their way and rank highly, they would be knocked down or knocked off the grid completely for these immoral, unethical techniques.
Some of the tactics Florida cracked down on specifically were suspicious-looking links, link farms, and paid links. The aim with this update was to deliver the freshest, most relevant content to searchers. Instead of linking to a mass number of irrelevant sites, SEOs now needed to start linking to relevant content in order to rank sites.
Ever since the Florida Update, there have been a number of changes to search algorithms.
Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird Update
In 2011, the “Panda” algorithm was released, which penalized thin content and content farms. With the “Penguin” release in 2012, keyword-stuffing was heavily penalized. And in 2013, we saw the release of “Hummingbird”, which focused on supporting high-quality content.
Do you see the trend? We’re seeing an emphasis on higher-quality content and backlinks. Google’s mission is always to provide a better user experience, which happens to disagree with most black hat methods. Essentially, their changes align more with the ethical, white hat philosophy.
What is “White-Hat” SEO?
White hat SEO refers to the use of optimising strategies and techniques that cater to a human audience, as opposed to a search engine robot, with quality, genuine, readable content.
White hat is seen as a “moral” way of optimising a website by following search engine guidelines. Think of it this way: when given a choice, would you choose organic foods or pesticide-ridden foods? White hat strategies focus on organic and natural ranking.
While black hat SEO links can be the result of a forced, agency-built digital path, white hat SEO links come from a real human intent to share information. Links inserted by writers and webmasters connecting their site visitors to other helpful sites establishes trust and validity for both humans and search robots.
There are many ways to optimise your local business site with white hat SEO. See below for our list of 5 white hat tips to dominate your local market as a small business.
White-hat techniques for Small Business SEO
1. Keep Your Keywords Local
Performing keyword research is important for optimising your website, and keywords should be placed in your content without being overstuffed. In other terms, write naturally, and your keywords will fit in right.
Always remember to research local keywords and incorporate long-tail keywords into your content. If you sell cameras in Sydney, Australia, tailor your content and search beyond “Sydney”, “Australia” and “cameras”. Sure, these are all relevant keywords, but the search results for each will be massive. Focus on the specifics that you sell. If you offer film cameras, target specific, descriptive keywords, such as, “35 mm film SLR cameras in Sydney, Australia”.
Include relevant keywords in your title and other page text. Not sure if you’ve gone too far? Just read what you wrote out loud to make sure it sounds as natural as a conversation. For additional help, SEO guru, SEONick outlines an essential keyword research method to get a clear understanding.
As a small or local business owner, it’s going to benefit both you and your audience if you can write useful content for your specific niche.
Once you perform keyword research, you still have to make sure your web pages are being recognised:
2. Build (Natural) Links
The best way to build links is with trust. You don’t want your links to be posted on low-quality, or irrelevant websites. This will hurt your reputation as a business and won’t help your rankings. Link building is not always a spammy way of promoting your business. In fact, link building is actually an excellent marketing opportunity and one of the most powerful forces in Small Business SEO. There are several credible ways of link building which follow all the necessary search engine rules, including:
Natural, “Editorial Links”
Natural, otherwise known as editorial links, require no additional work for the SEO, just the ability to create noteworthy content and know how to share it. If you create great content that people can find, you won’t have to work strenuously to have someone link back to you.
“Outreach” Link Building
Outreach, or manual link building, is when an external site links to a page on your website. Outreach link building involves asking bloggers and website owners to link to you. Having someone link to you is called an “external link.” Of course, an SEO needs to contact companies who are relevant and provide them with a good reason why the link is in the best interest of the company.
Some examples of outreach link building include writing guest blog posts, submitting your website to vital directories, and asking a blogger to review a product of yours.
3. Utilise Video Opportunities
You’ll also want to create quality content in a variety of forms besides the written word.
As a small or local business, you should also be creating videos and marketing your business on sites like YouTube and Vimeo to expand your reach. In fact, YouTube reaches more U.S. adults in the 18-34 year-old demographic than any cable network. YouTube is also owned by Google, so optimising your channel and videos for both search engines can be a great way to grow your online visibility.
YouTube isn’t going to advertise for you, so making a video and optimising it for search results is a great way of adding variety to your content choice.
Here are some tips and tricks for knowing how to optimise your video page:
Be consistent with your name, address, and phone number
On your YouTube channel (and in your video descriptions), be sure to mention your business’ name, address, and phone number, otherwise known as “NAP”. Make sure you write everything as it is written on your website and other sites, including your social media pages. If your “NAP” isn’t consistent and accurate, Google will view you as less valid and credible. So, every page counts!
Video is a useful promotional tools and a great place to have a call to action for your audience to check out the services/products your business offers. You can create an array of different videos, including, “How-tos”, “Promotional Videos” and “Testimonials”.
Inform your viewers that they can find out more by directing them to a piece on that same topic (or a similar one) on your website. Include the link directly in your video description, and be sure to consistently reply to any questions or comments on your videos.
Build External Links
Videos are an excellent way to build external links. Post your video on your website, blog and social media platforms. After posting, make it a point to share the video with local influencers to gain some press and links.
Create Local Tags
As you would do with any written content, make sure to use the correct and most relevant tags, so people searching for something can find it and not be deceived. (Remember, adding incorrect or irrelevant tabs can result in a “dislike” on your video).
Because search engines cannot detect sound from videos, you should transcribe the video as a closed caption file. This has actually been proven to boost video SEO. YouTube can attempt to transcribe the audio for you, but that’s not always going to work in your favor. How many times have you had to have a chat with “Siri” before she understood you?
Video is a vital tool as a small business because it’s inexpensive and engaging. Anyone with a smartphone can shoot a movie, and anyone with a computer can edit the video. It may seem time-consuming, but it is really just another medium to publish your content.
4. Be Mobile-Friendly
As a small business, having a PC-friendly website is essential, but local searches also occur on smartphones and tablets. In fact, in 2015, local mobile searches surpassed PC local searches.
2014 gave us the “Pigeon” update, changing how Google managed local searches. Ties were formed between Google’s local and core algorithm. And finally, in 2015, we received the Mobile Friendly update. This was deemed “Mobilegeddon” by search marketers believing it will change the way search engines evaluate mobile-friendly vs. non-mobile-friendly sites.
Remember, mobile means local. According to Google’s research on local search behavior, 18% of local searches on a smartphone lead to a purchase within a day, as opposed to 7% of non-local searches. It’s not as easy as just listing your business’ address on your webpage. In fact, smartinsights.com found that mobile media time now has surpassed desktop media time among consumers, meaning mobile search should actually be a primary focus over traditional desktop search.
So, what is the best way of getting your business visible on these searches? This brings us to point number 5;
Build Strong Citations
Citations are mentions of your business name and address on other webpages. A citation can be built thousands of places. Focusing on building a strong core of citations will help the search engines trust that your business actually exists, and you’ll also greatly broaden your visibility.
Citations are a vital component of the ranking algorithms in search engines. Business sites with a greater number of citations will most likely rank higher than businesses with fewer, or inaccurate citations.
If you’re not sure where to start with building your citations, there are plenty of helpful local SEO services that can be used to update and organize the consistency of your listings. With a baseline report, you receive a “visibility score” based on your current online listings (and competition). The lower your visibility, the more citations you’ll need to build. You can go through sites like Yahoo, Angie’s List, or Foursquare to claim some yourself, but to build the bulk amount of citations you’ll need to make an impact, you’ll likely want to outsource a citation building and maintenance service.
As a small business owner, you need to make sure your citations across the Internet are accurate. Don’t be tricked into paying for a service that “guarantees quick results”. Building citations, along with all forms of white hat SEO, takes time. Using a reliable citation service can go a long way in ensuring that your business will have visibility.
Why White Hat SEO is Important
Using white hat strategies for small business SEO is crucial on so many levels. You want to build lasting relationships with your consumers. If people are finding you online, that’s where the first impression is made.
Even if a grey-area tactic hasn’t been banned by search engines yet, that doesn’t mean that it won’t. Search engines are constantly on the lookout for deceitful strategies, and the short-term goal probably isn’t worth the long-term flop.
There is nothing long-term about spamming, manipulating search engines (not to mention, your customers), and just being bothersome to your audience. Remember, if you can provide well-structured and useful content to your customers, search engines will reward you in time.
The Grey Hat
With Google constantly changing its algorithms, there’s always going to be some kind of grey area between white hat and black hat SEO. Just because something doesn’t seem “spammy” doesn’t mean Google will agree with you. “Grey hat” is the “bend, but don’t break the rules” way of looking at SEO. Everyone wants to push the limits to see what they can do, but, at the end of the day, there is no guarantee Google’s algorithm will cooperate with your plans.
Soliciting to write a guest blog post on a company’s website (similar to your own) can be beneficial to both yourself for gaining an external link and the company posting it. Guest blog posts add variety and a fresh perspective to a blog. However, when money is involved in link acquisition, it can fall amongst the “grey” zone.
When you’re in the grey area, you need to rely on your morals to keep yourself in check. There’s no guidelines to what will or won’t be changed by Google.
Hold Onto Your (White) Hat
If you’re serious about improving your web visibility for the long haul, you will benefit greatly from using what are considered white hat SEO techniques. If you can find a way to rank highly on search engines as a small or local business, you’ll be ahead of your competition and will be set up for a strong online presence.
Remember why you started a small business in the first place. If providing a service is what matters to you most, then you’re going to want to attract your audience naturally, through engaging content that keeps your customers coming interested.
This informative article was written for Quikclicks by Guest Blogger, Luke Harsel. Interested in finding out more? We’d love to chat to your further about SEO services for your business – give us a call today on 1300 132 274.