Search Engine Optimization is one of the most effective strategies to give value and visibility to a business. Within the SEO there are three different techniques: the black hat SEO, the white hat SEO and the gray hat SEO. These three techniques help to improve the positioning of a site or, in general, of a web page, and consequently increase its visibility. The final goal is always the same but it is pursued following different approaches.
WHY ARE THEY CALLED BLACK HAT AND WHITE HAT?
The terminology “black hat” and “white hat” draw inspiration from the old western movies of the 40s and 60s. Years later, the world of Digital Marketing takes its cue from the famous wild west cowboy hats to classify SEO strategies, distinguishing the SEO techniques between permitted or not by search engines. The white hat, symbol of the good protagonists of the western movies, represents the correct positioning techniques. The black hat, that identifies the bandits in this film genre, represents instead the unfair practices. We are actually talking about good and bad! And the different search engines, with Google at the forefront, represent the sheriffs of the Web!
Anyone who wants to obtain a good site ranking on the SERP (Search Engine Results Pages), can chose between two different ways: on the one side the longer and more difficult one, but certainly more honest (white hat SEO), on the other side the easier and faster one, but also less respectful of rules (black hat SEO). Be careful to choose the right path, because Google does not like those who take unfair shortcuts and the price to pay is high. Let’s see the two approaches in detail.
THE WHITE HAT SEO AND ITS TECHNIQUES
This first approach requires perseverance and dedication and enables to obtain results in medium-long term. By adopting the techniques of white hat SEO, the improvement of the positioning is slow and gradual and requires good content. Creating high quality value content is not simple but not impossible. This type of attitude is always rewarded – that’s for sure – it only requires being patient. The criteria taken into consideration by search engines are many and different. Let’s see together the most important ones.
Research and non-forced use of keywords
Search engines SERP gives results based on users’ searches. Consequently, in order to obtain more views, it is necessary to understand which keywords are mostly sought by users and start from these to plan a marketing and communication strategy. Once the keywords have been identified, it must be understood how to insert them, in a non-mechanical way, in the titles, in the body of the text and also in the alt tag of the images. However, Google discourage from the forced and repeated use of keywords within a text. In fact, the texts must be flowing.
The contents must be conceived and created for the users, to respond to their doubts and needs. Understanding and anticipating users’ research intent is important for writing texts that are considered useful, unique and valuable. To achieve it, the most sought keywords cannot be ignored. Always considering the user’s needs, it is important avoiding to duplicate content. SEO requires texts that have a minimum number of words, but it must never be forgotten that the contents are written for users and not for search engines. Who likes to read the same information several times within a single web page? Nobody! And without a good user experience, it will be difficult converting incoming traffic and obtaining good site rankings. Google uses an AI technology called Google RankBrain, which measures whether or not users are satisfied with search results.
The content of a page must also be deduced from the URL, helping both users and search engines. On the one hand, users are able to better understand if that web page can meet their needs, on the other hand search engines can easily identify which pages should appear in the SERP responding to a specific search intent. The first thing scanned by Google is the web address, in order to understand how to index it.
Link building requires time and it is not an easy task. In the past there was an abuse of links without paying attention to their incoming quality. Today, Google carefully monitors the authority of the linked sites and this authority increases proportionally with the number of times a particular site is linked and clicked by users because they consider it useful. Quality and relevance should be taken into greater account in the link building strategy, both internal (link to internal pages of its own website) and external (link to external sites and resources).
Organization of the site structure
According to the user-centred approach, it is important to clearly organize the structure of the website, helping users to easily find the information they are looking for. For this reason, it is necessary to pay attention to the web page hierarchy, balance strategically internal links and structure the web site taking into account the user experience (UX).
Analysis and optimization
There are several tools that enable to constantly monitor the achievements of the adopted SEO strategy. Within a web page each element must be carefully considered: from text to images, from audio to video. The monitoring phase is crucial and allows to change the approach if necessary. There are many and different monitoring tools available, such us: Google Analytics, Google Search Console, SEOzoom and SemRush. It is also important to optimize the web site for mobile devices because, considering the increase of searches from smartphones and tablets, it improves the site positioning. Thus, when a site is designed or updated, the “mobile first” strategy should never be forgotten!
THE BLACK HAT SEO AND ITS TECHNIQUES
The black hat SEO tactic is adopted by those who want everything immediately. The techniques used in this strategy have the aim of forcing the natural criterion of evaluation of the search engine algorithm to quickly increase the ranking of a site or a web page. The use of these techniques, in effect, leads to a rapid increase in traffic on a website, however in a short time Google is able to detect the unfair behaviour and penalizes the author by obscuring its contents from the SERP results. The penalty imposed by Google deletes all the progress made, even those achieved by the adoption of correct practices. For this reason, the penalty must not be underestimated. Let’s see the most common black hat SEO tactic.
This technique consists of intensifying the frequency of keywords within a text to increase the relevance of the site with respect to those words. But be careful because the abuse (keyword stuffing) is penalized by search engines. In the past, this black hat SEO tactic was performed by inserting highly sought keywords but not related to the main topic of the web page. These non-relevant keywords were hidden from the user (for example by using the same colour of the background, in order to be visible and indexable only by search engines). This behaviour, very common in the past, is now severely penalized by Google. In order to increase the keyword density, often it has been made the mistake of creating repetitive contents and this practice does not offer a positive user experience. There is no exact percentage of keyword density, but if the contents are not natural and valuable, certainly, the communication strategy chosen is not correct, and it will lead to negative SEO and consequences.
Cloaking (that literally means “concealment”) is a technique that ensures that requests to the same address are served by different pages depending on whether the visitor is a user or a search engine. This strategy consists of creating a page specifically for search engines, distinguishing it from that visible to the users. In other words, thanks to some particular scripts it is possible to mislead the search engines to detect a different content, which helps to push the positioning of the web site.
A doorway is an automatic and instant redirect page to another web page. Through this technique, search engines will index the full content of this other page without taking into account the redirect. The doorway, therefore, is a page without content, created just to drive to other web pages.
Link and spam purchase
Several online sites offer packages of links. The problem is that they often sell low quality links. While in the past a similar purchase produced benefits, today it exposes to severe penalties. Even the use of software or automatic circuits for links exchange is frowned upon by Google.
THE GRAY HAT SEO: IT'S NOT ALWAYS BLACK AND WHITE!
Often behaviours are judged only as right or wrong. Sometimes, however, some practices cannot be classified in either of the two extremes. In fact, among the countless existing SEO techniques there are some that are somewhere between fair practices and unfair practices and, for this reason, they are considered “gray hat”. Google has not yet clearly expressed its opinion about this type of practices, but their use could still represent the risk of incurring penalties. For this reason, before adopting them, it is advisable to be cautious and understand if it is worth it.
SOME EXAMPLES OF GRAY HAT SEO TECHNIQUES
WHAT CAN WE DO?
The Google algorithm is constantly evolving. To avoid problems, it is advisable to apply those techniques that fall within the white hat SEO category. The most important thing for Google is to have its users satisfied. Taking shortcuts to get everything immediately could damage your business. Build a long-term strategy. The results will come. Rely on specialists, who constantly keep up-to-date, and entrust them with the optimization of your site.