The seismic shift of businesses and consumers to the internet as the primary source of information over the past few years has fuelled the ongoing battle of website owners who are clamouring to gain prominence at the top of search engine results pages.
Wherever you look there is a huge amount of discussion about the easiest, best or most ethical way of achieving a leading search engine ranking. Much of the discussion revolves around black hat versus white hat SEO methods and the merits of each in boosting website rankings and site visibility.
First of all, what do we mean by black hat or white hat?
White hat first. This is the SEO activity that the Google’s of the world love. It refers to best practice SEO techniques that are in accordance with search engines guidelines and practices. These are considered as ethical approaches to driving website rank and include techniques such as keyword strategy, meta tags, title and heading tag structure, getting quality backlinks and creating high quality content that encourages visitation, distribution and back linking.
That sounds simple enough. So what is black hat SEO then? The term black hat generally relates to methods that are slightly more deceptive and are designed to exploit an anomaly in search engine ranking algorithms or to deceive search engine crawlers through clever manipulation of site HTML. Some of the more well known black hat methods include keyword stuffing, doorway pages, unethical linking and link farms, cloaking, url redirection and invisible words. Black hat is also sometimes used to describe automation techniques that are used to alleviate the arduous and time consuming tasks associated with white had SEO.
So what do the search engines think of all this? In short, they hate these techniques and spend considerable time and resource trying to stamp it out. The new Google algorithm in fact has had significant impact on black hat techniques by placing an additional premium on links from high quality authoritative sites (that are difficult to automate links from) while providing a negative impact to site owners that are simply driving large volumes of links from low quality sources.
However, as with most internet marketing techniques it is not necessarily that black and white! While yes it is true that the quality of your website content and structure (on page optimisation) is paramount and that high quality referrals, links and social signals will all help to drive your website rankings skyward; there is still a place for automation. The key is to understand which tasks to outsource and automate to remove time consuming manual process, but to avoid contravening the terms and guidelines of major search engines. While I don’t like the term ‘black hat’, there is still a place for smart automation of internet marketing.