Google’s constant algorithm updates can be both a blessing and a curse depending on the search engine optimization techniques you use for your website. If you’re constantly experiencing declines when an algorithm update goes live, it’s likely that Google doesn’t consider your SEO efforts to be in users’ best interest. Long are the days when keyword-stuffing secret content onto your website could boost rankings, and Google is making sure of it. While it’s important to keep up with all changing aspects of optimizing your site (like the stronger need for mobile-friendliness), there are basic do’s and don’ts that you should consider before you move forward with other more advanced efforts. Understanding which SEO tactics are bad (black hat) and which are good (white hat) is the key to building a strong reputation for your site among search engines.
Let’s get the bad out of the way first. These tactics are what you’ll want to eliminate if you’ve already put them into place, especially if you’re already suffering the consequences of them. Whether you got some poor consulting recently or are experiencing the negative effects of outdated SEO work on your site, now is the time to try to revert these changes.
Because Google emphasizes on content so much when it comes to rankings, it’s important that your website copy is useful to your audience. There is no one size fits all solution to what your optimal keyword density should be, which is why readability should always be top of mind when creating content. If you were verbalizing your content aloud to an audience, would it sound redundant and repetitive? If so, you may want to rethink some of the language you’ve included in your website copy.
Remember, it’s not always about adding one exact keyword phrase all over your page. Keep your content relevant to the topic at hand. If you’re talking about your personal injury practice, for instance, there’s no need to overstuff your page copy with “personal injury lawyer” 10+ times. Instead, you can contextually add in related phrases, like “slip and fall accidents” that will both help readers understand more about your business and let search engines know that content related to personal injury attorneys can be found here. If it sounds natural to read, you can avoid being penalized (for that).
There are different methods for getting bad backlinks to your website. One way is through link farms – this is a method where you pay for a “farm” of fake websites to link to your site, increasing your overall backlinks. When Google sees that a large portion of backlinks to your website are coming from websites with low PageRanks, this reads as a red flag, resulting in ranking penalties.
Another way to achieve bad backlinks is through comment spam. You’ve likely seen this on articles you’ve read while sifting through the comment section. Someone (likely a bot) comments something vague and impersonal, like “Appreciate this post. Will try this out.” or just something completely illegible. Then either their username is a hyperlink or they include one within the comment copy. It’s of no use to either be posting these spam links on other website’s pages or to have these on your own site, as they are bad for your backlink profile.
The moral of the black hat backlink SEO tactic is don’t pay for links to your website! Let your content be your guide. Write useful content on your website that people will want to link to and share with your social followers, email subscribers and personal network to spread the word. You can also contribute to other websites as a way of distributing your content to new networks. Regardless of whether they provide a nofollow or follow link to your site, your exposure is sure to increase if the content is placed on a reputable website.
If you’ve tried any of these black hat backlink methods before, it may get a bit tedious to get them removed. You can disavow backlinks through Google Webmaster Tools, but it will require some digging into where the bad links originated from. See Google’s guide here on how to do so.
Adding hidden keywords to your website is another old SEO tactic that Google has cracked down on. There are various ways to be able to do so, from matching your font to your background color to including tiny illegible text (more of those don’ts can be found on Google’s Quality Guidelines). This is/was used so that search engines can index important keywords on your website while still keeping your main content readable to users. Google can monitor the relevancy of content, so it should be no surprise that this doesn’t go unnoticed by their algorithms.
If you’re sensing a trend with content, you’re right! Original content on your website is important, so scraping other websites for copy isn’t a good ranking method. Google understands where content originates from, so it’s not easy to be sneaky with this one. If you already have duplicate content on your website, it’s best to remove it and perhaps take inspiration from the non-original content to create something unique for your own website.
Also known as doorway pages or entry pages, these types of pages are created specifically for search engines to find. When users land on these pages, they are redirected to another webpage. They’re typically orphaned from the website (not linked anywhere) and optimized for various sets of keywords. Because these are deceptive landing pages that exist for indexing purposes only, search engines consider them bad practice, affecting your overall ranking position.
Now that we’ve covered the bad, let’s talk about the good. There are several ways to boost your website’s rankings without going against any of Google’s best practices.
As you may have already guessed by reading what not to do, adding helpful content to your website is one of the best ways to improve your search engine presence. Having a blog or news section on your website is a great place for frequently updated content.
But before you begin writing content just to have something there, it’s important to do some keyword research. Which of your customers’ interests align with your brand? Those are the topics that you’ll want to focus on and base your keyword targets off of. Using Google AdWords Keyword Tool will help you find which related keywords people are actually searching for. Then, searching through that keyword’s organic search results on your own will help you find what kind of content is coming up first and how you can improve it on your own website. When it comes to copy, keep that keyword in mind (without keyword stuffing) and make sure your content stays on topic.
With quality content created on your website, you now have a valuable source of information that will drive your customers in organically, and become shareable to others within your industry.
On that note, we come to good backlinks. Unlike the black hat SEO method of creating poor backlinks to your website, these are authentic links from more trusted sources. With your newly created content, other websites could be willing to link back to your website to inform their readers of your knowledge on the subject. This is why it’s crucial to do your research before you create your content. If your blog article doesn’t provide any new information or stand out among competitors, it’s not likely that trusted websites will want to link back to it. Also note that while posting a link to your site on social media won’t affect your backlink count, this can be a helpful way to spread the word faster about your unique content.
Another way to gain good backlinks is to guest blog for other publications. If you have quality content to share, but aren’t getting enough traction on your own website yet, guest blogging is one way to not only expose your brand to a new audience, but also to help build backlinks. When you guest blog, you provide another website with content on a subject that both their and your readers would be interested in. Since you are the author, you should be able to provide a link back to your website in your bio or within your article. This method will require some networking and pitching to get your foot in the door, but it has the potential to really get your brand’s name out.
Surely the content of your website should be related to each other. And the best way for both search engines and users to know that is to link internally within your site. For instance, let’s say you own an eCommerce home decor store and you want to educate readers on trends for the season. One trend may be mixing and matching metallic tabletop items, like gold lamps, bronze figurines and silver candle holders. Not only does hyperlinking to your gold lamps, bronze figurines and silver candle holders encourage users to click and buy, it also emphasizes to search engines that this particular link is where you’ll find gold lamps.
When it comes to service-based businesses, the strategy is slightly different, as you don’t have new products to always link to. However, you can interlink between blog articles and your services in order to guide users and label your information to search engines. For example, a healthcare provider writing about breast cancer can link to another article within their site that references the disease’s genetic factors, as well as link to their mammogram services as a preventative tip.
Note that the key for this to be beneficial to your SEO is to make sure that the anchor text (the hyperlink text) is what you want that linking webpage to be known for online. In other words, make it keyword-friendly, but still readable.
In addition to some of the white hat tactics mentioned above, there are various other on-page optimization techniques that can help boost your website’s rankings. Let’s define elements that you can adjust in your favor:
• Title tags – The title tag of a page is arguably the most important part. Search engines use it to define what the page is about and users use it to immediately understand if the content is actually what they want to read.
• Headings – H1-H6 tags are given greater weight by search engines, as they should define the general contents of a given page. A website’s page title, like “White Hat SEO vs Black Hat SEO” in this article, would be given an H1 tag (the most important) because it’s defining the main content. Secondary sections, like “White Hat SEO Methods” are given H2 tags, and so on and so forth.
• Permalink structure – Your URL also tells search engines what your content is about, so it’s crucial that items like your page title and blog category are properly represented in the permalink. Note that if you change any URLs on your website, you will have to redirect the old URL to the new one.
• Alt tags – These image tags help search engines and the visibly impaired understand what an image on your site actually is and the topic of its surrounding text. The tag should be descriptive of the image’s purpose on the page and keep in mind your target keyword.
• Page speed – Google’s page placement on search engines is defined by user experience, so if a page loads slowly, they expect users will be frustrated and disinterested in your site. Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to review your site’s performance and make the proper adjustments.