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Small Business SEO guide – Black Hat vs White Hat SEO

If you are a small business owner you want to get as many people through your door as possible. It really doesn’t matter which industry your in or what services or products your selling. The aim here is to get traffic through your front door and you need to be focusing on this all the time. Day in and day out, your objective is to be focusing on ways to increase revenue and profits through generating as much traffic as possible. In the past the best way to do this was through traditional, old school methods such as the Yellow Pages or newspaper ads, but now it’s all about being in the digital space.

In this arena, it’s all about Google and search engine optimisation or SEO. Advertising patterns have radically shifted and the only real way of getting those juicy new sales leads is through SEO. Anything else is simply background noise and won’t cut it. SEO is the end game. It’s proven to work and if done effectively it will generate an enormous amount of traffic to your website. But how does it all work and with the multitude of sites out there how on earth are you going to stand out and be noticed?

So What is SEO, and Why Does it Important?

SEO is probably the most important marketing tool for businesses large and small, local and international. It has usurped all other forms of marketing and is now normal business practice. Put simply, SEO is the process of building trust for your website so that Google places authority on it. The more trustworthy a website becomes, the higher it will rank on Google. The higher you rank the more web traffic you are going to get and in turn more sales leads and inquiries. The main search engine that everyone wants to rank for is Google. This is GOD in terms of search engines and nothing else on the entire internet comes even remotely close. It is the messiah for businesses that know how to harness it’s power and this is where SEO is so very crucial. Without it, Google is useless and you can forget about competing online.

Google will place trust in a website based on the amount of backlinks that it has pointing towards it. NOTE: these links have to be relevant and from another trustworthy site. Google has an algorithm that is forever changing and forever on the look out for these backlinks to index. Once Google has indexed enough of these top quality backlinks your site will start to gain trust and in turn zoom up the rankings.

This is how SEO works and it’s the aim of all SEO agencies like ours to learn what Google’s rankings algorithm is up to and make sure that your website complies to these ranking factors.

So the next step here is to ask what are the best ways to help with your websites ranking? There are hundreds of ranking triggers and signals that you can send to Google and they can be divided into 2 camps or schools of thought; ‘black hat’ and ‘white hat’. There is also the forgotten grey hat area which (I will also discuss here. A point to note here and this is how I like to write my articles is that since the algorithm is constantly changing and refining for better search results, it’s important that business owners gear their website up for the consumer and not the search engine. Writing streams of irrelevant content to appease the search engines doesn’t work any more.

It’s got to be all about the user experience or the customer journey and how they interact with your website. Remember, your customers are the ones parting with their money and not Google!

Past History & Changes of Google’s algorithms

SEO has radically matured from it’s infancy in the 1990’s. The metamorphosis has been incredible. From simple back links that were effective enough to rank your site to complex algorithms that can detect the slightest non compliant behaviour Google’s algorithm is now a sophisticated mathematical incredibly powerful tool. Some say it’s almost human like.

In the early SEO days it was easy to rank a website. The theory behind it was that the more links you had the better off your were and the higher the rankings. If one company had 1000 in bound links and you had 2000 then you were better off. Google in these ‘wild west’ days was not concerned about the quality and quantity of content ONLY the number of back links.

This led rise to industry wide spamming techniques where you could buy as many links as you liked online for as little as a cent a link. The end results were websites that ranked that had absolutely no value or trust. Basically, I could rank a website in a week on any keyword. All I needed was links. Thank heavens those days have ended. Thos early days are long gone but it did give rise to the birth of what is known as ‘black hat SEO’ and like some forgotten tribal voodoo it’s still practiced nowadays by some SEO companies. If you are reading this and you feel that your SEO campaign is ‘black hat’, watch out! Black hat SEO is practised by agencies that like to pretend they are doing some SEO by showing you some cheap and nasty linking. In fact it’s way more common than your think and I often see the end results of those poor businesses that were duped by some SEO companies because they though they were getting a great deal and a cheap price. IT DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY ANY MORE!

What is Black-Hat SEO?

“Black hat” is the term we use to describe the way in which some dodgy SEO companies work. All their SEO work is non compliant and fall foul of Googles strict rules and guidelines. It’s messy, ugly and never ever works. Businesses only cotton on to this activity once their website rankings start to seriously slide or in some worse case scenarios get ‘penalised’. Black hat SEO is usually characterised by speedy, fast rankings (usually done by companies that promise page 1 rankings in 90 days and guarantee this), only to be followed by a massive plummet. All too late as you are probably locked into a nasty contract. Many SEO agencies in order to secure your business will make these unrealistic ranking promises and in order to fulfil their part of the deal MUST implement spammy ‘black hat’ techniques.

Example of Black-Hat SEO

Let’s say for example you were looking to find an SEO agency and were not sure who to go with. The first thing you do is go online and do some searches and come up with a list of agencies. You end up speaking to 3 or 4 of them and they all seem to say the same thing. However, there is one agency that differs from the others. They are telling you that they will guarantee your SEO page 1 position within 90 days and if they don’t hit this goal they will do it for free until your main keywords are right at the top. This sounds so sweet. These guys are actually going to back their work up with a written guarantee. Plus they will work free for you until you are ranking.
So you sign up for 12 months with this company ( and I might add they came in much cheaper than any other quote you received – you are on a real winner here) and they commence their work. What you notice is an immediate spike in your rankings and most of your keywords are on page 2 or 3 from no where last month. You think to yourself, what an incredible result, can’t wait for more good things to follow. The next month you notice 1 of your internal website pages on page 1. This is for a service that you offer but it’s not your core business and it’s not what you were expecting. You think to yourself, why isn’t my main pages climbing?

What has happened here is a primed example of ‘black hat SEO’. They have spammed your website so that there was a spike in the rankings and a page of yours has magically appeared on page 1. What happens next is even better. Your rankings have all disappeared. Gone – vanished! This is all within90 days. A sudden rise then a massive drop. This is all the result of dodgy SEO practices and the worst part about this is you are only 3 months into your 12 month contract. And boy o boy, if you threaten to rescind the contact just wait for the lawyers letter to follow the next day. These guys know what they are doing and have you trapped. You have been suckered in because you fell for the con and they are going to take you and your website to the cleaners and in the process do everything ‘black hat’.

Black-Hat SEO Techniques

When people practice ‘black hat’ techniques they feel invincible and feel that Google will never catch up with them. What a fools paradise. It always works out for the worse. Any form of black hat ‘ practices WILL BE DETECTED. Google will punish your website without impunity. It doesn’t matter what type of site you have. Imagine you have an eCommerce site and rely heavily on your SEO rankings. Think about the damage this can do to your business, your livelihood, your staff, your stock etc.

Let me show you some really bad ‘black hat’ practices:

1. Lots of Keyword Stuffing

If you think that repeating your main keywords over and over again will help with your rankings think again. Repetition is good if you are practicing swimming laps but when it comes to your website you will only end up doing more harm than good. Basically, your web pages will sound illiterate and will end up turning potential customers off who get fed up with reading gibberish stutter like copy. If it makes no sense to your customer then Google will detect this and penalise this page. Do it throughout your website and you can kiss your rankings goodbye.

Many folks place a whole bunch of keywords at the bottom of the website thinking that if no one is going to read them, then it should be OK by Google. Again wrong and if you try to manipulate your rankings by fraudulent activity then expect to be punished. Another beauty is to have black on black writing so that no one sees the keywords being stuffed onto the page. Basically, you are making it invisible to the human eye. This is a huge no-no and if you think that just because you hide it from the public this does not exempt your from punishment. Be warned! If you write normally and naturally without trying to defraud Google you will be rewarded.

2. Link Farms

A link farm is where you own or have the control of a large number of websites and all intelink these in the hope of gaining authority. They are all on the same IP address and they are all owned by one person. This looks unnatural and is a real lazy way of doing SEO. Lets say you own 1000 sites and you have the ability to have 1 link on each site pointing to a site you hope to rank, Google will pick this up and you will be busted for unnatural link activity. You will initially get a sugar rush rise but this is quickly followed by being smashed hard. The biggest sugar comedown of your online life! Totally ‘black hat’ and a common way to dupe unsuspecting businesses into thinking that you are actually doing some work.

3. Doorway Pages

Let’s say you type a search term into Google for a particular service and you see 3 or 4 results that look interesting on the home page. But when you click on the website it takes you to another site and this happens when you click on the other links as well. Basically, these are pages designed to trap your into going to another page and is another fraudulent activity. Some companies create hundreds of separate sites all linking to 1 main website. These doorway pages have been outlawed for years but here are still agencies that do this in order to manipulate rank. When will they learn??

4. Article or content Spinning

Another example of black hat SEO techniques is article spinning where copy is written en masse by some cheap offshore copywriting firm. What happens is that they look for articles written by your competition and rewrite these. The only issue is that the content is written to fool the search engines and has been written probably in a hurry and really badly. Google’s algorithm is smart enough to detect these articles and will penalise the site they belong to. If there are links pointing towards a site as well then the value of these links will also be devalued. Rehashing old articles by a semi illiterate wordsmith is as bad if not worse than dodgy SEO backlinks.

What is the Florida Update?

In 2003, is all happened. Google decided to crack down on all this illegal ‘black hat’ shenanigans and penalise everything that had to do with: spammy link building, doorway pages, article spinning, keyword stuffing, basically anything that looked or smelt dodgy was dealt with harshly. Overnight millions of websites suddenly vanished off the face of the earth. This spelt the end of the ‘black hat’ industry or did it??

The answer is not so simple. In a way it slowed down these malicious practices, but because there are always gullible and vulnerable people that this practice appeals to. If it’s chap and comes backed up by a guarantee then they are going (no matter what anyone says) to partner with ‘black hat SEO’ companies. You can plead and beg then to wake up and know what they are stepping into but cheap prices are a great blindfold. We still see so many people that have been penalised by Google and will still go down the path of employing another SEO company cause they came in 50% cheaper. It is so frustrating how they never learn from their mistakes!

Since the first massive Florida update Google continues to roll out big algorithm changes designed to refine it’s ranking criteria. These include the famous Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates. The Panda update was all about content whilst the Penguin was there to clean up all those dodgy back links. Hummingbird looked at the quality of your website copy. What you can see here is a trend by Google to ensure they deliver results based on websites that have great web copy and that are trustworthy. For example it will rank the website of a well known and trusted orthopaedic surgeon (with lots of informative content about knee surgery or hip pain) over some medical website that has just been created to drive leads. For the consumer this is great news. Now they orthopaedic surgeons they pick that were on page 1 of Google have been vetted first by the search engine for their authenticity. It adds a level of security, a layer trust. I mean, if Google places this surgeons website on page 1 , he/she must be worth visiting.

What is “White-Hat” SEO?

White hat SEO (which we practice here at SEO Sydney experts) is the practice of optimising the website for humans and not the search engines with the best copy, graphics, user interface, site speed and of course the best and most relevant back links. Basically, you have to forget about Google and do everything for the user and in this way you will rank. Genuine websites offering the best customer experience that have a level of trust will win at the end of the day. Whit hat’s emphasis is on organic natural linking practices. The philosophy is simple. If you write great copy then people are going to want to share this around and link to it; hence the trust factor.

Most businesses will not know how to do this and will not know the art of getting your content shared and this is where we step in and facilitate the ‘white hat’ SEO process. For those of you just a bit curious of ways we implement our strategy following is just a taste of what we do in order to get Google to love your website and give it all the trust in the world.

white hat seo

White-hat SEO techniques for Small Business

1. Keep Your Main Keywords Local

Make sure the keywords you use are all locally based in your content. So for example think about words like ‘knee surgeons in Sydney’ or ‘St Vincent’s hospital, Darlinghurst knee surgeons’. This add a layer of authenticity to your copy and this is what Google is looking for. If you only focus on 1 word ‘knee surgeons’ and plaster this all over your site it will start to look a bit like keyword stuffing. These are known as long tail keywords and this is what you need to be focusing on. If your in doubt about what you’ve written we find the best thing to do is read it out aloud to a friend and see if they cringe. If they like what you are saying then chances are very high hat Google will too. Content is a great first step now you need to look at building the trust factor that leads me to the next step; natural link building.

2. Build Links very naturally

All links pointing towards your website have to be from trustworthy websites and these links have to look natural. If they are all coming from unnatural sources that look ‘spammy’ this will reflect poorly on your website and cause you harm. Just imaging our orthopaedic friend having hundreds of links pointing to his website from some eastern European sites that have little or no relevance to his practice in Sydney. If it looks dubious it probably is and Google will suss this out very quickly. The role of our agency in developing ‘white hat’ links is through creating quality content and ensure that it gets shared and liked by the right type of websites that can only enhance your reputation online. The huge difference between black and white hat SEO link building is that we make sure all links are organic and not bought cheaply in some off shore Persian bazaar for a mere penny. Anyone moron can do this and this is what differentiates the good from the bad.

Some of the credible ways we attain links is through:

“Editorial Links”

Editorial links are created naturally if you ca write compelling copy – this trick here is to know what to do with it and how to get people to like and share it. This is our little secret and if you work with us we will be happy to share it with you.

“Blooger Outreach” Link Building

We know who to contact and who to speak to when it comes to generating authentic content and having it linked to your website. Just imagine you have a travel related website and want a well known and well respected travel blogger to write a gripping article about a destination you are promoting. If they include a link back to your website then this is a seriously great ‘white hat’ linking technique. I can show you how 1 simple link on 1 article can bounce your rankings better than anything you have tried in the past.

3. Make sure your website is Mobile-Friendly

25% of all local searches are done using the mobile phone. Make sure your website is compatible on all platforms this way you wont be penalised by mobilegeddon the Google update which slammed websites that were not mobile friendly. Whilst most sites we understand are optimised for iphones and tablets there is still a percentage of them out there yet to take up this new technology.

4. Build Strong Citations

Citations are where we mention your website on other pages. Citations can be put anywhere as long as they are n reputable sites. Building a strong core set of citations on well known directories will prove to Google that you do actually exist and that you should be trusted. The trick here is to know when to stop and how far to go and where to place these citations. Do it improperly and it will appear like you are trying to game the system and you know what happens then.

These citations are a great way to get your business listed on Google maps and the better quality citations you have the more prominent will be your maps listing. We get heaps of people begging us to help them get listed on maps and I always tell them that we have to build a core base of proper citations. Like with all ‘white hat’ SEO strategies it does take time and you have to be doing this slowly and gradually over time if it is going to be sustainable and effective.

Why White Hat SEO is Important

If you want you business to grow online and be competitive against the exiting companies that seem to dominate your space or niche then you must think long term and this means to have a proper ‘white hat’ strategy in place. Nothing comes quickly online in terms of Google rankings and if you want quick wins then it’s best you avoid all types of SEO. If you are prepared to be patient, stick it out and take the attitude that you will only implement SEO the right way then you are going to gain huge benefits with this tactic.

White hat is really the only way you are going to survive online especially if you’re a business that relies heavily on Google and getting new leads from this search engine. You now have to play by their rules as they are the dominant and only player in this space at the moment and until another search engine comes along and dethrones ‘king Google’ then it’s ‘white hat’ all the way.

What is Grey Hat SEO?

Sometimes you need to live life a little on the edge and this is where the term ‘grey hat’ SEO comes into play. Whilst you may not be 100% squeaky clean there are things you may be doing that push the boundary ever so slightly. If you are prepared to risk it a little bit then it will push your rankings a little quicker. Not optimal but you need to hold your nerve here. Let’s say you are paying a company to publish a guest post for you with a link back to your site (without referencing that this is a paid post) this may constitute grey hat SEO. Anything that is remotely unnatural and is not pristine white is deemed grey. Be careful as skating on thin ice in the online world can lead to a cold watery splash.

A good rule of thumb with grey hat SEO is it’s ok to do it once or twice BUT never make a habit of it. Google is unforgiving.

Are you serious about your SEO?

If your really serious about improving your websites rankings then the only way to go about this is with an agency that lives and breathes ‘white hat’ SEO. I know it’s a long haul campaign but trust me when I tell you it’s so worth it. You will end up thanking me once you are on page 1 and you are there for the long term.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that this type of strategy is not the type where you can get it off the shelf for a pittance. It does costs and in some cases quite a bit on money but if your keen on growing your business this is the ONLY way.

For more information on this and other ways to get more out of Google please call us here on 1800 916 191 – it’s a free call and I am more than happy to spend some time with you over the phone going over this.