Turtle and HareDo you remember the Aesop’s fable about the turtle and the hare? Remember how the turtle steadily plodded toward the finish line, while the hare raced along looking for easiest ways to get ahead, and then rested on his laurels once he thought he had attained the prize? Then, seemingly out of nowhere, there was the turtle at the finish line. This story reminds me of how some choose to approach SEO. Consider Black Hat (the hare) and White Hat SEO (the turtle) practices. If it is your job to provide SEO for your company, then understanding White Hat and Black Hat search engine optimization is a must.

According to Dante Monteverde of Spiderbait.com and guest writer for Website Magazine, an awareness of Black Hat SEO is important because it allows you to:

  1. Ensure that you are not unintentionally using techniques that can result in penalization and purging from search engines
  2. Be able to recognize when/if any of your competitors are using Black Hat SEO

There is also a form of SEO known as Grey Hat. This combines White Hat and Black Hat practices in a way that attempts to make black look white.  Grey Hat techniques could also be referred to techniques that are frowned upon by search engines but have little or no risk of penalties. However, not everyone who claims to be black/white/greyhat may be telling the whole truth. In fact, Miracle Group.com says, in many cases "Using Grey or Black Hat is the same; it’s just that Grey Hat is a safer term."

White Hat SEO is achieved by optimizing content on websites with key search phrases, properly using Meta tags, directory submission, sitemaps and obtaining links to increase your website’s page rank. These steps can be easy to do, but they require planning, persistence and patience to do them correctly. In fact, it is a job that lasts as long as you want the website to be a success.

Black Hat SEO is nothing new. In fact, it has a long and not so colorful reputation. It is sometimes called spamdexing as a result of its affect on SEO. While there are a variety of tactics employed in Black Hat SEO, here are 6 which are fairly prevalent, along with a comparison to their White Hat counterpart.

Practice White Hat SEO Black Hat SEO
  Non-aggressive + low risk= Mediocre, yet long term, results Aggressive + High risk= Good short term results
Key Words Choose a solid keyword phrase or long tail words that cue the search engine of your themes. Inserting a long list of keywords into your Meta tags or within the webpage. Search engines are aware of this tactic and will penalize for this action. Also, using key words that are chosen only for traffic and not content relevance.
Cloaking Avoid cloaking by showing the same content to everyone. An example of allowable hidden content is by hiding a Flash only version of a website from search engines an instead show the text-only version. Hidden content or cloaking is done by showing different content to different users based on the user agent. This typically gives the reader little or no useful information. It is used to attempt to deceive the search engines. While it may work temporarily, once the cloaking is detected by search engine directories like the Yahoo Directory or Open Directory Project, there are negative consequences that could cost you in time and money.
Link Bait When done properly, this can improve visits to your site. So, be sure that you use unique, helpful stories and articles that webmasters can use to make an informed decision as to whether or not to link to a site. Link bait Black Hat style is when stories are created that contain false information in order to bring people to your site under false impressions.
Paid Links Writing articles to post on other websites which bring awareness of your site is invaluable. You may do this by paying someone to review your article or service or perhaps paying them to review your website and then provide a link to you in their directory. They key here is the place you are getting a link from is being paid for a service, not just a link. Paying someone to put a link to your website from their website for the express purpose of boosting pagerank. Listing your site is automated and there is no review or other related service. This is most risky when you use 3rd party link brokering services who are careless in where they get the links for you.

A Grey Hat version of this tactic would be buying an advertisement on a website that isn’t actually marked as being a "sponsored" link.

Doorway/Landing Pages A doorway or landing page written with useful and unique content designed to rank well for a specific keywords is a great way to improve page rank. As stated by Website Magazine’s Dante Monteverde, " Just because you might be sending paid traffic to your landing pages, there is nothing wrong with having the search engines index those same pages in order to achieve organic search engine rankings as well." Having a doorway/landing page is not necessarily a problem; but how it works is important. Oftentimes, a doorway page is created in order to rank well for a specific keyword and then funnel traffic to your site. Search engines have learned to recognize these pages and will not promote sites with high keyword density. This practice is often intentionally combined with cloaking. It should be noted that the content is usually written for search engines and not for the reader.
301 Redirects Allowing users to get content that they are actually looking for. If you have changed your domain name and want your site guests to be able to locate your previous content, a 301 redirect page is the way to go. Using content that is not related to your site but gets good traffic and then redirecting that to your site may improve ranking for a short time but will ultimately be ineffective. In fact, the redirects are usually turned away, no links are received and the page is devalued

There are many ways to improve your website’s ranking but one needs to be very careful when opting for Black Hat SEO practices. Implementing White Hat SEO is the best way to ensure that your website climbs to the top without risk of any penalties in ranking. As the turtle of the fable learned, "Slow and steady wins the race!" If you need help with using SEO to improve your website, be sure to talk to the Page Progressive design team!