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White Hat versus Black Hat
Search Engine Optimization Techniques
by Jacira Paolino

Remember the old westerns, …the ones where the good guys wore the white hats and the bad guys wore the black hats? Those images hold true today when used in reference to SEO techniques. White hat SEO techniques refer to accepted practices, such as building solid, useful content, and then matching the keywords and Meta tags to the content, a tried and true practice that brings positive results. Black hat SEO techniques are underhanded, back-stabbing techniques. For instance, using your competitor’s Meta tags, and then writing content that matches them and that is coded to be the same color as your background, rendering it invisible to your readers, but visible to those all-important bots that crawl and categorize your site.

White hat techniques work, and are proven to give long-term results. Black hat techniques may work for a little while, but when the search engines discover what they are doing, the site will surely be banned.

White Hat

So, what exactly are the tried and true techniques that get your site listed and highly ranked? There are numerous ones, original content being the biggest. Why original content? Why not just copy from other sites (giving credit where credit is due)? Well, if everyone had the same content, what is going to make the reader come to your site? Write original content, and then create your keywords and metatags to match. Think about how the general public might go about finding the information you are providing. Here are a few things you can do that are simple and will increase your chances of getting highly ranked by the search engines:

The Title Tag - Include your site name in the title tag. It sounds logical, but you would not believe how many people don’t do this! Also include a few keywords there.

Meta Tags - “Keywords” are an attribute of Meta Tags, but they are not all there is. The “Description” attribute often displays in the search engine results and can help readers decide if the page contains the information they are seeking. This can impact your click-through rates.

General Content - Be sure that the keywords are mentioned a few times in the content of the page. Search engines spider all of the page content. Lengthy pages are not advisable, but if you insist, be sure to keep the keywords near the top, or separate your one long page into smaller pages. Personally I recommend extracting your keywords from your content, as well as adding related keywords that may help your readers find you.

Links - Using the keywords as links gets you extra brownie points. Search engines not only look for your page to contain the keywords, but links to related information about those words. Link to complementary sites and ask that they reciprocate. It does not help to link to unrelated sites, so if your site sells dog food, you can link to a veterinarian, a dog groomer, a trainer, the website for a dog park, or a pet sitter. It will not help you to link to a wedding planner site!

Image Alt Tags - Don’t forget this one! For all of the images on your page, you have an Alt Tag. Be sure to include keywords in your alt tags as well. You can even use keywords in small graphics, such as a divider graphic for segments of your page. This is a great way to improve your ranking.

Site Maps - This is one of the more important tools you should be using. Sitemaps help a search engine’s crawlers to do a better job of indexing your site. They do not replace the methods that search engines already use to find your pages. It also does not guarantee that your pages will be included, nor does it help with the actual ranking of those pages, but it does allow the crawlers to find pages that are not linked or are hard to find (i.e., in a database). The sitemap should contain all the URLs on the site, and include information about when or how often each page gets updated. The more often you update your page, the more current and relevant your content, the more visitors you will get!

BONUS POINTS. Get even more exposure with HTML Comments, Hyperlink Titles and other code that is not directly displayed, but can be used to promote your site by including in your keywords.

Black Hat

The bad guys come up with new ways to deceive search engines every week, which I suspect is part of the reason the search engines change their methodologies so frequently. Black hat search engine optimization techniques are also called Spamdexing. This involves a number of methods that manipulate the relevancy of resources indexed by a search engine. Here are some of the more common things that people try and that backfire, resulting in a lower rank or even worse, in having your website banned from the search engine listings:

Stuffed Keywords – Don’t go overboard using the keywords in the title, body, links, alt image tags, headers, Meta tags, or at the bottom of the page. Too much of a good thing can cause the search engines to spit your site right out of the rankings altogether. This practice is sure to get you penalized. Most search engines have a limit to keyword density, and it is a fine line to walk, so be sure to scan your site with one of the free analyst sites to see if you are inadvertently doing this.

Misleading Keywords – Don’t put misleading words such as “Beyoncé” or “Antonio Banderas” in your content, in the vain hope you will land visitors looking for something else. You may initially see an increase in hits, but eventually the visitors will figure out that your content is unrelated and then they won’t be back, I can assure you! Even worse, this will get you blacklisted with the search engines.

Hiding Keywords – Don’t use text that is coded to be the exact same color as the background. The search engines know about this trick and they will get you for it! Another trick that does not work is using cascading style sheets to set the text size of a particular tag to zero percent, and then filling your page with invisible text.

Redirects – Don’t use code to make a page that automatically redirects to another page with different content. This is heavily frowned upon! This is not so different from the methods described next under “cloaking”.

Cloaking or Doorway Pages – Known by a number of different names, such as portal pages, bridge pages, gateway pages, entry pages, jump pages, etc., these are pages that redirect visitors without their knowledge. It is a form of cloaking, which uses server-side scripts to display one page to a person and another page to the crawlers. They can tell if it is a person or a crawler based on their IP addresses or user/agent. Either way, this is a deceptive practice and it will definitely get your site banned.

Read the Guidelines

Your best bet to work your way up the search engine rankings is to read the guidelines – and then follow them. An SEO technique is considered white hat if it follows the guidelines. Every search engine has them, and yes, they change from time to time, and differ from search engine to search engine, so this is something you need to stay on top of. As the black hat programmers learn to fanagle ways around the algorhythms used by the search engines, the search engines then have no choice but to change the algorhythms. In order to keep up with all the changes, you can sign up for topic-related newsletters – they will keep you up to date on the latest acceptable SEO techniques.

So, saddle up that horse, and ride off into the sunset wearing the White Hat of a savvy SEO expert!

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Web Design by Jacira