What is SEO and Why You Should Care About White Hats

This week we asked our guest blogger and SEO expert Brandon Leuangpaseuth to help us understand exactly what is SEO and what is current best practice.

What is SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?

Let’s start out by defining what is SEO. Simply put, Google is just an algorithm designed to show the most relevant results to search queries. It is in the company’s best interest to continue to show searchers the most relevant search results otherwise people would stop using its search engine! Imagine if you searched for a picture of a cat and an image of a walrus showed up…

If people could not trust the search results, Google would not be able to operate as a business for the company makes the majority of its revenue from advertisements.

Search engine optimization (or SEO) is optimizing your website to match the algorithms ranking factors, so you can have your website get traffic from the organic search results on search engines.

Google has over 200 ranking factors it takes into consideration for deciding whether a website should be ranked at the top of the search results. You improve your rankings by making adjustments and matching the different components of your website to Google’s ranking factors.

There are generally two ways of ‘doing’ SEO: Black Hat and White Hat.

What is Black Hat SEO?

Black Hat SEO refers to the tactics and techniques to aggressively optimize a site for search engines and does not obey any of the rules or guidelines set forth by the search engines.

These shady strategies often involve trying to game the search engines into believing that the site is relevant to the search queries. This can be regarded as the ‘Dark Side’ of SEO.

Some examples of Black Hat SEO techniques include overly stuffing keywords on a page, invisible text, private blog networks (or PBN– a network of websites and blogs on domain names that are owned by you), egregious back links, adding unrelated keywords to the page content or changing a web page entirely after it has been ranked by search engines.

Black Hat has been known to get results quickly, however like most things in life, easy come, easy go. These tactics are often used by those who look for a quick financial gain on their website instead of a long-term investment and run the risk of being banned or penalized from a search engine. If you are a legitimate business that cares about your reputation and growth, then Black Hat is not for you. So be wary of “experts” who promise you quick results or who don’t want to tell you how they operate. 

What is White Hat SEO?

White Hat SEO methods are on the opposite end of the spectrum to Black Hat SEO and just like the term implies, it means being one of the good guys. White Hat is basically doing what Google tells you to do, which is creating valuable user-friendly content on an easy-to read and index-able website.

These tactics oftentimes tend to be a longer time investment but will stand the test of time. White Hat SEO includes: having a website that has fresh, valuable content, high quality earned backlinks, and natural keywords.

Here are Google’s guidelines for having a website that ranks high.

Back in the day, you could throw a website up, stuff your pages with keywords, add some spammy backlinks, and you could have your page ranking on the first page. You could essentially trick Google into showing your page as the most relevant search result.

Google’s algorithm is getting smarter and smarter. A lot of these spammy tactics have become antiquated. Although, tactics such as PBNs still work, they would only work in the short-term. Google is constantly updating it algorithm to catch people who try to game the search engine. Eventually, Google will catch on and penalize your site. You would be essentially be competing against some of top-level engineers who work at Google.

As a rule, as defined by Will Coombe, the CEO of Sharpe Digital, the ultimate test you should use to consider if you are doing White Hat SEO, is to ask yourself:

“If I was a Google Engineer, would I reward, punish, or be indifferent to the SEO about to be performed?”

If you are trying to improve your rankings by spamming blog post comments with links to your website or copying and pasting content from another website, would Google’s engineers reward you in the rankings for doing this? Probably not.

White Hat SEO is the only way to go. If Google catches you for using any spammy methods, they will penalize your site and it will take a lot more effort to rank your site after a penalty. Yes, you can be punished or even banned altogether.

Why You Should Care

According to global data website, Internet Live Stats, Google now processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. Google has built enough of a reputation as a search engine to where searchers put a lot of trust in its search results.

If Google puts your business at the top of Google, people will subconsciously value and trust your business’s product or service to be the highest quality.

The internet has become so prevalent within our society, if you are not ranking well on Google for your business, your business will truly be ancient. If not now, maybe next year or the near future as more and more people turn to the internet to find businesses to fulfill their needs.

Old-fashioned business tactics like snail mail and newspaper advertisements are becoming less and less effective marketing tools while AdWords and SEO become more and more adopted. The reach of the internet and search engines far surpasses the reach of any direct mail campaign.

Let’s Start Ranking

Ironically, all SEO is against Google’s guidelines. They clearly state in their guidelines that you should not try to influence the rankings of your website.

Although that is true, White Hat SEO makes sure to be favorable to the search engines by avoiding spam or using underhanded tactics to not be penalized. They create high-quality content that people value and need to harvest the long-term benefits of having a high ranking site.

SEO is not right for every business. Businesses that thrive on lower margins but a volume of sales might be better suited for spending its marketing dollars on Google AdWords. So now you know what is SEO you can think about how you want to put it to work in your business.  Talk with a professional to see if investing in SEO is right for your business.

Brandon Leuangpaseuth is a search specialist from San Diego, CA that helps businesses across the nation improve their rankings on Google. You can connect with him on LinkedIn @bleuangpaseuth