Hat vs. Hat: Search Engine Optimization in Black and White

It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.
–  Benjamin Franklin


If you were shopping for an item or service, what kind of business would you rather patronize: a business that provided useful information about the company or product, or a business that advertised something that sounded great, but didn’t live up to the hype?  A business that provided pleasant customer service and sold a quality productthat lived up to the marketing, or a business that was more interested in their profit margin then cultivating repeat customers? I’m sure the answers would be unanimous. Everybody knows good business practices and good customer service when they see them, but when business moves to the web, things seem to get a bit muddled.

Picture the search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) as your customers, and your website as a digital portrait of your business practices.  If the search engine “crawlers” find your site easy to navigate, containing keywords and links relevant to your site, and free of spam-like attributes, your site will grow naturally, rising in the search result ranks as more and more people visit your interesting, helpful, user-friendly site.  If your SEO uses “Black hat” techniques such as keyword stuffing or doorway pages, your site may get a boost in the rankings to begin with, but search engines are on the lookout for these and other deceptive or manipulative attributes.  If your site is caught using them, the punishments can range anywhere from a punitive drop in the search engine result rankings to getting booted from the search results all together!

“Black Hat” DON’Ts!

  • HIDDEN CONTENT:  Hidden content and keyword stuffing are often found hand in hand.  Redundant, keyword-heavy content is hidden in Comment Tags, NoScript tags, CSS, or even in tiny text or text the same color as the background of the page.  Even if this gives you a bump in the outset, search engines DO recognize these techniques and will punish or penalize your site if they catch you.
  • KEYWORD STUFFING:  Using many redundant keywords over and over in inappropriate places.  Some examples are listed above; this also includes “Alt. Text”.  Alt Text is a description of an image that becomes visible if the image doesn’t load.  Some Black Hats will stuff keywords into the alt text instead of a useful description of the image.
  • GATEWAY/DOORWAY PAGES:  Users rarely if ever see this page; it directs traffic to a viewable page on the site.  It has no useful user content, but is stuffed with keywords to “attract” search engine spiders (making the page list higher in the rankings).  Search engines tend to view this as Spam-like behavior, and react accordingly.
  • LINK FARMING:  Placing links on pages whose only purpose is to host links.  These very rarely acquire you any traffic, and search engines highly disapprove of these pages and anyone who participates with them.  Again, your site could be banned.

“White Hat” DO’s:

  • PAGE TITLES:  Make sure the page titles are succinct and descriptive.
  • CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT!  Make sure your content is relevant and well-written.  You won’t need to scramble for keywords if your page content is detailed, expressive, and free of spelling errors.  If you aren’t confident in your writing skills, create a list of the key points you want each page to address and get with someone who has a background in creative writing or marketing to write the actual content for you.
  • META DATA:  Using 2 or 3 sentences in your meta description will be more valuable than 10 or 20.  Search engines like short-and-descriptive, not long-winded-and-stuffed-with-extraneous-content.  The same applies to meta keywords; 2 or 3 keywords sprinkled throughout your title, meta data, headings, body text and links will be much more valuable (and less risky!) than stuffing your meta keywords with 50 variations of the same 2 or 3 words or phrases.
  • INBOUND LINKS:  Focus on cultivating links on sites that are related to what your site is about.  For instance, if your site is about gardening, cultivating a link on a plant nursery’s site will be much more valuable than a link on the web page of your friend’s restaurant.  Always be thinking of relevancy!

Remember: search engines will give consistently better ranks to sites which are well-organized, user-friendly, and free of spam-like tactics.  Design for the people who will be using your site instead of the spiders which will be stopping by, and your ratings will grow –  not just the short-term, but for the long-term as well!

Good luck!

Karen Leonard
July 25, 2011

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