Our 8 part guide on all aspects of SEO, from how search engines work to the effects of UI and UX.
In the past decade, Search Engine Optimisation, better known as an SEO, has gone from a relatively unknown online marketing term to a key factor in many businesses’ success. The power of SEO alone can help turn businesses around and bring in high quality leads at an affordable monthly cost. At least that’s the objective. This huge surge of interest has produced a variety of experts, agencies and ‘gurus’ who all seem to have their own opinion of the most effective way to optimise a website.
Whilst most of these techniques will work to a certain degree of success, there really is no definitive evidence to show that any of them are the “best” so to speak. However, there is one important difference that you will have to be aware of and that is of “Black Hat” and “White Hat” SEO.
Some less than reputable agencies may try to compare the two equally, but really they can be strictly classified as right and wrong ways of doing SEO. However, adding to the difficulty of understanding for the layman, there is also a far less definitive area of optimisation known as “Grey Hat” SEO, which we will get into later.
White Hat SEO
To put it simply, White Hat SEO is the term given for search engine optimisation actions that are done ethically and correctly to rank a site for targeted keywords. There are several criteria that an SEO must meet before their work can be considered White Hat, which are as follows;
Follow Search Engine Guidelines
So to be a little more specific, White Hat SEO in all instances will follow the strict Google Webmaster Guidelines that it sets to advise industry professionals of the correct way to optimize a website. They are quite extensive but simple enough for most business owners to understand, at least the theory behind them.
A Focus on Human Audiences
White Hat SEO is largely focused on improving the user experience. Google wants to provide accurate results but they also want to ensure that the sites they recommend are properly maintained and provide their users with a good experience. Most effective SEO strategies will focus on making changes to benefit your website’s visitors. Publishing high-quality, original content and improving your website’s page loading speed are some of the things that will be looked upon kindly by Google’s algorithms.
As with most things, the right way to do something is also the most time consuming and takes longer to produce tangible results. Producing quality content it that is engaging for your target audience, constantly tweaking your website to improve user experience, as well as dealing with other industry-related publications (for referral links) can take hours each day.
Black Hat strategies are often less labour intensive and a kind of “workaround” to save time and money. Using White Hat tactics will take longer for your website to rank for your targeted keywords; however, the effect will be far stronger and longer-lasting on your site’s rankings.
*By setting up Google Search Console, you can be notified each time Google finds issues with your website’s usability and performance
Black Hat SEO
Black Hat SEO can be considered the polar opposite of everything that White Hat SEO stands for, and can be classified by the following guidelines:
Breaks Search Engine Guidelines
As White Hat is defined by its adherence to following the proper guidelines set out by search engines, Black Hat tactics not only do not follow them but sometimes they violate them completely by using unethical, quick-fix strategies.
Tries to Manipulate the Algorithm
While White Hat SEO will seek to find flaws in your website’s user experience and use tried and tested methods to improve this, Black Hat tactics rely on essentially fooling, or manipulating a search algorithm into ranking the site at a high position quickly. If the strategy is structured around making the algorithm think that a site is more valuable to users searching for a particular keyword than it really is, then that strategy will be considered as Black Hat SEO.
White Hat SEO takes time to implement and take effect as they go through the proper ranking and categorization process set forth by search engines. Whereas Black Hat tactics tend to rely on getting the highest possible position, as quickly as possible. In essence, this is used to beef up an SEO or an agency’s profit margins by avoiding the hard work and dedication it takes to perform proper White Hat SEO.
Most of the time though, these tactics do not give success for very long, with Google’s ever-improving algorithm finding innovative ways to determine which sites are following the rules and which ones are trying to beat the system for their own gain.
Grey Hat SEO
Though you are less likely to hear this phrase being used, SEO experts sometimes refer to “grey hat” strategies. These are what are defined as strategies that fall in between the definitions of White Hat and Black Hat SEO and occasionally they are tactics which just haven’t caught the eye of Google just yet and hasn’t directly cited them as something to avoid doing. While they may not be as detrimental to your site as Black Hat tactics, they are still a potentially risky move when trying to rank your site.
Doing things like making doorway pages or entirely separate “microsites” or submitting requests to link directories are all what you might describe as “Grey Hat” tactics. There is much debate within the industry as to whether these are solid practices to use on clients’ websites or are too risky at present to rely on. While they may give temporary satisfaction to their clients, they run the risk of jeopardizing both their clients’ sites rankings and their reputation and relationship with that client.
What Are the Risks?
If you decide to attempt to use tactics that are deemed manipulative to Google’s algorithms, there are two courses of action that are usually taken. Your site could suffer in the rankings where you have used black hat techniques as and when Google updates its algorithm, or you can even receive a manual penalty.
With people attempting to use optimization tactics that can deceive Google’s algorithm, they now update it regularly in order to improve the accuracy of their users’ search results. However, they are also designed to seal up any loopholes that SEOs may be exploiting to rank their site faster. A good example of this would be the 2012 Penguin update which was primarily designed to penalise sites that were buying low value, spammy links to improve their sites’ rankings, and people practising this form of SEO promptly saw their rankings crash.
You could also be hit by a manual penalty from Google. These are given by human technicians who work with Google’s team in order to identify and penalize sites which are exploiting Black Hat SEO tactics to deceive their algorithms. The more serious element of a manual penalty is that they can prevent an individual site from showing up in the Google Search Results altogether.
While investing in the effort of developing legitimate White Hat SEO may be unappealing and time-consuming, it is ultimately a more worthwhile endeavour than to risk everything by hedging your bets on a Black Hat SEO that is likely to jeopardize your entire site just to avoid the additional White Hat development work. Put simply, the risks just do not match up to the rewards and any temptation you might have to short cut the process by using Black Hat tactics should be ignored. Just as businesses are generally long-term investments, so too are SEO strategies and you should be willing to put that time and effort in for the best long-term results.
At Phoenix Media, we perform the same strategy on our clients as we do for ourselves. This generally involves making changes to the website to improve user experience and load times, producing good quality, original content and sourcing the best quality contextual link placements as possible.
Each campaign is tailored to the client based on the target keywords and location, website history, and suitable monthly budget. Although we do not have set prices, we would recommend a minimum starting budget of 20,000 THB per month.