There are creatively placed web advertisements everywhere you look on the internet, and certain companies seem to always be at or near the top of the search engine results page (SERP). Driving these companies is a thriving industry of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) professionals, but not all SEO is equal, and not everyone is professional. In fact, some of them use techniques to reach top positions that can do more harm than good to an online business. This is due to the way search engines rank web sites.
To grossly oversimplify it, all search engines use one form or another of proprietary logic to distinguish good sites from bad sites. While there are a great many factors that determine whether a site is good or bad, the most basic metric every search engine uses is a count of the number of links or references to and from a particular site. The more often a website is linked to from relevant and quality sites, the higher it will rank in search indexes. Conversely, links to or from low quality sites can lower that rank. When all factors are calculated, the site is then compared to other sites for the same search terms, resulting in its final position, or SERP.
This makes reaching and holding the number position extremely competitive, and potentially very lucrative. Many companies spend huge sums of money and sometimes resort to unethical methods to manipulate SERP so their site ranks in the top. Because of this, every search engine provider constantly tweaks its system that identifies quality content from questionable content, and good sites from bad. Some of what works today won’t work tomorrow, and in some cases can actually damage a company’s ranking. A classic example is BMW, who admitted to manipulating search results, and as a result was temporarily blacklisted by Google. Despite this and numerous other high-profile examples, many SEO companies continue developing new and more creative ways to trick search engines. To protect your company, it is important to understand what separates good SEO from bad SEO.
Put simply, SEO is a lot like the old “Spy vs. Spy” cartoon. Black hat is bad, white hat is good, and they use nearly identical tactics. Fortunately, differentiating between them is very straightforward. If the online action or advertisement your SEO company is suggesting provides value to the end user, then it is most likely white hat, and will provide long term benefits to your SERP. If the answer is no, then it is most likely black hat, and will ultimately damage your business, even if it provides short-term gains.
For example, the top white hat public relations company in terms of volume is PR Web, holding the top spots for blogs, number of releases, site traffic, and social media. A sample release for a custom writing service can be seen here, and demonstrates white hat methodologies. The article is well written, logically structured, and provides value to the reader in the form of information about the topic. This is what search engines thrive on.
Conversely, black hat sites often link to completely unrelated services, consist of spam content, or make off-topic posts that are unrelated and irrelevant to a blog or site’s subject matter. Many times they also include masked links that trick users into visiting other sites. In the worst cases they even plagiarize and recycle content to trick search engines into believing it is original (this is known as content spinning, and should never be used). These methods all detract from the user experience, and can do significant damage to brand reputation.
Based on how easy it is to differentiate between the two, it would seem logical for companies to only use white hat methodologies. Unfortunately, the actual line between black hat and white hat is not equally enforced across all search engines or sites. Many times sites are not immediately rewarded or punished for their online actions. This allows black hat sites to regularly reach the top spots in search results, while white hat sites often tend to lag behind.
Business managers who focus on visible results but don’t understand SEO may elect to adopt black hat methodologies to achieve immediate and visible results. They rarely understand that they are creating a cycle of short-term gain, followed by long-term setback. Instead they see an action and expenditure of resources directly translating to results. Later, when they are required to change tactics to reach a top rank again, once more they see an action and expenditure of resources that generates results. Few realize that they are just spinning their wheels until it is too late and they have caused lasting damage to their SERP.
Complicating matters, some companies using white hat methodologies may decide they are wasting their efforts, as a seemingly endless stream of black hat sites always manage outrank them, but that is where most people fail to fully understand the why behind white hat SEO.
Put simply, if search engine algorithms are constantly adapting to black hat SEO, and black hat methods are constantly evolving to manipulate search results, then effective black hat techniques will always put their company in the number one position, but no black hat company will keep the top position for an extended period. In fact, with search engines blacklisting sites for months or more, it means that any time the top search rank position is occupied by a black hat company, it is guaranteed to be replaced by a different company in a relatively short time. In the internet world, where almost everything is constantly changing and evolving, consistently being second in SERP means that your site will always be there, unlike the black hat sites that will come and go.
Since marketing and advertising is built on impressions, always being number two is far better than occasionally being number one. Just like in car racing, never missing a race can win the season, even if you never take first place. Making sure your business follows white hat practices will keep you in the race, and maintain a high SERP position.Powered by Sidelines