If you’ve been looking for help optimizing a website for search engines, or have started link building or seeking a company to help you build links, you’ve most likely come across the term “white hat” and maybe even “black hat.” But what do these terms really mean, and how can they affect your business and web presence?
Google and Its Rules
Google and search engines like it have complex algorithms that determine how relevant a given page is to a search that a user types in. Since the beginnings of the internet as we know it today, individuals and businesses have been trying to figure out how those algorithms work. Since they’re kept secret and are constantly being changed, no one knows exactly how they work, but people have some ideas.
For example, we know that a site with more links to it from other sites usually ranks higher for more searches, because that is one way Google can tell a site is widely used and legitimate. Link builders create links to bring people to websites and make those sites rank higher in search engines—but Google has some strict rules about links and other aspects of SEO.
White Hat vs. Black Hat
A white hat SEO marketer is one who follows Google’s rules, while a black hat SEO marketer breaks the rules—doing things that aren’t illegal, but are grounds for being kicked off Google’s results pages.
For example, if you’ve ever been in a web forum, you’ve probably seen posters answering questions with links to irrelevant websites. This used to be more popular than it is today, and was used to get those websites to the top page of Google—but Google has since changed the rules, and designed programs specifically to catch these kind of links and render them useless.
Doing this kind of linking now would be considered black hat, while foregoing this in favor of more relevant, helpful types of links would be considered white hat.
White Hat or Black Hat—Which One Is for Me?
If you’re a small business owner looking to bring customers to your site, you likely want to move up the Google ranks as quickly as possible. Black hat SEO marketers offer amazing speed, but don’t forget that what looks too good to be true probably is—because these SEO marketers are breaking the rules, they’re also a huge risk. They could get your site removed from Google’s results entirely!
White hat SEO is by its nature a little slower, but there is also almost no risk involved. Also, as more and more white hat SEO marketers perfect their methods, they can offer huge results in three or four months—not much slower than the black hat marketers, and with a great deal less risk.
The important thing to remember is that you don’t just want to get to the top of Google—you want to stay there.
I know very well that a number of people have been making dire predictions about how link building is dead in 2014. And you know what? They’re right. Link building as we once did it is dead and buried and good riddance to the old, spammy way that so many people built links. Those methods that worked so well in 2010 are not only worthless today. They can actually hurt you.
It’s All about Relevance
Before we actually get into talking about link types, we need to mention that quantity is nowhere near as important as quality. Google’s system is now designed to check carefully if a link comes from a relevant site. If it doesn’t, it can hurt you in the long run. That said, here are five kinds of links which can work well today if you use them correctly:
Please note that it’s no longer enough to simply put a link to your website selling dog food into the wiki page of the sociology department at some university. Instead, you need to individually hunt down the .edu page which would actually be relevant to you (i.e. the dog food thing might work on the veterinary college’s wiki page if you can write something worthwhile and relevant and not just spammy ad garbage).
Or consider a .gov site which deals with your particular niche. For example, a financial services company might create relevant content on a .gov wiki about retirement planning. You should also look to ensure that the page you create your links on is actively moderated. That will help ensure that you don’t end up getting a link on a relevant page which is buried in junk links making Google decide to penalize you for it.
No, you can’t just set up Xrummer to create millions of forum profile links for you. That doesn’t work and can actually hurt you. However, if you find relevant forums which are actively moderated to ensure that spam is not allowed there and you actively participate and provide useful ideas and content on the forum, these kinds of links can still be very valuable.
Yes, job boards can still provide you with good quality links which get people to click on them and which get you some Google love. Moz.com even mentions these kinds of links specifically as being useful for creating good quality SEO. Of course again, relevance is king. Don’t think that you can simply create a fake job listing in order to get a link from a job board. You need to genuinely be looking for someone and the ad needs to genuinely be about your company and be placed in the appropriate section of the site.
Non Profit Organizations
This is still a great way to get links though you do need to provide something of value in order to make it work. In essence, you can get a link from a well known non profit organization and this will count highly for your SEO efforts but only if you agree to provide some kind of sponsorship for them. This can either be in the form of an in kind donation or in the form of a cash donation.