‘Black Hat’ and ‘White Hat’ SEO

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In 2011, Google is way, way smarter than it use to be. It is also way more competitive. As I think back to the first time I visited the Pubcon forum in 2004, the conferences in the light of day were all about the “right way” to do SEO such as building quality content and structuring your pages correctly. But the real money, the people in the know, were going to the all night invitation only poker parties back at the hotels, where the the webmasters would share tips and tricks with each other about what really worked – and that was my first exposure to the world of Black hat.

Black Hat SEO is really more about tricking the search engines than it is earning credit. Its also a lot more about big short term success than long-term brand building.  Rather than building one big brand site over time, you’d cycle through a bunch of throw-away domains, knowing that what you are doing will work very well until Google catches you, at which your domain would be banned.  So, you’d structure your marketing with that in mind.  You would buy domains like do-diet-pills-really-work.info, stuff it full of the keywords you want to rank for, buy your way into a link farm to get thousands of overnight inbound links, and write cloaked pages that switch the content depending on which IP address you’re coming from, to show Google one thing (what you want to rank for) versus what you’re really selling. The latter trick in particular was very popular among the “poker pills and porn” crowd and was a great way to rank for ancillary topics such as online games, diet, and sexual health, even though unrelated.

But the good ole Wild Wild West days are pretty much over in that regard.  Well, that’s not entirely true, there are still people playing these games, but the effort required versus the output benefit has diminished considerably.  In that regard, Google has won the Coyote/Road Runner game.  You’ll notice now that Google places much less emphasis on keyword domains, on-page keyword density, and  and even on-page content for these reasons.  They’ve also acknowledged that they lean toward favoring established brands in their search results now.  This is in large motivated by paying advertiser relationships I’m sure, but it can also be traced back to their spam fighting past.

Today, effective SEO is much more similar to brand building than ever before.  It is about creating quality content that users want to read, improving user experience such as load times and navigation, and promoting the hell out of your content through social and PR channels.  What use to work with good ole reputation building for small businesses 20 years ago is once again working now at a conceptual level; only the tactics have changed.

With all of that said, Google is making it nearly impossible to get ranking or traffic for just about anything until you prove yoursef now, which has setup a situation where, unless you want to rank for something very non-competitive, you’re pretty much compelled to game the system a *little bit* to get off the ground.  Buying inbound links, paying a small army of people to vote for you on Google+ etc shouldn’t be necessary in the lovely World of White hatting, but if you want any traffic, it is.   And so like anything, it probably warrants a balanced and pragmatic look, on a case by case basis.

I’ve provided a few resources below to learn more about these two Worlds:

I. White Hat
1. SitePoint
2. Webmasterworld

II. Gray Hat (on that line):

1. WarriorForum

III. Black Hat
1. Blackhatworld
2. Syndic8
3. WickedFire