Search engine optimization otherwise known as SEO is a popular form of search engine marketing. The main goal of which (as its name would suggest) is to improve the ranking of the site in various search engines. An entire industry of consultants has sprung up around the idea of search engine optimization. However, it's important to note that there are two distinct and disparate methodologies at work when it comes to optimization. In fact the SEO consultants themselves as well as their methods can be subdivided further into two different groups. The categories are best known as “white hat SEO” (which is aimed at improving overall site quality, and increasing the site's ranking through approved methods), or “black hat SEO” (often use methods such as cloaking and spamdexing to increase rankings. However, using such methods can lead to your site to being removed from search engine listings). Those in the white hat camp charge that black hat methods are not only giving SEO a bad name but are also attempting to manipulate and undermine the search rankings. The black hatters counter that argument by saying that in truth all SEO is an attempt to manipulate rankings, and therefore the particular methods one uses to increase rankings are irrelevant. In other words they take the more Machiavellian approach of using the end results to justify the means they use.
So what more specifically are the methods being employed by the two camps?
White hat methods:
These methods typically involve following the search engines' published guidelines as to what is and what isn't acceptable. The advice typically given by the white hat SEO experts is to create more user-friendly content, and not focus so much on the search engines. That is if your site is well put together and presents something users need it will naturally climb in the rankings. Also by making content that is easily accessible to the search engines spiders it will be properly read and therefore properly indexed in the search engines. The white hatters are needed most often because a webmaster has made critical mistakes in either the design or the set-up of their websites, inadvertently “poisoning” them so that they will not rank well. The SEOs then attempt to discover and correct these mistakes, which may include unreadable menus, broken links, temporary redirects, or simply a poor navigation structure.
Here are a few examples of SEO activities which the search engines find acceptable:
– Using a reasonably-sized, accurate description meta tag without excessive use of keywords, exclamation marks or off topic terms.
– Optimizing tags, titles and other parts of the code as necessary
– Using WordTracker or a similar database to find popular and relevant keywords and phrases to use for your site.
– Monitoring the various search engines to ensure that your URL gets indexed
– Increasing the amount of unique content on the site.
– Writing quality content for the website visitors instead of the search engines.
Black hat methods:
Whereas the white hat methods follow search engine guidelines “Black hat” SEO methods to try to improve rankings by any means necessary. Most of these methods are disapproved of by the search engines, typically because of their deceptive nature, but also hamper the ability of the search engines to provide quality content to site visitors. Search engines often penalize the sites they discover using black hat methods, by reducing their rankings or eliminating their listings from the search engine results altogether. These penalties are usually applied automatically by the search engines' algorithms, because the Internet is too large to make manual policing of websites feasible. However once they are discovered, search engines may take action against those found to be using unethical SEO methods. Take for example Google's removal of both BMW Germany and Ricoh Germany in February 2006 for use of these practices.
One common black hat method is known as Spamdexing. Spamdexing is the promotion of irrelevant, chiefly commercial, pages through various deceptive techniques and the abuse of the search algorithms. Unfortunately it often gets confused with white hat search engine optimization techniques, which do not involve deceit. Spamming involves getting websites more exposure than they deserve for their keywords, leading to unsatisfactory search results. Optimization involves getting websites the rank they deserve on the most targeted keywords, leading to satisfactory search experiences.
One example of spamdexing is link farming. Link farming can be basically defined as any group of web pages that all link to every other page in the group. Another common practice is listing popular keywords in fine print or in the same color as the background so they can't be seen by users.
So how can you tell the difference between Black and White SEO practices?
A very easy way to distinguish between the two is though the amount of time involved in getting the desired results. White hat SEOs use methods that produce results slowly over time and only after a good deal of effort has been put into the site. Black hat SEOs offer you quick and easy results most, if not all, of which will obtained through deceptive practices.