What is SEO?
SEO is an acronym for “search engine optimization.” Search engines are essentially systems that help users sort through and find information on the internet. Search engines rank their search results according to search queries, the keywords that users enter into the search box. The goal of SEO is get your website ranked highly in search results so as to increase the number of visitors to your site. In general, the higher you can rank in search results, the more traffic you will get to your site. SEO is most often targeted around the three most popular search engines, namely Google, Yahoo and Bing due to the fact that they drive the largest share of web traffic.
There are a number of different SEO techniques which have been classified broadly by people into white hat SEO, black hat SEO and gray hat SEO.
White Hat SEO
White hat SEO refers to techniques that adhere to search engine guidelines and policies. These techniques focus on the human side of search engine results by emphasizing the importance of content and the quality thereof. White hatters believe that the more content-rich a site, the more valuable it will appear to search engines and users. The white hat approach therefore, focuses on long-term, sustainable results as opposed to a quick fix. Other white hat techniques include keyword analysis, link baiting and internal link building. Link baiting refers to the creation of content that encourages people to link to your website e.g. an informative or useful article. Internal link building is used to help search engines navigate the content of your site. Search engines find it easier to index content from websites that have strong internal links.
Black Hat SEO
Black hat SEO refers to techniques that are aggressive and go against search engine rules and policies. Black hat SEO focuses on getting results and generally, does not take a human audience into consideration. These techniques are considered to be unethical and are quite often labeled the “tricks of the trade.” There is a great deal of risk involved in taking this approach as search engines penalize websites that use these types of SEO techniques. Some common black hat SEO techniques include keyword stuffing, adding invisible text, link farming and building doorway pages. The website may achieve good results in search engine results but the user experience is comprised.
Gray Hat SEO
Gray hat SEO refers to techniques that are not easily defined as either acceptable (white hat) or spam (black hat). Gray hat techniques are not as risky as their black hat counterparts however, they may be deemed to be unethical and there may be penalties. Some gray hat techniques include paid linking content duplication and cloaking. Linking is an important part of SEO but paying for them makes them suspicious. They may be legitimate, as is the case with paid advertising however, search engines may penalize sites with buy links solely for the purpose of increasing link popularity. Cloaking refers to the process of submitting one page to a search engine but displaying a different page to the user. The page that is sent to the search engine is SEO optimized whilst the page the user sees is more human oriented, user-friendly and visually appealing. Like paid linking, there are legitimate reasons for cloaking a page but it is also considered a risky technique.
White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO
Black hat techniques will give short-term results but they are risky and considered unethical. If you don’t want to run the risk of serious search engine penalties or a possible ban, then a white hat approach is the way to go. A ban results in the complete and total removal of your entire site from the search engine’s index. A penalty will result in a drop in your rankings. Penalties range from -6 ranking penalty to -950 ranking penalty, a.k.a. the kiss of death. White hat SEO takes longer and requires a lot more effort however, the results are long-term, sustainable and stress-free.