SEO — Keeping it Honest

Or: White Hat vs. Black Hat Search Engine Optimization

There is one fundamental rule of SEO that cannot be broken! This rule is “Keep it Honest.” That means that no matter what you do, take pains to ensure that you are not trying to be sneaky or get around the search engine algorithms by “tricking” them. We call this dishonest behavior “black hat seo” but it really refers to both search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). If you’re not clear on the difference, read “What is the difference between SEO and SEM?”

The engineers at Google and other top search engine firms didn’t get to where they are by being stupid. They know all the tricks. And as new ones pop up, they learn them and incorporate measures against them into their code. But the one thing that never changes is that search engines want to produce the best results possible for their users. And they do this by evaluating your site as a whole and reading your content. If the search engine doesn’t think your content is a good fit for what the searcher is looking for, you’re never going to permanently achieve a high position, no matter what you do and no matter what your PageRank or the PageRank of the sites that link to you are. You might luck out and find a new trick the search engines haven’t learned yet but be assured–they will learn your trick and you’ll suffer for it.

So how do you know if what you’re doing is white hat or black hat? Assuming you have a conscience, you follow your gut. Do you feel like the technique you’re using is putting one over on someone? Do you feel like you’re being sneaky? Are you trying to artificially increase your position or PageRank or are you creating valuable content and useful links?

I decided to write this article because I was talking to a new client and was amazed when he told me what my competitors were offering—they were offering a number of questionable services, including some that Google has specifically indicated were likely to result in negative results. Before doing your own SEO or hiring someone to do it for you, you should read the official Google Policies on the following: webmaster guidelines, link schemes, paid links, hidden text or links, clocking and doorway Pages, keyword stuffing, and duplicate content.