Google implemented Penguin in 2012, an algorithm update designed to decrease the search engine rankings of sites that used what are known as ‘black hat’ SEO techniques. Black hat techniques artificially increase a web page’s rankings through techniques such as manipulating the number of links directing to a page, often referred to as link schemes. Google estimates that the Penguin update affects approximately 3.1% of search queries in English and about 3% of search queries in Chinese, German and Arabic.
Penguin 4.0, rumored to be coming March 2016, is anticipated to be a real time update, which may have practitioners of black hat SEO methods quaking in their boots. As a real time update, the algorithm will be always on and updating, making the environment much more unwelcoming and challenging for those who engage in black hat practices.
Heroes and Villains
For anyone looking to boost their search engine rankings, it’s important to understand the difference between white hat and black hat SEO. Just as black hats versus white hats make obvious the difference between the good guys and the villains in our favorite western, so it goes with SEO.
There are many practices that are fair and honest, what we’d call white hat techniques. Then there are those techniques that skirt the edge a bit, things that ultimately do more harm than good and frustrate website users – black hat SEO techniques.
Newbies looking to promote a website may be unsure about what qualifies as a bad practice versus a good practice. There are many opportunists out there looking to capitalize on inexperience, promoting deals like “thousands of link for less than $10.” Not only do people who fall for these offers waste their money, they may harm themselves by being penalized by Google.
Let’s take a look at some black hat and white hat SEO practices:
Black Hat SEO
- Cloaking – This is the practice of creating two different versions of a web page – one for search engines and one for visitors. When search engine spiders/bots crawl through the page, it appears to be legit, with valid processes. However, when visitors access the page, they are directed to something different. An example might be a page that is largely text when searched by the search engine spider, but when accessed by a user, significant portions of text may have been removed and replaced with a giant call to action banner/button. While cloaking can have legitimate purposes, when used improperly it can potentially lead to having a site banned from Google.
- Keyword Stuffing – There is no fixed parameter on the percentage of keywords in your text that is appropriate, but most experts agree 2-3% is acceptable. Keyword stuffing is when a page is loaded up with keywords to create an illusion of relevancy for search engine bots. An overabundance of keywords is no replacement for useful content. This practice can lead to Google lowering a site’s rankings.
- Page Hijacking – This redirects web traffic by exploiting certain glitches in search engines. Hijackers create duplicate content of an existing site, then game SEO ranking systems to get the duplicate site more recognition than the original page, giving it a higher ranking than the original. The intent is typically to guide users to fraudulent websites that may infect their computers.
Other examples of black hat SEO include pingback spam, bait and switch page swapping, hidden text, unrelated keywords and blog spam. Any black hat SEO should be avoided as potentially more harmful than helpful.
White Hat SEO
- Non-Deception – Provide original copies of your site to visitors and search engine bots/crawlers alike. Avoid deceptive practices like cloaking or bait and switch. Follow the Guidelines – When websites violate SEO guidelines, it is possible to get some short term gains, but in the long run, it won’t be worth it if your site is demoted or banned from Google’s search engine. Review Google’s webmaster guidelines and stay within them for best results
- Put Users First – Your site’s content and images should be created for visitors, with the intention of giving them a good experience. Do not attempt to manipulate the content and images for search engine needs
- Provide Good Quality Content – Content should be informative and helpful. Good quality content will improve SEO and lead to improved traffic and repeat visits.
- Good Quality Web Pages – Good quality pages that are easily navigated will keep your website in tip-top shape, immune to the effects of small changes to the algorithm of search engine processes.
If you want your website to steadily progress in the rankings, use white hat SEO techniques and avoid black hat SEO techniques. Focus on providing quality content rather than taking shortcuts that may damage the standing of your page. When in doubt, consider the services of an SEO company or SEO freelancer to assist with optimization. If you do decide to go with a professional, find out about their practices up front; what type of link building do they use, what changes they will make, and what is their method for naturally including keywords.