Deep-Dive Into SEO: The Good, the Bad, and the Worst

For some, navigating the world of marketing is no easy feat, especially if you’re new. When traversing within this realm you’re bound to encounter a multitude of acronyms for key concepts that must be understood before crafting digital marketing strategies. Like with architecture, ensuring that your foundation is sturdy is vital before you begin building upon it. There are many ways to optimize your site’s ranking, but some techniques involve risks. Before embarking on your journey into the world of digital marketing, we’ll begin with an understanding of SEO.

What is SEO?

If you want to hide something, place it on the second page of the Google search results. People begin their research with Google, but only the first five search results receive 67% of all clicks. With this information in mind, you might be wondering, how do we make it into the coveted top five results? One way to make this happen is through search engine optimization. 

SEO is defined as the practice of increasing the quality and quantity of traffic to your website through organic search engine results. It’s important to drive traffic to your site, but not all traffic is created equal. We want searchers who will find your content useful. Once you’ve sifted out the searchers who won’t find your content relevant, that’s when you’ll start focusing on the numbers, or in this case, the quantity of traffic. Unpaid traffic that is generated from SERPs (search engine results pages)  is known as organic traffic. 

Search Engines 

When faced with a perplexing question, it is not uncommon for us to immediately take to our keyboards or awaken our devices from their slumber (Siri, Alexa, I’m looking at you) to help us find the answers we seek.  Each second, Google processes over 40,000 search queries on average which equates to 3.5 billion searches a day. Within mere seconds, billions of results appear and are arranged in an order that the engine deems most fitting for our query. The order in which results appear is determined through three main processes: ranking, crawling, and indexing processes. 

Crawling – These aren’t your average creepy crawlies! During this process, search engines send out bots to search the web for new and updated content which is later stored in an index. 

Indexing – After a bit of search and reconnaissance, the bots store the information that was discovered while crawling. Once stored in the engine’s index, the webpage will be displayed as a result of relevant searches. 

Ranking – Answering the searcher’s question is the priority. Based on the query, the results will be arranged from most to least relevant. 

When it comes to SEO, there are many hats you can wear. But there are also consequences that come with the hat you choose to don. 

Black Hat SEO 

You want results and you want them fast. These “short-cut” tactics are often referred to as black hat SEO. People who participate in black hat SEO often regret taking this route. Of the three methods, this one is the least ethical as it goes against search engine guidelines and is often given a penalty. There are many characteristics of black hat SEO. Not sure about which practices are deemed shady by most search engines?  Here are a few examples of black hat tactics:

Keyword stuffing – This is the overuse of certain keywords in an attempt to improve visibility and increase organic traffic. In the case of keyword usage, less is more. Maintaining relevance when using keywords in your online content is vital. If determining whether a word is connected to the topic or not feels like a stretch, it’s probably best not to use it. 

Cloaking – Trying to pull the wool over the eyes of a web crawler? Some webpages are able to show a different version of their site to crawler/bots that decide to pay them a visit.

Invisible text – This method is dated, but it is still loved by some. This involves hiding text containing keywords in the webpage’s background by matching its color or placing it offscreen using CSS. Doing this only makes the words visible to search engines.

Creating and operating a business requires a substantial amount of time and money. If you started one, chances are that you’re in it for the long haul. Websites flagged for these practices run the risk of being permanently banned from search engines, so it’s best to avoid using black hat techniques. 

Grey Hat SEO 

If there is a fine line between ethical and unethical SEO practices, a grey hat tactic is it! This method involves practices that aren’t illegal, but they aren’t entirely honest either. Here are a few ways grey hat SEO is done:

Keyword association manipulation – One of the things is not like the other. This technique is similar to keyword stuffing, but it involves trying to make unrelated words functions as synonyms in an attempt to trick bots.

Sneaky redirects – Using redirects on your site isn’t a crime, but when they’re used to show two different versions of your site, it becomes a problem. Refrain from showing one version of your site to desktop users and redirecting mobile users to a spam domain.

Duplicated content – Getting a sense of deja vu? Uploading the same content to multiple websites might seem like a great way to get more eyes on it, but it could run the risk of being deemed as spam by Google or other search engines. 

As with black hat SEO, there are risks involved with practicing these techniques. With the ever-increasing advancements in technology, trying to outsmart algorithms is quite the gamble. If having your company’s reputation take a nosedive doesn’t sound like something you’d like to put on the line, it might be best to try your luck elsewhere. 

White Hat SEO 

If you’re looking to improve your ranking without running the risk of facing penalties, then white hat SEO is the way to go! Essentially, white hat SEO is the avoidance of grey and black hat practices. However, it also requires the optimization of certain components of your webpage. White hat practices include:

Quality content – It’s important to remember the purpose of your content. The user has a problem and your site holds the answer/solution. Through the use of SEO keyword research tools, you’ll be able to find and attach the appropriate keywords that match the purpose of your content.

Meta tags – Always be sure to include these and they not only provide a snippet of your web page in SERPs but are also read by search engines and crawlers to learn additional information about your site. This information can be used to determine rankability.

Information Architecture – The structure of your information plays a pivotal role in usability and findability. Finely structured Information that is easy to navigate will provide users with an optimal experience during their quest to find the answer to their query.

Mobile-friendly – Having a version of your site that is fully capable of being viewed on mobile devices is quite important. According to Google, failure to do so could result in your SERP ranking taking a hit. This is because they prioritize mobile-friendly websites. If you’re unsure about your site’s mobile compatibility status, Google provides a mobility test that can help bring awareness to the components of your site that might require further action.

Conclusion

Implementing most of these practices will begin with the construction of your site. Simplistic yet functional navigation for both users and crawlers alike is ideal. It should be taken into consideration when designing your webpage. Adhering to these guidelines will have you well on your way to improving your ranking. All of this without running the risk of being flagged by search engines. 

Improving your ranking is of great importance, but it shouldn’t involve putting your business on the line. It is best to participate in honest practices that won’t result in the loss of your website and ultimately a decline in business. The world of digital marketing is a competitive field. Therefore, you might feel tempted to engage in practices that’ll help you quickly rise above the masses. But it’s important to be aware of the repercussions that are bound to follow. 

If you’re still looking for an alternative way to increase your views, you might want to consider SEM or search engine marketing. Learn the basics of SEM and how to implement its practices into your strategy in the second part of this blog The Bewildering History of SEM: All You Need To Know.

Written by Bryanna Norris
Published on March 16, 2020