White Hat And Black Hat SEO Explained

White Hat And Black Hat SEO Explained

Within SEO, there’s certainly a grey area with regards to whether some techniques are legitimate. Two key terms are ‘White Hat’ and ‘Black Hat’, but what do they both mean?

Written by Jordon Turberfield

6 min read

What Is White Hat SEO?

In short, white hat refers to SEO techniques that are ethical and adhere to search engines terms of service and guidelines. This is done to help improve a website’s visibility within search engine results pages (SERPs), and to help improve a website’s SEO in the long run. While this applies to all websites, when it comes to the competitive world of ecommerce, it's even more important to apply these techniques to your Shopify store to help outrank your competitors and increase audience share.

Why not check out our Ultimate Guide to SEO for Shopify - now available as a blog or as a free download.

A white hat strategy will generally cover 3 key areas:

1. Following Search Engine Guidelines

Ensuring a website follows Google’s website guidelines. By following Google’s guidelines, a website can be optimised in the correct way. The content on the guidelines page essentially tells users how they can go about SEO in the most ethical way possible, whilst ensuring that the user isn’t manipulating the algorithm.

2. Optimising For A Human, Not A Bot

White hat SEO techniques will involve implementing changes to a site that are more focussed on benefiting humans, rather than bots crawling the site. A search engine’s main priority when ranking sites is to give users the very best results they can, so ranking pages highly that give the user the exact experience they’re after is in their best interest. You should optimise your Shopify store so it serves the needs of your audience.

Any effective SEO strategy will always incorporate techniques that will focus on improving the overall site experience for users. Top SEO techniques such as giving a site high-quality content that is insightful to users, as well improving information architecture and site speed, are Google approved.

3. Thinking Long Term, Not Just Short Term

White hat SEO techniques will often consume more time, and require more work than black hat techniques, and this may take longer to see positive results. However white hat SEO will have a much larger and lasting impact in the long term.

White hat SEO techniques are implemented to improve the overall site experience, and what comes with this is steady rankings for keywords. This is key for ecommerce as it's important to build a strong online presence to make it easy for new customers to find your Shopify site.

What Is Black Hat SEO?

In short, black hat is the complete opposite of white hat, and refers to SEO techniques that are unethical and violate search engines terms of service and guidelines. By manipulating algorithms, this can lead to greater visibility within search engine results pages (SERPs) for the short term, but in the long term this can be detrimental to website ranking and result in a penalty, or even worse, a search engine ban.

A black hat strategy will generally cover 3 areas:

1. Violating Search Engine Guidelines

Black hat SEO techniques will generally go against Google’s website guidelines. Google lists specific techniques to avoid which includes creating pages with little or no original content, and buying backlinks.

2. Manipulating The Algorithm

With white hat SEO techniques being primarily focused on improving users' site experience, black hat SEO techniques are heavily reliant on manipulating Google’s algorithm in order to help improve keyword rankings.

For instance, if a technique is being used that intends to trick Google into thinking that a site is providing a user with more value than it actually does, this would be classed as black hat SEO.

3. Only Focusing On The Short Term

While black hat SEO techniques can sometimes produce results with little work, these are usually ‘quick wins’ and will only last short term.

These deceptive techniques only last short term because Google will constantly look to improve their algorithm in order to ensure they’re giving users the very best results for their queries. This means that sites that don’t focus on giving users a good site experience will see a loss in keyword rankings after every new algorithm update, which makes black hat SEO techniques a short term focused strategy.

Most Common White Hat SEO Techniques

Quality Unique Content

Content should always be written in a way to benefit the person who’s reading it, rather than a bot crawling the site. Having quality unique content on a site is key to SEO, and will improve a site’s overall authority with Google. For a Shopify merchant, this means ensuring your content meets the needs of your customers. It needs to describe who you are, and what your service or products are. Make sure your product descriptions are unique, accurate and useful.

Relevant Keywords

When optimising page titles, meta data, or writing content, relevant keywords should be used. Keyword usage should also be considered, the general rule here is to use one primary keyword, and then 2 or 3 secondary keywords. Make sure the keywords align with what you want your Shopify store to rank well for to improve the chances of being presented in front of potential customers.

Backlinks With Authority

Backlinks with authority that have been obtained organically compared to paid links, is a hugely important part of SEO. Paid links can lead to ‘quick wins’ and gaining backlinks with authority can take time, but in the long term it will have a greater impact on a site, leading to an increase in keyword rankings and site traffic for your Shopify store.

Structured Data Markup

Using structured data markup language like https://schema.org/, can help search engines learn more about a site when it is crawled. By giving this level of information to search engines, this will lead to an increase in overall value of the site. You can include ecommerce specific schema, to help search engines understand that you are a retail business and what it is your Shopify store sells.

Internal Linking

By linking internally to other relevant pages, this will help users navigate a site seamlessly without the need to get frustrated and leave, so simple navigation is key to keeping a user on a site. For example, you could make sure that your product pages have internal links to other appropriate products. As well as helping visitors navigate your Shopify store, it will increase the possibility of cross-sell and upsell.

Page Speed

Site speed is a crucial ranking signal for search engines, as slow speeds could annoy users and cause them to leave a site. Slow sites that have issues with large images etc. will be impacted with lower rankings since a user’s experience won’t be good. Which is why any site should consider its functionality and how this could severely impact site speed. When it comes to ecommerce, people have a learned set of behaviours and expectations about how a website should function and how the pages connect, so keep it simple. Including lots of elements that can slow a site can lead to frustrations for the visitor and ultimately they will just leave and visit an alternative online retailer. For more information around this, take a look at our blog about auditing a website’s speed, as well how site speed impacts a user's journey.

Most Common Black Hat SEO Techniques

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is the process of spamming keywords into content, meta data, page titles, or even anchor text.

This can be done in a few different ways; one way is to hide content packed full with keywords relevant/irrelevant, so it can only be seen by a crawler bot and not a user. Another way is to stuff keywords into meta data, page titles, or anchor text by placing keywords in an unnatural way that don’t read well or make sense.

Manipulative Links

Manipulative link building includes gaining links from unrelated websites using various different techniques. Generally this will be tactics like spamming links in blog comments, and participating in link schemes i.e. hidden referral links from one site to another that aren’t visible to a user.

Content Cloaking/Hidden Text

Content cloaking is a technique that is implemented to display content only to search engines bots within the source code, and not the user. This is a tactic used to help a site rank for irrelevant content or to stuff keywords onto a page. Black Hat SEO techniques can include having text on a page that is the same colour as the background colour or text that is font size 0, so this isn’t visible to the user.

Duplicate/Low Quality Content

Content that has been completely duplicated, or scraped from other websites gives 0 value to users. Bad content won’t sit well with search engines, and their algorithms will quickly discover duplication or low-quality content on a site, leading to a negative impact on rankings.

When asked if duplicating product descriptions on an ecommerce store that had been taken direct from the manufacturer could cause issues, John Mueller of Google explains: 'With duplicate content we have essentially two, roughly, different things that we look at.

On the one hand we check if the whole page is the same.

And that includes everything like the header and the footer and the address of the store and things like that, which in your case this would not be the case because one is maybe a manufacturer’s website and the description is the same but everything around it is different.

Why You Should Always Wear The White Hat

To conclude, depending on which path you go down whether it is white hat or black hat, the techniques used can help improve a site, or have a severe negative impact. White hat SEO will produce longer term results, give a site high quality content, greater visibility within the SERPs, and generally lead to higher clicks and conversion. Black Hat SEO may lead to short term results, but will affect a site in the long term, with potential penalties, bans, and an overall poor user experience.

In order to stay ahead of the competition and give your Shopify store the best chance of outranking your competitors, it's best to take the longer-term approach and make sure you're not partaking in any underhand techniques.

Use this article as a guide to follow to ensure you’re always wearing the right hat when it comes to SEO and if you need any SEO support, why not drop us a line?

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