SEO Expert: John Vargo October 13, 2017

Avoid Becoming an SEO Horror Story: White Hat Tips for Ranking

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During the course of my almost two decades of performing SEO, hiring SEO companies and observing the SEO services performed by others on client websites, it becomes very clear that there are varying degrees of search optimization competence. Most SEO professionals and certainly DIY SEO practitioners are self-taught. The adage ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ is certainly applicable when it comes to search engine optimization.

Don’t know what SEO is?  See our What is SEO Questions page.

The problem with learning SEO from online resources is that there is so much old information as well as miss-information regarding how to optimize a website.  Some tactics that one might implement may be old-school techniques that may have worked in the past and may even work today, however, they are currently frowned upon by Google and may result in a decline in rankings or, worse, a de-indexing of one’s website from Google.

Over the past two decades, Google has changed their algorithm dozens of times in an attempt to deliver optimal results to its users. Often, the algorithm updates are in response to rankings manipulation by SEOers. ( I don’t know if that word has been used before, but it works here for our discussion.)  Google has a set of Webmaster Guidelines to help anyone who is interested in understanding how to get their website indexed as well as how to optimize their website to achieve higher rankings in the Google search engine.

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines

Within the SEO community, we often refer to optimization techniques within Google’s guidelines as ‘white-hat’ and those more aggressive techniques that go against Google’s guidelines as being ‘black-hat’.

The crux of Google’s algorithm has always been about backlinks.  A website’s backlinks are analogous to receiving favorable word-of-mouth.  And like word-of-mouth referrals, the more one hears a positive referral, the greater the likelihood of taking action toward that referral such as trying a product or service.

It used to be the case, for example, that the more backlinks a website had, the greater its rankings. So, old school SEO would focus on building as many backlinks as possible, regardless of the quality or topical relationship to one’s website.  The SEO professionals understand that simply building as many backlinks as possible can actually be detrimental to rankings.

Another common old school tactic that, unfortunately, still works today is the manipulation of anchor text.  For those who do not know what the term ‘anchor text’ means, it is the part of text that one would click upon to be directed to another website page.  Here again, Google’s intent is to have relevant links such that a website, for example, about pet food might link to an article about pet nutrition and health.  Such a link might have the anchor text of “better pet nutrition”.

Anchor text manipulation is when one creates links using over-optimized anchor text that may have nothing to do with the topic of the sentence, paragraph or website in general. Anchor text manipulation is used most by those who understand its power; you guessed it, those who truly understand the nature of ranking well, SEO professionals.

White Hat SEO Tip #1 – Avoid Black Hat SEO Practices, Anchor Text Manipulation

For those SEO professionals who implement best SEO practices, they know not to manipulate backlinks, particularly in such an obvious way as over-optimized anchor text.  If that’s the case, then why do so many search optimization “experts” practice this technique? The truth is, it still works and Google is not catching or penalizing companies who practice such tactics.

If you have hired an SEO company to build backlinks for you, ask them from where they are building these links, which reveals the “quality” of backlinks, as well ask them about the anchor text being used for these backlinks.  Using our earlier example of pet food, if your SEO agency is building all your backlinks with “pet food” as the anchor text, they are doing a poor job.

White Hat SEO Tip #2 – Avoid Black Hat SEO Practices, Backlink Manipulation

Related to White Hat Tip #1, is the avoidance of backlink manipulation as it relates to the quantity of backlinks.  As previously mentioned, old-school SEOers would simply build as many backlinks as possible regardless of from where they were coming.  The more the merrier, or in this case, the better a website’s rankings.

Panda Algorithm Update – February 2011

Google has been a bit better at identifying this type of backlink manipulation and taking decisive action against it.  One of the most important Google updates was called “Panda”.  The Panda update targeted low-quality, spammy websites that offered little original content or value to visitors.  Frequently, these types of websites were used to build backlinks, which is why Google targeted them.  These types of websites, whether intentional or not, were used primarily for backlink quantity manipulation.

To get around the Panda update, some optimization “experts” built their own network of websites and created links from these websites to their “money” sites (those websites they wanted to rank well).  This type of backlink building became more clearly black-hat as Google made clear their intent to penalize websites who were practicing backlink manipulation.

Yet, some search optimization practitioners made intentional efforts to circumvent poor quality websites by building their own websites where they could control the content.  The network of websites was used to not only manipulate website quality, but also the quantity of links and anchor text used for links to their money sites.

Penguin Algorithm Update – April 2012

Google identified backlink manipulation via self-owned or self-controlled domains fairly quickly and released another update called Penguin.  The Penguin update was implemented to penalize and down-grade websites with unnatural link profiles.

Among the primary targets were what is referred to as Private Blog Networks, also known as PBNs.  These types of website networks get their name because many of the websites within the network are privately registered so that the owner is hidden, thereby reducing the chance of the network being readily identified.

White Hat SEO Tip #3 – Avoid Black Hat SEO Practices, Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is fairly easy to identify.  How many of you have read a web page or blog post that simply did not flow well and kept repeating the same set of words?  Now, frequently a page about a certain topic such as, say, SEO, will continue to use the same acronym because it is the most commonly used term with which people can identify.

More specifically, keyword stuffing is when you come across a page that simply does not flow or read well and you feel as if the set of repetitive words simply don’t fit within the context of the sentence, paragraph or page.  This is an old SEO short cut used by SEOers who simply don’t know how or don’t take the necessary time to perform proper best practices search optimization.

Key Takeaways:

While this article indicated white hat tips with the implication that white-hat SEO tactics would be discussed, it is often more beneficial to know what not to do when it comes to search engine optimization. Many SEO practitioners are self-taught by reading information they find online.  Often this information is inaccurate or simply outdated.  This article points out old school SEO tactics that may still work, however, if used they may result in one’s website experiencing declining rankings or worse a complete deindexing (exclusion) by Google. By avoiding black-hat SEO tactics, you can avoid being your own SEO horror story.

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