Many businesses have had a bad experience with an SEO company, these days it is almost expected. We have a considerable number of clients coming to us having dealt with an SEO company who made false promises, or misinformed the client about what they do and what the purpose of it is.
This kind of company ends up giving a more professional SEO company a bad name, giving them a reputation to match snake oil salesmen. The difference between a less professional agency and a company who works in a more professional manner is sometimes referred to as white hat and black hat SEO.
The primary difference between white and black hat SEO techniques, are that black hat techniques are what Google sees as unethical SEO, and white hat techniques are seen as ethical SEO. Black hat SEO involves the exploitation of how Google works, and will ultimately lead to penalties to sites that have their SEO conducted in such a way. Meanwhile, white hat SEO uses practices that tend to improve the quality of the clients website.
Black hat SEO frequently breaks rules and regulations set by search engine companies such as Google, as if it were effective then the user experience would suffer greatly. Imagine if you searched Google for ‘padlocks’ and all the pages that got returned were poorly built, and potentially not even related to your search. This is precisely what Google is trying to stop from happening. There are a variety of things that Google have had to account for over the years to stop black hat methods from being effective.
This kind of alteration can be seen as late as the Google Penguin 2.0 update, just a week before this article was published, Google updated their previous Penguin update to further improve how it handles finding link spam. The Penguin update is focused on reducing how effective the use of bad link building is. Link building is targeted at increasing the credibility of a given website through linking to it using another domain that is determined to have some credibility. However, some agencies – typically black hat agencies – take these linking practices too far, producing links that, at best, have no positive effect, and at worst will have a negative effect.
In the past, to have the greatest effect through link building, you might have taken an aged website that already has some credibility and built it so that it would contain a large amount of links to the site being targeted for SEO. However, following the Penguin updates, this practice has been reduced in effectiveness by a vast amount. If there are too many low-quality links directed at a site, then Google might pick up that these links are spammed, being made to exploit older methods that Google used to determine the credibility of sites.
Using backlinks you may have been able to ‘Google Bomb’ a website, making it rank for keywords that it would not normally have been picked up for. Possibly the most infamous example of this was seen in 2006, where a search for the term ‘miserable failure’ would return George Bush’s ‘about’ page on the official white house website. The way this worked was that this specific URL would have links built linking to it, which contain the text “miserable failure”, and this would tell Google that the page is relevant to that term.
Black hat link building will effectively attempt to do this, though often the terms are relevant, the sheer volume of links from poor quality domains will end up falling flat. As a result, it’s important that any link building that is done is conducted with due caution. If you have had free SEO, or bought cheap links, you should be sure that the links these companies have built to you do not appear vast amounts of times over a single domain, or that these domains to not contain a massive selection of links that are all unrelated to the page content.
A more professional SEO company will approach link building in a much more cautious way than a black hat company, with the intention of building links that do not appear to be spam, using less links over a larger amount of pages to a much greater effect. Having even a very small number of links from just two or three domains can sometimes have a great effect in having your site found for certain terms.
Another update that has had a major effect on SEO is the Google Panda update. Google Panda was an update first released in February 2011, and then further updated in March 2012, September 2012 and January 2013. The purpose of this update was to increase the importance of text content when finding relevant pages.
Now, a black hat SEO company might have done what is called keyword stuffing. This typically involves taking a keyword (often multiple) and throwing it into just about every field and tag it’s possible to within a page. It’s good to have content that focuses on a specific subject, but keyword stuffing usually completely overdoes this. For example, you might see a plumbers website that contains a title like “Plumbing Services by Plumbing Experts with years of Plumbing Experience”, which is just unnecessary.
Google is very intelligent when it reads a page, and can tell quite easily if a page is degrading the user experience simply to rank for a given keyword. Again, this is the kind of service that a non-professional SEO company might give you, telling you to alter your site in ways that have little to no long-term benefit, and may even cause penalties to your site.
A white hat SEO company will ask of you to use content that is high in quality, rather than suggesting you to use keywords to the point of absurdity, you’ll be expected to use a reasonable amount of content which is on-theme, but not ‘over-optimised’.
Now, this all ties together when you look at your SEO agency. Are they the kind of company that operates with a black hat mindset, or a white hat mindset?
It’s important, especially as Google goes forward with more and more algorithm updates, that you look for a professional SEO company who uses white hat methods that will help you to gain rankings and hold them.
But further to the white hat/black hat disparity, there are other things that a less professional SEO company might do that can have negative effects on their clients. In fact, I’ve already written up a whole article tackling the subject of your SEO company considering your requirements and goals, so please read on to find out; Does Your SEO Agency Have Your Best Interests at Heart?