Given that few people go beyond the first page or two of search results, most organizations find that the incentive is high for using every available strategy to boost their search engine optimization (SEO). Some strategies for increasing SEO are universally recognized as legitimate, some are clearly unethical, and in between is a murky area. What is the best approach for your company? Is it worth it to stray into those questionable areas?
The so-called White Hat approaches involve including the search terms in the URL of the target page or in the header tags. Well designed Web pages with content matching the search terms also increase rankings. Paid search results can also produce benefits, but users trust organic results (those that are produced by the user’s proactive search) more than paid results, so ideally the target page should be optimized to produce a good outcome from organic search.
Black Hat techniques include keyword stuffing, cloaking, link farms, and redirects, among others. In keyword stuffing, a particular keyword is put on the webpage multiple times in order to increase the chances of the page being ranked as relevant. Cloaking presents a deceptive description that does not match the actual content of the page but is related to popular search terms. Link farms are a set of interconnected websites that connect to the organization’s page to increase ranking, which depends in part on the number of links. Redirects send the user to the organization’s page after getting them to a “doorway” page.
Gray Hat refers to the use of a mix of legitimate and unethical techniques. For example, a website might use techniques that are above board except for keyword stuffing. In today’s competitive market, the temptation is strong to use any available tools, so it is understandable why an organization might opt to use one of these techniques.
However, the major search engines are now sophisticated enough to identify the Black Hat practices. When detected, these practices can cause pages or even an entire website to be banned by the search engine, and it will no longer present any results that include the site. At this point, search engines can discriminate between good and bad content, so the potential rewards are not worth the risks. In addition, users will get frustrated if your site brings them there under false pretenses.
Many tools such as Google Adwords provide information on the number of searches on particular terms, which can help with website design. It is also possible to gain a greater understanding of how the search engines work, and tune your site so that it makes use of the underlying search technology. The best strategy is to follow best practices, offer the user rich and informative content, and structure your website so it works well with the major search engines.
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