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by John Waghorn on 13th September 2012
The issue concerning white, grey and black hat tactics have been up for debate ever since the inception of search engine optimisation. Where you stand on the issue essentially comes down to how you distinguish between all three terms, your own personal opinions, and the sector you work in within the industry.
Even if you spend time defining white, black and the various shades of grey, people will still have their own views on where the boundaries lie. Yet arguably this is what makes the SEO industry so interesting. Some professionals will use legitimate tactics which stick to the guidelines set out by the search engines and others will find risky workarounds to get their site to rank at the top of the SERPs in the quickest time possible. With this in mind, just how white are white hat tactics when it comes to using content for your SEO campaigns?
Defining White Hat
In its purest form, Wikipedia state that “An SEO technique is considered white hat if it conforms to the search engines’ guidelines and involves no deception… White hat advice is generally summed up as creating content for users, not for search engines, and then making that content easily accessible to the spiders, rather than attempting to trick the algorithm from its intended purpose”.
The Value of Content for SEO
So, we know that in order for it to be referred to as white hat, tactics need to comply with the guidelines set out by the search engines. The second point is worth noting too. “Creating content for users, not for search engines” is a concept that has come to the forefront over the last year or so. This has been reinforced by Google’s Panda update which focusses on the quality of content and aims to punish sites that use duplicated content.
During the last few years, with a number of Google updates and older SEO tactics dying out (blog spinning for example), greater value has been placed on quality content. You need good content on and off site in order to drive people to your webpages and keep them engaged and informed when they are arrive there. As updates cause older techniques to become redundant, writers and publishers have had to be more creative with the content they produce.
It’s no longer acceptable to write 500 words and stick it on an article site for the sake of generating a few clicks or an easy link. You need to think about your audience and create content that is tailored for their needs. The position of content as an optimisation method has shifted, with the emphasis now firmly placed on quality – not just quantity.
The Balance between SEO and Content
As an agency, our focus revolves around providing a service for our clients, so content that is optimised will obviously help their site to rank better. However, writing with your audience in mind will encourage content to be shared between users as they will be passing on a useful resource of information. For greater impact, you have to strike a balance between providing decent content for your audience which also has a degree of value for the search engines. Due to this, the goalposts in relation to SEO and content have shifted.
Let’s not Forget that SEO is Competitive
Without optimisation, content alone won’t bring in as much traffic. These days, if you fail to optimise your site, then you will struggle to compete with your rivals on the first page of the search results. You have to optimise your site in order to improve brand awareness and to gain any real chance of being noticed. SEO, combined with decent content, can really help your campaigns take off as the two are intrinsically linked. So once you have brainstormed your ideas and written your content, you need to find a place for it to go.
Content that you produce can be used on a number of platforms. Which one is chosen will often be determined by the type of content you’ve created. Like I mentioned earlier, older techniques will no longer give you any real SEO value in relation to attracting an audience and improving your rankings. Blog spinning and promotion via article sites are just two prime examples. Instead, content can be used to create newsworthy press releases, hubs and lenses, or guest blogs, with the intention of sharing such content to a much wider audience. Let’s look at these forms of content in greater detail.
The press release is a great way to share your content, as long as you actually have something relevant and newsworthy to share. If you are struggling for ideas then why not talk about a major change within your business, an award that you have won, or perhaps a new partnership deal that your business has agreed on. This type of news is worth sharing alone, even if there was no intention of solely doing so for the benefit of SEO. On the other hand, if you are using this white hat technique and cramming the PR with as many anchor text links as possible, then it’s clear that the intention is only, or at least primarily, to game the system and quickly gain rankings.
If your news is genuine, then more people will pick up on it. This is more relevant when using paid PR sites as there will be wider distribution and a better chance of major news outlets reporting on your release. The effects of this are far greater for building a reputation for your brand as opposed to sending out any old piece of ‘news’. Including a link back to the site you are optimising is where you will gain SEO value, but when you have a relevant PR to distribute, you will benefit from the link in addition to well-written content.
Hubs and Lenses
Article sites felt the full force of the Panda updates from Google. As a result, a number of SEO professionals stopped using these kinds of sites to display content. While hub sites may be under the watchful eye of Google and future updates, lenses can rank well if they are completed properly. If you are going to build a hub page then you need to give it attention. This is where content once again comes into play. Including a decent amount of text, along with other modules, such as videos or pictures will work better than just setting 200 words live in one text module with three anchor text links – if the content even gets accepted.
If you view hub sites as a place to just quickly chuck content online, then you shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t rank or get rejected. These platforms have a community feel to them and you need to interact and share your content with fellow members for maximum impact. Links can be used to generate traffic, but again you need to place these within a relevant and engaging copy. If your content is shared, then it will have a greater chance of becoming more powerful within the platform you are using and should garner further attention.
If you manage to write a detailed piece of content to use for a guest post on another site with high authority then this will help your marketing efforts too. Guest blogging has become more popular over the last few years and as a result there has been an increase in the number of sites who seek payment for the privilege of posting. Paying for content and links is against Google’s guidelines, but if you can naturally add content to other blogs by creating informative and relevant posts, then blog owners should be enticed as it will build strength for their own blog.
Communicating with other blog owners and establishing trust will enable you to gain another outlet for your content. Although it can be a time-consuming process; if you’re not prepared to write the highest standard of content, you can’t expect the blog to give you a link in return.
Brand Awareness and PR
The focus in SEO has changed and content now plays a more important role, arguably more so now than it ever has done before. Decent content that is natural and abides by the guidelines will help to create brand awareness and PR for your company. Sharable content will also favour your site, as more people will notice what you have to offer. This is where content can help to build a community on social sites and attract greater exposure.
If you write for your audience first, you can incorporate the technical SEO elements afterwards and this way you will get the best of both worlds – decent, resourceful content which is search engine friendly. Content should no longer be viewed as a quick way to build a few links, it’s now a more time consuming process, but the traffic you can potentially generate as a result should spur you on to start thinking creatively about what you are producing.
White hat is only white hat if you comply with the search engine guidelines and don’t do anything untoward, and you still have scope for what you write about and where you can place your content. Personally, I think the boundaries will shift again in the future when it comes to content, but for the meantime, creators should only do what they can within the realms of what is deemed as acceptable, so that they don’t damage their site and rankings.
White hat image credit