Best white hat SEO practices

Read this to learn about the factors that affect your search rating that are not directly in your control and what you can do to influence them.

Technical SEO factors

We previously wrote about the best technical or on-page SEO factors here. Technical SEO factors are things directly in your control pertaining to how you have built your website and the content on it, such as using semantic markup, proper labelling of images, having a sitemap and a fast web server with the ultimate aim to be making sure it is easy for search engines to understand what your site is about and that it offers a quality experience. See the article for the full list.

Unfortunately technical SEO factors only account for a small proportion of your site’s ranking. Since Google never reveals the exact algorithms, we suppose it’s worth about 20%.

Backlinks and other off page SEO factors

The other 80% then is made up of factors that ultimately pertain to the quality of your content, as judged by the outside world. In no particular order these include:

  • How many backlinks are made linking back to your site from other sites, ideally ones that are entirely independent of you otherwise you may be seen to be creating fake backlinks if you have secondary websites who’s only purpose is to link to your primary ones, and get penalised (you’ll see warnings about low quality in your Google search console if they think you are doing this)
  • The quality of the sites that are backlinking to your sites – an established authoritative source such as a major newspaper or specialist website will have the single greatest effect on your ranking, while sites that exist only to link to other sites to boost their ranking, are blacklisted by search engines and can actually have a negative impact on your ranking as you are seen to be using them to abuse the system. The location of those links on the source page also makes a difference – inline links in body articles carry a greater weighting than menus, comments sections and sidebars
  • Note that internal backlinks from pages on your site to other pages do also have a positive effect, helping search engines to understand your content better, but it’s not as powerful as similar backlinks from independent sources
  • For this reason it’s really important that if you change your page locations or titles, that you setup permanent redirects for them, otherwise the backlinks will point to error pages and their value will be discounted
  • The other really significant factor is the text that is used in those backlinks. Backlinks that are simply clickable URLs won’t count as much as linking a descriptive piece of text back to your site. If a backlink just points to the homepage rather than a specific article, that will not carry as much weight either. For example, the HTML should better read like this
    Read this <a href="http://www.website.com/article-about-elephants">expert guide to elephants</a> here

    instead of like this

    Read this expert guide to elephants <a href="http://www.website.com/article-about-elephants>here</a>
  • Whether or not you buy ads from search engines – Google will never admit it, but we’re quite sure that those who spend a lot of money on paid ads to their sites, see a boost in their organic search too. After all, the logic is if you can afford to buy a lot of ads to your site, it must be making a lot of money and therefore be highly relevant, while you would never pay for ads to go to a site specifically designed to game the system using black hat SEO techniques
  • Similarly, the performance of ads on your site has an effect, if you use ads from the search engine vendors. It’s in their interest for ads to be more successful, so they will give a boost in ranking to sites that are relevant enough to make ads perform better, as long as there as no signs of fraud (i.e. not too many clicks, and that the clicks are coming from all over the world, not just one or two places)
  • The number of shares, likes and upvotes from social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit. Google used to explicitly assign a ranking boost to items receiving a +1 on Google+, but while they’ve never openly admitted they assign value to social media likes, surely they would have extended it to cover the networks people actually use. Again, their objective is to look for markers that signify relevancy
  • How long your website has been running, with niche website proponents presuming that it’s better to buy an old domain name that was already in use than to register a completely new one (we disagree about that though, with many of our new websites achieving first page search results within three weeks of launching, using nothing more than creating great content and legitimate technical SEO techniques to achieve that)
  • How long visitors spend on your site when they visit, with time over 2 to 3 minutes giving a boost and under 1 minute giving a penalty, and how many more clicks on the same site they go on to read. This goes hand in hand with long form content – the longer the main article body is, the longer it will take people to read it, but also the assumption is that it took longer to write and therefore is both less likely to be spam and more likely to contain relevant value, as will the rest of the site if they continue to stay on the site after the first page they visited
  • The total number of visitors to a particular page over the past 48 hours, with time specific sudden bursts in activity giving a short term boost to ranking. We recently ran an experiment in getting a particular piece of content ranked by publishing it and driving traffic to it over 24 hours. Within 48 hours of being published it was the number 2 search result for that niche topic. But a week later it had fallen to number 6. Still good, but obviously the benefit of the traffic spike had worn off

Note that for those last two, Google can’t know those numbers unless you have also embedded Google Analytics. Again, niche website proponents who are mostly making spammy, plagiarised, low quality content and trying to game the system will say you shouldn’t even use Google Analytics, because then Google will know that no one stays for long on your website. But as long as you are creating great original content and have a legitimate site, like this one, then you will get a boost, not a penalty.

White hat SEO techniques

So if these factors are outside of your control what can you do to influence it? Here’s five ideas:

  1. Create great long form content that is relevant to the audience you want to attract
  2. Make sure your on-page technical SEO factors are top notch
  3. For as long as your content is relevant and legitimate, there’s no problem in you adding a citation in a Wikipedia article linking to a relevant article on your site. If it’s not relevant another editor will quickly remove it, but a legitimate backlink should stay forever
  4. Create an email mailing list of people you follow and respect who write on similar topics, and after linking to them in your articles, email them asking them to read your content. If they like it they will probably link to it
  5. Offer one of your articles for free syndication on a mainstream site in your field of expertise in exchange for them linking back to your site for more similar articles

If you don’t mind spending some money then a great technique is to issue a Press Release through a service like BusinessWire.com with your URL in it. This will cost something like one or two hundred dollars but in the process will create a couple of hundred backlinks to your site, many from authoritative sources like yahoo business, you just need to think of a legitimate thing to do a press release about.

If your website is for a tech startup business, you can also list yourself in directories like CrunchBase.com

If this was still 1997 you could also join a web ring!

What is black hat SEO?

As for the question of what is black hat SEO? It’s doing all of these things, but without having legitimate relevant content to do it with!