No one knows exactly how many ranking factors Google has on their list, but the general consensus in the SEO community is that there are currently more than 200. As the search engine’s algorithm continues to get smarter with update, “gaming” the system becomes harder and harder to do, especially over the long term. If you want to rank long term, then white hat is the only way to go.
In this guide, I want to look at what white hat tactics are and how they can help you optimise your website for sustainable SEO results.
White Hat Optimisation Tactics
White hat optimisation refers to tactics that are ethical and fall within Google’s hallowed Webmaster’s Guidelines. However, white hat SEO can take time and it’s for this reason that plenty of business owners and SEOs resort to black hat tactics. These are seen by many as high risk but quick gain but nowadays many black hat tactics that worked a few years ago, either doesn’t work now or can even get you penalised. Black hat tactics can include any form or spam, poor or thin content, poor quality links, cloaking, etc.
To counter any unethical techniques, Google rolls out major and minor algorithm updates as well as manually check websites. While this may also take time, given the sheer amount of websites, those who do invest in black hat techniques will eventually get penalised (either with a huge drop in rankings or be completely thrown out of the SERPs).
Websites that are optimised the white hat way enjoy long-term, sustainable, and scalable success. Let’s look now in more detail at what a good onsite white hat optimisation strategy looks like.
1. Build an eye-catching website
Your website is your online real estate, so it has to be eye-catching without sacrificing user experience (UX). You can design it yourself using paid or free themes, or you can hire a web designer to work on your site’s aesthetics. There are pros and cons to either option, so consider them properly.
Also, keep these pointers in mind:
- Stay on brand — Whether this is in typography, colours, or various stylistic elements, make sure your branding stays consistent. This will help with recognition, recall, and establishing trust.
- Optimise for mobile use — Since the Mobilegeddon update, Google continues to highlight the value of mobile responsiveness. Optimise your site in a way that each page can be seamlessly viewed on desktops and various devices. Use Google’s free mobile test tool for a quick assessment.
- Focus on UX — If your site is hard to navigate or there is no clear path for your traffic to convert, then they will leave without taking action. Since dwell time is actually a ranking factor, this goes beyond good website design and functionality. Start with user’s intent (i.e. what do they want to know/achieve upon landing on your page), then develop a method that they can easily follow.
2. Create quality and valuable content
Content is one of the top two elements that Google looks at. However, the days of keyword-stuffed articles and copy optimised just for search crawlers are truly over. The focus should be on weighty content that end users will find valuable.
When creating your own content, you should:
- Add value to your your customer’s life — Some of the best content out there is the stuff that addresses a customer’s need, whether that’s in the form of a 2,000-word informative blog or a free downloadable ebook. When it comes to product or service pages, go beyond the sales pitch and create long form content that really goes into detail.
- Write a compelling headline — Headlines are the first thing they will see, so make sure it would captivate them and make them click. Be descriptive and engaging without being clickbaity.
- Format for readability — Long form content is great and will always rank better than short form content if it’s well written. That being said, a 2,000-word blog article would be pretty hard to read if it’s just walls of text so add images, video, white spaces, bullet points, and shorter paragraphs.
- Include relevant keywords — Keywords allow Google to know what your page is about. However, write for the reader first, as shoehorning keywords can make sentences sound awkward, and therefore, unreadable. Semantic indexing also means Google understands synonyms as well, so as long as you stay on topic, natural language will always trump an unnatural focus on keyword inclusion.
- Stay original — Copy-pasting content from your competitors is a black hat technique. They can report you, and Google will penalise you.
3. Link building
Although Google has AI now, quality backlinks remain one of the most important ranking factors. Of course this is an area that has traditionally been rife with black hat techniques, some of which might work in the short term but are far too risky for any serious business owner looking to establish a sustainable search presence.
To gain links the white hat way, do the following:
- Broken link building — Recreate a resource that no longer exists, then reach out to all the sites that link back to that resource. Let them know that you have one that’s uploaded and can be valuable to their readers.
- Ride a trending news — If a story is related to your industry, write an article about it, then pitch it to journalists. They are most likely looking for quotes/opinions from experts in the field.
- Guest blogging — One of the classic link building techniques, guest blogging continues to be effective today. However, it isn’t as simple as pitching to a site. You need to make sure that your pitch is valuable for their own readers, and that you’re not just pitching for the sake of getting links.
4. On-page SEO
There are certain elements on your site that you can tweak to optimise it for search engines, including:
- URL structure — Keep it short, but descriptive. Use main keywords within the first 3 to 5 words.
- Internal links — Have relevant pages link to each other, as this better tells Google what each page is about. It also spreads out link authority to these pages, allowing them to also rank on the SERPs.
- Optimise images — Alt tags help Google “read” your image, so include keywords but also make it descriptive for end users.
- Tags — Use title tags and heading tags wisely. Titles will get truncated on the SERPs after 60 to 70 characters, so be succinct but descriptive. Within the content body, use H1 to H6 tags for Google’s sake, as well as to form a hierarchy of information on the page that users can easily follow.
It’s a Marathon not a Sprint
While white hat optimization may take time for your site to generate the results that you’ll be happy with, it assures you that you’re playing within guidelines set by search engines, and therefore minimising the probability of getting penalized. Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.