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Small Business SEO guide – Black Hat vs White Hat SEO

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Article Overview

Are you thinking about starting an SEO campaign for your small business? Be careful as there are lots and lots of sharks out there just waiting to take your money. You must be able to spot them and know the warning signs and the difference between white and black hat SEO. If you're a small business in Sydney and want to survive online, never use SEO agencies that use black hat practices. The big issue is that they will never tell you what they are doing or their techniques.

If you are a small business owner you want to get as many people through your door as possible.

It really doesn’t matter which industry your in or what services or products your selling. The aim here is to get traffic through your front door and you need to be focusing on this all the time.

Day in and day out, your objective is to be focusing on ways to increase revenue and profits by generating as much traffic as possible. In the past, the best way to do this was through traditional, old school methods such as the Yellow Pages or newspaper ads, but now it’s all about being in the digital space, social media and Google.

In this arena, it’s all about Google and search engine optimisation or SEO. Advertising patterns have radically shifted and the only real way of getting those juicy new sales leads is through SEO. Anything else is simply background noise and won’t cut it.

SEO is the end game.

It’s proven to work and if done effectively it will generate an enormous amount of traffic to your website. But how does it all work and with the multitude of sites out there how on earth are you going to stand out and be noticed?

What is SEO & why is it vital for your business?

SEO is probably the most important marketing tool for businesses large and small, local and international. It has usurped all other forms of marketing and is now normal business practice. Simply put, SEO is the process of building trust for your website so that Google places authority on it. The more trustworthy a website becomes, the higher it will rank on Google. The higher you rank the more web traffic you are going to get and in turn more sales leads and inquiries. The main search engine that everyone wants to rank for is Google. This is GOD in terms of search engines and nothing else on the entire internet comes even remotely close.

Related article: 8 reasons why your business needs SEO

Google will place trust in a website based on the number of backlinks that it has pointed towards it.

NOTE: these links have to be relevant and from other trustworthy sites. Google has an algorithm that is always changing and on the lookout for these backlinks to index. Once Google has indexed enough of these top quality backlinks your website will start to gain trust and in turn shoot up the rankings.

This is how SEO works and it’s the aim of all SEO agencies like SEO Sydney Experts to learn what Google’s rankings algorithm is up to and make sure that your website complies with these ranking factors. For a detailed insight into Googles algorithm changes readHistory of Google Algorithm Updates by Search Engine Journal.

So the next step here is to ask what are the best ways to help with your website’s ranking? There are hundreds of ranking triggers and signals that you can send to Google and they can be divided into two camps or schools of thought; ‘black hat’ and ‘white hat’. Google tells us How Search algorithms work.

There is also the forgotten grey hat area which I will also discuss here. A point to note here and this is how I like to write my articles is that since the algorithm is constantly changing and refining for better search results, it’s important that business owners gear their website up for the consumer and not the search engine. Writing streams of irrelevant content to appease the search engines doesn’t work any more.

It’s got to be all about the user experience or the customer journey and how they interact with your website. Remember, your customers are the ones parting with their money and not Google!

Past History & Changes of Google’s algorithms

SEO has radically matured from its infancy in the 1990s. The metamorphosis has been incredible. From simple backlinks that were effective enough to rank your site to complex algorithms that can detect the slightest non-compliant behaviour, Google’s algorithm is now a sophisticated mathematical incredibly powerful tool. Some say it’s almost human-like.

In the early SEO days, it was easy to rank a website. The theory behind it was that the more links you had the better off you were and the higher the rankings. If one company had 1000 inbound links and you had 2000 then you were better off. Google in these ‘wild west’ days was not concerned about the quality and quantity of content ONLY the number of backlinks.

Read: SEO statistics that will blow your mind for 2021

This led rise to industry-wide spamming techniques where you could buy as many links as you like online for as little as a cent a link. The end results were websites that ranked that had absolutely no value or trust.

Basically, I could rank a website in a week on any keyword. All I needed was the links. Thank heavens those days have ended. Those early days are long gone but it did give rise to the birth of what is known as ‘black hat SEO’ and like some forgotten tribal voodoo it’s still practised nowadays by many SEO companies offering cheap SEO services.

If you are reading this and you feel that your SEO campaign is ‘black hat’, watch out! Black hat SEO is practised by agencies that like to pretend they are doing some SEO by showing you some cheap and nasty linking. In fact, it’s way more common than your think and I often see the end results of those poor businesses that were duped by SEO agencies because they thought they were getting a great deal and a cheap price.


What is Black-Hat SEO?

what is black hat seo - seo Sydney Experts

“Black hat” is the term we use to describe the way in which some dodgy SEO companies work.

All their SEO work is non-compliant and falls foul of Google’s strict rules and guidelines. It’s messy, ugly and never ever works. Businesses only cotton on to this activity once their website rankings start to seriously slide or in some worse case scenarios get ‘penalised’. Black hat SEO is usually characterised by speedy, fast rankings (usually done by companies that promise page 1 rankings in 90 days and guarantee this), only to be followed by a massive plummet. All too late as you are probably locked into a nasty 12-month contract. Many SEO agencies in order to secure your business will make these unrealistic ranking promises and in order to fulfil their part of the deal MUST implement spammy ‘black hat’ techniques. See what Google has to say about this here.

Example of Black-Hat SEO

Let’s say for example you were looking to find an SEO agency and we’re not sure who to go with. The first thing you do is go online and do some searches and come up with a list of agencies. You end up speaking to 3 or 4 of them and they all seem to say the same thing. However, there is one agency that differs from others. They are telling you that they will guarantee your SEO page 1 position within 90 days and if they don’t hit this goal they will do it for free until your main keywords are right at the top. This sounds so sweet. These guys are actually going to back their work up with a written guarantee. Plus they will work free for you until you are ranking.

So you sign up for 12 months with this company and they commence their work. What you notice is an immediate spike in your rankings and most of your keywords are on page 2 or 3 from nowhere last month. You think to yourself, what an incredible result, can’t wait for more good things to follow. The next month you notice 1 of your internal website pages on page 1. This is for a service that you offer but it’s not your core business and it’s not what you were expecting. You think to yourself, why isn’t my main pages climbing?

What has happened here is a prime example of ‘black hat SEO’. They have spammed your website so that there was a spike or sugar high in the rankings and a page of your site has magically appeared on page 1. What happens next is cause for concern – your rankings have all disappeared. Gone – vanished!

This is all within 3 to 4 months. A sudden rise then a massive drop.

This is all the result of dodgy SEO practices and the worst part about this is you are only 3 months into your 12-month contract. And boy o boy, if you threaten to rescind the contract just wait for the lawyer’s letter to follow the next day. These guys know what they are doing and have you trapped. You have been suckered in because you fell for the con and they are going to take you and your website to the cleaners. The end results is a Google penalty and you will have to use a company like ours to help you remove the penalty.

Black-Hat SEO Techniques

When people practice ‘black hat’ techniques they feel invincible and feel that Google will never catch up with them. What a fool’s paradise. It always works out for the worse. Any form of black hat ‘ practices WILL BE DETECTED. Google will punish your website without impunity. It doesn’t matter what type of site you have. Imagine you have an eCommerce site and rely heavily on your SEO rankings. Think about the damage this can do to your business, your livelihood, your staff, your stock etc.

Let me show you some really bad ‘black hat’ practices:

1. Lots of Keyword Stuffing

If you think that repeating your main keywords over and over again will help with your rankings think again. Repetition is good if you are practising swimming laps but when it comes to your website you will only end up doing more harm than good. If it makes no sense to your customer then Google will detect this and penalise this page. Do it throughout your website and you can kiss your rankings goodbye.

Many folks place a whole bunch of keywords at the bottom of the website thinking that if no one is going to read them, then it should be OK by Google. Again wrong and if you try to manipulate your rankings by fraudulent activity then expect to be punished. Another beauty is to have black on black writing so that no one sees the keywords being stuffed onto the page. Basically, you are making it invisible to the human eye. This is a huge no-no and if you think that just because you hide it from the public this does not exempt you from punishment. Be warned! If you write normally and naturally without trying to defraud Google you will be rewarded.

2. Link Farms

A link farm is where you own or have control of a large number of websites and all interlink these in the hope of gaining authority. They are all on the same IP address and they are all owned by one person. This looks unnatural and is a really lazy way of doing SEO. Let’s say you own 1000 sites and you have the ability to have 1 link on each site pointing to a site you hope to rank, Google will pick this up and you will be busted for unnatural link activity. You will initially get a sugar rush rise but this is quickly followed by being smashed hard. The biggest sugar comedown of your online life! Totally ‘black hat’ and a common way to dupe unsuspecting businesses into thinking that you are actually doing some work.

3. Doorway Pages

Let’s say you type a search term into Google for a particular service and you see 3 or 4 results that look interesting on the home page. But when you click on the website it takes you to another site and this happens when you click on the other links as well. Basically, these are pages designed to trap you into going to another page and is another fraudulent activity. Some companies create hundreds of separate sites all linking to 1 main website. These doorway pages have been outlawed for years but there are still agencies that do this in order to manipulate rank. When will they learn??

4. Article or content Spinning

Another example of black hat SEO techniques is article spinning where copy is written en masse by some cheap offshore copywriting firm. What happens is that they look for articles written by your competition and rewrite these. The only issue is that the content is written to fool the search engines and has been written probably in a hurry and really badly. Google’s algorithm is smart enough to detect these articles and will penalise the site they belong to. If there are links pointing towards a site as well then the value of these links will also be devalued. Rehashing old articles by a semi-illiterate wordsmith is as bad if not worse than dodgy SEO backlinks.

What is the Florida Update?

In 2003, it all happened. Google decided to crack down on all these illegal ‘black hat’ shenanigans and penalise everything that had to do with: spammy link building, doorway pages, article spinning, keyword stuffing, basically anything that looked or smelt dodgy was dealt with harshly. Overnight millions of websites suddenly vanished off the face of the earth. This spelt the end of the ‘black hat’ industry or did it??

The answer is not so simple. In a way it slowed down these malicious practices, but because there are always gullible and vulnerable people that this practice appeals to. If it’s cheap and comes backed up by a guarantee then they are going (no matter what anyone says) to partner with ‘black hat SEO’ companies. You can plead and beg than to wake up and know what they are stepping into but cheap prices are a great blindfold. We still see so many people that have been penalised by Google and will still go down the path of employing another SEO company cause they came in 50% cheaper. It is so frustrating how they never learn from their mistakes!

Since the first massive Florida update, Google continues to roll out big algorithm changes designed to refine its ranking criteria. These include the famous Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates. The Panda update was all about content whilst the Penguin was there to clean up all those dodgy backlinks. Hummingbird looked at the quality of your website copy. What you can see here is a trend by Google to ensure they deliver results based on websites that have great web copy and that are trustworthy. For example, it will rank the website of a well known and trusted orthopaedic surgeon (with lots of informative content about knee surgery or hip pain) over some medical website that has just been created to drive leads. For the consumer, this is great news. Now the orthopaedic surgeons they pick that were on page 1 of Google have been vetted first by the search engine for their authenticity. It adds a level of security, a layer of trust. I mean, if Google places this surgeons website on page 1, he/she must be worth visiting.

What is “White-Hat” SEO?

white hat techniques for small buisness

White hat SEO (which we practice here at SEO Sydney Experts) is the practice of optimising the website for humans and not the search engines with the best copy, graphics, user interface, site speed and of course the best and most relevant backlinks. Basically, you have to forget about Google and do everything for the user and in this way, you will rank. Genuine websites offering the best customer experience that have a level of trust will win at the end of the day. White hat’s emphasis is on organic natural linking practices. The philosophy is simple. If you write great copy then people are going to want to share this around and link to it; hence the trust factor.

Most businesses will not know how to do this and will not know the art of getting your content shared and this is where we step in and facilitate the ‘white hat’ SEO process. For those of you just a bit curious about ways we implement our strategy following is just a taste of what we do in order to get Google to love your website and give it all the trust in the world.

White-hat SEO techniques for Small Business

1. Keep Your Main Keywords Local

Make sure the keywords you use are all locally based on your content. So for example think about words like ‘knee surgeons in Sydney’ or ‘St Vincent’s hospital, Darlinghurst knee surgeons’. This adds a layer of authenticity to your copy and this is what Google is looking for. If you only focus on 1 word ‘knee surgeons’ and plaster this all over your site it will start to look a bit like keyword stuffing. These are known as long-tail keywords and this is what you need to be focusing on. If your in doubt about what you’ve written we find the best thing to do is read it out loud to a friend and see if they cringe. If they like what you are saying then chances are very high that Google will too. Content is a great first step now you need to look at building the trust factor that leads me to the next step; natural link building.

2. Build Links very naturally

All links pointing towards your website have to be from trustworthy websites and these links have to look natural. If they are all coming from unnatural sources that look ‘spammy’ this will reflect poorly on your website and cause you harm. Just imaging our orthopaedic friend having hundreds of links pointing to his website from some eastern European sites that have little or no relevance to his practice in Sydney. If it looks dubious it probably is and Google will suss this out very quickly. The role of our agency in developing ‘white hat’ links is through creating quality content and ensure that it gets shared and liked by the right type of websites that can only enhance your reputation online. The huge difference between black and white hat SEO link building is that we make sure all links are organic and not bought cheaply in some offshore Persian bazaar for a mere penny. Anyone moron can do this and this is what differentiates the good from the bad.

Some of the credible ways we attain links is through

“Editorial Links”

Editorial links are created naturally if you can write compelling copy – this trick here is to know what to do with it and how to get people to like and share it. This is our little secret and if you work with us we will be happy to share it with you.

“Blogger Outreach” Link Building

We know who to contact and who to speak to when it comes to generating authentic content and having it linked to your website. Just imagine you have a travel-related website and want a well known and well-respected travel blogger to write a gripping article about a destination you are promoting. If they include a link back to your website then this is a seriously great ‘white hat’ linking technique. I can show you how 1 simple link on 1 article can bounce your rankings better than anything you have tried in the past.

3. Make sure your website is Mobile-Friendly

25% of all local searches are done using the mobile phone. Make sure your website is compatible on all platforms this way you won’t be penalised by mobilegeddon the Google update which slammed websites that were not mobile-friendly. Whilst most sites we understand are optimised for iPhones and tablets there is still a percentage of them out there yet to take up this new technology.

This has been updated 26 March 2021 and according to Oberlo:

The percentage of global web traffic on mobile phones has surged over the past decade. As of February 2021, 55.56 percent of all web traffic comes through mobile phones. 

4. Build Strong Citations

Citations are where we mention your website on other pages. Citations can be put anywhere as long as they are n reputable sites. Building a strong core set of citations on well-known directories will prove to Google that you do actually exist and that you should be trusted. The trick here is to know when to stop and how far to go and where to place these citations. Do it improperly and it will appear like you are trying to game the system and you know what happens then.

These citations are a great way to get your business listed on Google maps and the better quality citations you have the more prominent will be your maps listing. We get heaps of people begging us to help them get listed on maps and I always tell them that we have to build a core base of proper citations. Like with all ‘white hat’ SEO strategies it does take time and you have to be doing this slowly and gradually over time if it is going to be sustainable and effective.

Why White Hat SEO is Important

If you want your business to grow online and be competitive against the exiting companies that seem to dominate your space or niche then you must think long term and this means to have a proper ‘white hat’ strategy in place. Nothing comes quickly online in terms of Google rankings and if you want quick wins then it’s best you avoid all types of SEO. If you are prepared to be patient, stick it out and take the attitude that you will only implement SEO the right way then you are going to gain huge benefits with this tactic.

White hat is really the only way you are going to survive online especially if you’re a business that relies heavily on Google and getting new leads from this search engine. You now have to play by their rules as they are the dominant and only player in this space at the moment and until another search engine comes along and dethrones ‘king Google’ then it’s ‘white hat’ all the way.

What is Grey Hat SEO?

Sometimes you need to live life a little on the edge and this is where the term ‘grey hat’ SEO comes into play. Whilst you may not be 100% squeaky clean there are things you may be doing that push the boundary ever so slightly. If you are prepared to risk it a little bit then it will push your rankings a little quicker. Not optimal but you need to hold your nerve here. Let’s say you are paying a company to publish a guest post for you with a link back to your site (without referencing that this is a paid post) this may constitute grey hat SEO. Anything that is remotely unnatural and is not pristine white is deemed grey. Be careful as skating on thin ice in the online world can lead to a cold watery splash.

A good rule of thumb with grey hat SEO is it’s ok to do it once or twice BUT never make a habit of it. Google is unforgiving.

Are you serious about your SEO?

If your really serious about improving your website’s rankings then the only way to go about this is with an agency that lives and breathes ‘white hat’ SEO. I know it’s a long haul campaign but trust me when I tell you it’s so worth it. You will end up thanking me once you are on page 1 and you are there for the long term.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that this type of strategy is not the type where you can get it off the shelf for a pittance. It does costs and in some cases quite a bit of money but if your keen on growing your business this is the only way.

For more information on this and other ways to get more out of Google please call us here on 02 9360 8514 –  I am more than happy to spend some time with you over the phone going over this.

steven waldberg - ceo seo sydney experts

About the author

Steven Waldberg

Steven is the director of SEO Sydney Experts and is one of the founding members ( that’s over 18 years ago). He has one of the longest careers in the SEO and content marketing industry and has written for many prestigious websites, including B & T and AdNews. If you’re serious about working with someone who will dedicate 100% of himself to your business; Steven is your SEO Expert.

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