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Black hats & white hats

The above terms do not describe the latest fashion hype, but rather originate from the way computer hackers are being classified.

While hacking itself isn't necessarily bad (most hackers are outrageously smart and hands down the most talented programmers out there), it's how and where which techniques are being applied and for what purpose that makes them bad

Industry rumor has it that the biggest players in the technology field employ hackers for the sole purpose of making their networks, their applications and their IT environments safe and intrusion-proof. We will neither confirm nor deny this, since in our case it has no bearing.

The difference between White Hats and Black Hats is that Black Hats use their knowledge to commit malicious acts (manipulate, destroy or unlawfully gain access to and acquire data), whereas White Hats use their skills for ethical purposes (e.g. to uncover security holes).

In Search Engine Optimization this means the following:
Black hats use illegal or disapproved methods (as defined by Search Engines) to promote websites. While the results are mostly short-lived and usually carry severe punishments from the Search Engines, nothing will limit their perseverance, curb their creativity or eradicate their existence.

Some say White Hat SEOs are less technically versed than Black Hat SEOs. This is absolutely untrue. Just because we choose not to apply those techniques, doesn't mean we don't know how to do it.

    Black Hat techniques include, but are not limited to the following:
  • Cloaking: a technique to serve different content to Search Engine Spiders than to the actual web site visitor.
  • Keyword Stuffing: While years ago everybody was praising the over-importance of the META Keyword Tag, nowadays it has almost no value at all; most Search Engines even choose to ignore it completely.
  • Hidden Text or Microtext: including text that either has the same color as the background, commented text (thus rendering it invisible on the page), text hidden in <noscript> tags or text that is to small to read for the regular visitor.
  • Doorway Pages: Websites filled with content a Search Engine Spider considers highly relevant but immediately redirects the actual visitor (by implementing special code) to another page with different content. A very good example on how this can affect even the biggest players (in this case BMW Germany) can be found here: Matt Cutts on Google's policy to combat webspam.
  • Link Farming/Link Hoarding: Compiling and listing hundreds of thousands of links to unrelated, unimportant websites hoping to gain and increase Link Popularity
  • Submit to 10,000 (or any other number) Search Engines for $24.95 (or any other amount) a month: While not necessarily a technique rather than a scam, there are quite a few reputable agencies out there who try to sell you similar services. Don't waste your money.

    White Hat techniques include, but are not limited to the following:
  • Quality Content: Content is King. Highly relevant content will always prevail.
  • Proper and efficient use of HTML and CSS: HTML itself already contains and provides the most important tools for successful SEO. The proper use of <TITLE>, <H> and other tags emphasizes the importance of your content to the Search Engines right then and there; the separation of content and design by utilizing CSS further supports this.
  • Structure/Accessibility: Implement a spiderable or crawlable structure to your site. An All-JavaScript generated navigation might look pretty, but since Search Engine Spiders can't and won't read scripting languages, it's also where their indexing attempts will come to a screeching halt.
  • Avoid Flash content: Update (Jun 30 2008): Google has announced that by integrating Adobe's Flash Player Technology they have improved the performance of their Flash indexing algorithm:
    Adobe Flash Technology Enhances Search Results for Dynamic Content and Rich Internet Applications Adobe Flash Technology Enhances Search Results for Dynamic Content and Rich Internet Applications
    Google learns to crawl Flash Google learns to crawl Flash
    Google Now Crawling and Indexing Flash Content Google Now Crawling and Indexing Flash Content
    Which does not mean that Flash content will ever be indexed in the same way "regular" content is being read by the Search Engines: simply due to the fact that Flash content is structured and implemented in a completely different way.
  • Keywords, Keywords, Keywords (and their proper usage): This part ties into Content and HTML usage, but it is worth being mentioned separately. Only the combination of all elements, in this case the usage of the right keywords in the right places will eventually yield the desired results.
  • Link Popularity: Unlike the Black Hat technique of Link Hoarding, this is the acquisition of quality inbound links from trusted and reliable sources. The more people consider your content worth linking to, the more Google tends to think about the quality of your website as well.

In the end, it always pays to pursue ethical SEO since most Black Hat techniques — while they might provide short-term success — will inevitably result in punishment and potential permanent removal of your site from the Search Engine's index.

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