Backlinking: What colour should your SEO Hat be?
Today we have paired up with Kalin Karakehayov from SEO.Domains to bring to you an explanation if you will, about colours of SEO. White hat, Grey hat, Black hat; what do they mean and how are they used? In this article we will delve deep into the world of SEO and tell you things you have probably never realised. Furthermore, it will show you why you should be linkbuilding with expired domains!
“This post isn’t about looking for ways to beat search engine algorithms. It’s about learning to use them to our advantage.”
As you may have noticed we have mentioned the term “Private Blog Network” a couple of times in our previous articles. Like we explained, PBN’s can sometimes be seen as a “Black hat SEO” technique of backlinking when not performed properly. This is an example of an action that can cause for your domain to lose ranking and value. Your understanding of how Google “thinks” about certain SEO methods is crucial for your strategy. Things can go bad very, VERY quickly if you make mistakes. But luckily for all of us, mistakes can be avoided. Therefore, it is incredibly important to know exactly what the three types of “hats” in SEO are, and how to use them in your advantage. This article will delve into the world of White, Grey and Black -hat SEO and will leave you completely up to date on the matter. Reading this will give you a great advantage when buying expired domain names or when setting up a PBN.
Useless websites + keywords = Profit?
Before we can even begin talking about the colours of your festive SEO hat; you have to know about the origin of Search engine optimization (including backlinking). It all started in 1997, when search engines started to figure out that webmasters (domain/website owners) were trying to manipulate search result rankings by misusing the search engines’ algorithms. In those days, this could be achieved by simply creating a page and bombing it with certain keywords you wanted to attach to your “useless” page. Because that’s just how the search engines’ algorithms worked. These webmasters filled webpages with useless data, misleading meta tags and linked them to their main (income generating) websites. This would result in content that LOOKED like a proper page, ranking at the top of every search engine. However, when a person would click on that link they would simply arrive at the useless page that linked to the main page of the webmaster, or at the main website itself. Because the useless website gained traffic due to the keywords, their main website would gain ranking. So basically, they built useless websites to improve the ranking of their main site. These days however, authority and SEO success are no longer dependant on traffic. We’ll delve into this later.
Now, the number of successful strange and useless websites out there might suggest that uselessness is not a bad thing. However, the huge difference is that those successful websites were intended for entertainment purposes; hence generating authority by fulfilling a legit purpose. This means that uselessness becomes useful when it is intended to be so for the sole purpose of serving the user. Actual "useless” linked websites made by domain owners, were solely put there for backlinking purposes. Now to understand why this might be bad in the eyes of a search engine; you must understand why and how a search engine thinks the way it does.
“Google has monopolised the entire search engine market, so user experience is not their sole priority anymore, as they might have you believe”
You have to understand that search engines like Google are not just “a thing” or tool built in 17.000 BC created by the prehistoric internet gods called 'Steveon Jobbus' and 'Billius Gaeteuos' that just “exist” for your usage. These search engines are companies like any other bakery, bank or butcher. They have offices, employees and most importantly: you and me (i.e. Customers). Their customers being "every user of their services"; most of which is searching the web. Much like any other company, their main purpose used to be: to have satisfied customers. Because satisfied customers mean more success, more success means more money and vice versa. Like a vicious circle of wealth. To ensure the profitability and growth of the company in the start-up phase; search engines did ANYTHING to keep their customers happy. This is because back in the day, there were more major players beside Google. In the end, Google won the battle and became the best and most-used search engine in the entire interwebs.
Since Google has monopolised the search engine market (and they are simply the best and the biggest); their User experience is no longer their top priority. Their monopolisation has allowed them to focus their sole goal on gaining revenue from AdWords campaigns. Because everyone uses their services (and their user experience is great nevertheless) they not only want to give their users the best search results, but they want website holders to steer towards spending budgets on Adwords. In other words; Google decides which search results are the best; and if you’ve paid for it; yours will be at the top. So, this could mean that the user experience seems perfect for you but is in fact; manipulated by Google. It’s our job as SEO’ers to utilize these holes in the system. We make use of Google’s algorithms, but make sure to never abuse them.
Their “great” user experience doesn’t mean it’s “perfect”. People do tend to try and abuse Google’s algorithms more than you would think. If a webmaster tries to improve his main domain by misleading users to his useless website; Google will punish them with lower rankings and sometimes even by banning them. And don’t think that you will be able to outsmart search engines like Google, it’s not an accident that they have so much power and wealth. Using these types of SEO techniques is called “Black Hat SEO”. And it could (and probably will) get you penalised. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s start with the basics of backlinking SEO.
White hat SEO, the perfect Golden Retriever
White Hat SEO is like the best dog Google has ever owned. This dog follows his owner everywhere, loves his owner more than his hump-teddy bear, does all the cool tricks flawlessly and always brings back the ball when thrown. This dog works hard to receive Google’s love and does it so knowingly, that when he messes up his owner will punish him. Therefore, he will always be obedient, cute and hardworking to receive treats on long term.
White hat SEO techniques are the ones that Google will reward the easiest. It does however, take a lot more work to accomplish. It takes time, determination and most of all; a lot of research. Just like organic search results; the way search engines develop is very dynamic. The deep learning AI’s and algorithms search engines use to perfect their user experience is an ever-changing environment. That’s why white hat SEO takes the most determination but will also save you from trouble the most. You will always be prepared when new rules or algorithms are applied and you will always be up-to-date. Is this the perfect strategy? It completely depends on your personal goals. There is no “one solution” in the SEO world. It is for you to find out which technique suits you best. All that is certain, is the fact that Google sees white hat SEO as the only option there is. Because REMEMBER; White hat SEO is also accomplished by spending your budget on AdWords. Therefore, Google will ALWAYS say that this is the only possible and viable option. In the end, it’s always money that fuels the car. And since they have a monopoly, they can pretty much do and say whatever they like. So, in their eyes, grey- and black hat SEO are forbidden, if not- non-existent.
White hat is mostly combined with other SEO techniques
Realistically for most websites, it’s almost impossible to be this perfect cute golden retriever all the time. White hat SEO is good for some websites, but most of the time it’s just not good enough. Backlinking requires some smart moves here and there and this doesn’t always mean the “cleanest” possible strategy (from Google’s point of view). Most of the times white hat SEO is combined with some more aggressive techniques coming both from grey- and black hat SEO. You just need to be absolutely sure which aspects of what colour hat you need to optimize your campaign. The most widely applied backlink strategies are the ones that have a white-hat basis and are finished with grey hat techniques. You just have to remember that even though Black hat SEO might be very aggressive and effective in short term, in long term it is unethical and bad for the development of the internet. You’re literally breaking the internet with it. But then again, it doesn’t mean that you can’t use it. We’re just saying you probably shouldn’t. It’s up to you. Just remember; white hat SEO techniques are ok with everyone (except for maybe your competitors who are no longer the number 1 search result).
White hat (Backlinking) SEO techniques.
As you may or may not know, Google has released a statement about the “identity” of their third most important ranking tool called: “Rankbrain”. This tool is a deep learning AI developed by Google to crawl pages and that checks everything on your website from user experience to the actual content on your pages.
This means that today, just bombing your pages with relevant keywords won’t cut it anymore. Like we explained, Google wants happy customers, if they’re not happy, they will lose them. So, Rankbrain checks if everything on your website is exactly as it should be to satisfy their users. Therefore, User Experience is your number 1 priority when it comes to developing a successful domain. Because Google wants a great user experience of their service, for their users. The best way for them to achieve that is to show websites with high user experience in their results. Evidently, this should therefore be your priority. Other white-hat strategies you can apply to, for instance; the expired domains you have bought could be:
- Writing long enjoyable and relevant blogs. The longer your blog, the higher the chance that people will stay on your page for a longer period of time (as long as you make it interesting and relevant enough). These blogs should really grasp your audience's attention and represent the ideals of your organization. These blogs (when written properly with SEO in the back of your mind) can "tell" Google what your website is all about, in turn giving their users more accurate search results. Your main goal here, is to not only make your article enjoyable for the visitors of your website, but also optimized for Google Crawlers.
- Making sure people stay on your pages by making them interesting, fun etc. Google Rankbrain will notice this and “understand” that users like it. Therefore, they will rank your page higher. The better looking, smoother, faster and more beautiful your website is; the more satisfied your users will be. This increases User Experience, which Google will note when ranking you.
- Creating content that is of such high quality that other relevant domains want to backlink your domain/page. The more backlinks, the higher your ranking. Content = King. You have probably heard this term a lot. Natural backlinks are not only very flattering, they are also very powerful. If some famous blogger from your target group is backlinking you; your ranking will improve too. His/her website probably has a lot of (relevant) traffic and Google now notices that this successful AND relevant website refers yours.
- Write blogs for other domains about your subject and directing the readers of that website towards your domain. This is a very lucrative way to gain not only free backlinks, but also to reach more potential users through the success of someone else’s website. Try and find successful websites and blogs in your area of expertise and guest blog for them while sneakily referring to your own website in the process. There you go, free backlinking and exposure.
- Design your domains to be as user friendly as possible. This doesn’t only result in happy users, but also makes it easier for Google to crawl your pages. This in turn will give you better ranking. If users, or Google's crawlers for that matter, encounter any obstacles on your websites that makes their usage even a tiny bit frustrating; your ranking might go down a great deal.
- Watch out for making duplicate content. Google does not like it when you use the same keywords (or any content for that matter) more than once. Be especially wary when creating content that looks like someone else’s content. Plagiarism is always punished very strictly. Even using the same H1 tags for blogs, pages or over the overall website is bad for SEO. Therefore, always check the structure of your website for any SEO related issues.
- And of course, opening your wallet and spending budget on AdWords campaigns.
Grey hat SEO, the cute puppy that gets a bit naughty from time to time
Grey hat SEO techniques are like Google owning a puppy. Puppies are non-obeying. These cute little fluffballs are not aggressive enough to bite Google to a point that they are bleeding. The way you should see it is as follows. Grey hat SEO is cool with everyone except for Google. This is because of the fact that no websites (or any part of the internet for that matter) are harmed. BUT, Google dislikes grey hat because people spend potential AdWords revenue for links and domains etc. When you are backlinking with your purchased expired domains, Google loses potential AdWords revenue. Even though grey hat SEO is technically against Google Guidelines; they have and will never enforce it because it is in a “grey area” (hence the name). Google might even try to tell you it’s bad with information that can even be perceived as propaganda. You just have to know how to use Google’s algorithms to your advantage in a way that Google can’t punish you and so doesn’t damage the structural integrity of the internet. This is the definition of grey hat SEO. Remember, you have to be smart and careful to make sure your techniques won’t turn into black hat SEO. Always make sure you are informed sufficiently before embarking on a new Strategy.
Smart and not punishable
Grey hat SEO is mostly used to increase organic search results on short and long term. It can help your domain rise in ranking very quickly but will probably not stay there forever. Therefore, it is best to use grey hat SEO techniques as an addition to your white hat SEO techniques. The key here is to perform your grey hat SEO in a discreet but most importantly: smart manner, to make sure Google doesn’t notice you’re doing something fishy and keeps your ranking optimized. A good reason to use grey hat SEO, is when you for instance want to sell your domains. Or even better, buying domains on auction sites, raising their ranking with grey -and white hat SEO and selling them for a profit.
Grey hat SEO is actually a no brainer when beating your competitors
Pretty much everyone and their mother uses Grey hat SEO techniques to improve their rankings. Therefore, it’s basically a no brainer when you have to decide whether or not to apply it to your backlinking process. If you want to stay ahead of your competitors, grey hat SEO is a great way to help you get there. It can improve your organic search results in a short period, giving you the upper hand when planning your strategies ahead. For instance, when a particular “season” is coming up that is bound to generate a lot of search traffic; you should plan your major SEO strategies to line up with said event. Trust us, your competitors are doing it too! Therefore, you must use these techniques wisely to keep outsmarting them.
Kalin gives a great example to show the difference between the need for White hat SEO and Grey hat SEO. He explains: “…If you have something really cool (say an innovative drone), people will link you and you'll be fine with white hat only. But if you are in forex/gambling/pharmacy/loans/porn etc for example. you're on your own for your links :) So grey hat is needed.” In other words, a niche like an awesome drone could be solely dependent on white hat SEO. But the majority of website owners will probably have to use Grey hat SEO to some extent to obtain Authority. Therefore, you probably won’t be able to avoid using Grey hat SEO.
Grey Hat (Backlinking) SEO techniques
Opinions about what qualifies as grey hat opposed to white hat SEO, vary a lot. Therefore, you will read the basic overview here. Probably the very best type of completely legal and very effective grey hat SEO, is manual backlinking. Even though this will take some time and effort to work out, it’s very effective when you do it right. All you have to do is find websites that are relevant to your main domain site and literally ask them to backlink you.
Another VERY effective way is purchasing expired domains with authority and start a link building strategy. Kalin puts it in great words: “…Using supporting websites and Private Blog Networks (PBN) is not just a SEO strategy. It’s a money-making strategy and a very good one.” You just have to take the leap of faith and dive into the majorly effective Grey Hat SEO. Here at CatchTiger, we can help you obtain the perfect domains with quality natural backlinks and great authority. Because if your links come from spammy sites or emerge from completely new domains etc. They are useless. Therefore, always make use of the CatchTiger auction page and filter the domains to your necessary preferences. Other techniques that could be considered as grey hat SEO are:
- Comment on relevant blogs and link to yourself in a way that people will accept it. The best way to do it is by establishing authority at the start of your comment. For instance, when commenting on a blogpost with high traffic, think of a very insightful thing to comment and start it out with: “Hi everyone, my name is Man McPersonFace (owner at: https://www.WebsiteMcWebsiteFace.co.uk) and my opinion on this matter is etc.”
- Creating a private blog network (PBN). When you purchase a number of expired domains with Authority, you can use them in your backlink progress very effectively by building a PBN. A PBN is basically a network of several domains with high-quality blogs, backlinking to each other. But most importantly, all the links in question have great authority. Because remember, traffic is just a side-effect of great domains. It’s actually authority that will make the difference. You could have a lot of traffic on an irrelevant page and it will die down very quickly. So, to ensure you make use of all the PBN potential; make a CatchTiger account today! We can’t stress it enough how our auction pages will help you greatly into finding quality domains with real authority and valuable backlinks.
- Paid links: As stated before, it is also possible to simply purchase a number of links. There are actually companies whose sole business is exactly that. The only problem you will encounter here, is that when you buy a bunch of links it is very likely most of them are useless. If a number of those links are from “spammy”, illegal or any other bad source, it’s bad business for you. However, purchasing links can be a very good grey hat SEO strategy. All you have to do is make sure that the links you purchase come from sources with good authority. If the size and power of the website the link is coming from is great, the link itself will become valuable. It’s not rocket science, it’s just hard work. But hard work, pays off!
Black Hat SEO, the straight up badass and moody 20-year-old cat
Since we’re using animal metaphors, black hat SEO is best described as an old moody cat that simply doesn’t give a shit anymore. This cat is done with all the bullshit around him and does whatever the hell he pleases. The only problem is, this cat is so stubborn that he simply steals fish from the fishbowl without checking if his owner (Google) is around. Eventually, the cat will be caught and has to stay the remainder of his life outside so he can't eat any more of the fishies. However, because cats have 9 lives; it’s not always deadly to use black hat SEO, as long as you play it smart. Black hat SEO applied to your backlinking strategy should always be executed extremely carefully. Quite frankly, Black Hat SEO should always be avoided when it's not your deliberate aggressive goal.
Google has released a public document called the webmaster guidelines, in which they list all of the techniques and types of information you are not allowed to use to improve your ranking. Kalin has this to say about it: “They are no laws or terms of service. They are completely optional, yet Google has manipulated the public opinion into thinking they are the Holy Grail. Following them [webmaster guidelines] does not guarantee you won’t catch a penalty. Google as a company is not bound to them and may choose to screw any website they don’t like at any time.” Kalin makes a great point here. He adds: “Google doesn’t even require big websites to follow these rules.” Which is just complete bullshit if you ask us. The double standards here make Google a massive hypocrite. But hey, they have a monopoly; so basically, we have no choice as to obey them.
As we have already established, linkbuilding by means of PBN is technically against the webmaster Guidelines. However, these rules are never enforced because they are in the “grey area” (hence “technically”). So just make sure you play it smart. Don’t go and buy a bunch of spam-filled links because they have “traffic” (which is already a bad decision). Use your common sense and don’t abuse Google’s algorithms. Use them in your advantage, but don’t try to outsmart them with pure Black hat SEO (like spam). In conclusion: the guidelines aren’t as scary as Google might have you believe, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow them. If you choose not to; do it in a smart manner, preferably Grey hat.
Black hat SEO, tread lightly and you just might succeed
Little do people know, but a little bit of black hat SEO can be used (and is used) successfully in some occasions. You have to remember that black hat SEO is particularly dangerous when you practice it with a website that hasn’t gained a lot of authority yet. Google will look for you, he will find you and he will kill your website (you read that in Liam Neeson’s voice, didn’t you?). So, whenever you feel like using black hat SEO techniques, remember to be very careful in your execution and don’t do anything you aren’t absolutely sure of. The more successful your website becomes; the easier Black Hat SEO will be. However, ALWAYS remember the age-old story of David and Goliath. The bigger they are...
Black hat (Backlinking) SEO techniques
Black hat SEO techniques are very clearly stated in the Google guidelines, therefore there will be no excuses when you get “caught”. When using grey hat SEO techniques, you can put up big puppy eyes, look sad and Google might just ignore the fact that you have done something in the grey area (which they most likely will). When you get “caught” using black hat SEO techniques he will tell you that you should have known better and smite you. Nevertheless, if you consider yourself to be very smart and when you are sure your black hat SEO techniques will work; black hat SEO techniques can be very powerful weapons in your SEO arsenal.
However, you have to remember that you are hurting the internet like this. Black Hat SEO mostly just finds its way into massive spam and can actually get you mixed up in illegal business (like hacking websites etc.) Therefore, we do not, for a second, condone Black hat SEO techniques and strongly discourage you to do so. Think of it like this; people who use Black Hat SEO will NEVER pay for AdWords. Therefore, Google will try to catch you and ban you immediately. Even though it is often very effective, it is completely unethical and will be damaging to the structure of the internet. Even though we couldn’t advise you enough to stay away from black hat SEO, we know you crave the details to feed your morbid curiosity. Therefore, we will stand and deliver so you can get a feeling as to what exactly qualifies as black hat SEO techniques; we will give you some examples of those that are used the most.
- Let’s start with the most interesting one: ‘cloaking’. The first thing that comes to mind when reading the word “cloaking” is probably some top-secret government technology that turns planes or Harry Potter invisible. And this is partially accurate. Cloaking is presenting different content or a different URL to the user than you are to the search engine crawler. If you need a short-term aggressive ranking technique, this bad boy is the one to choose. It’s completely against the Google Webmaster guidelines, so be VERY careful. When using this technique, you’re tricking search engines into seeing different content than the content that’s actually on your website. This means that the search engines will generate irrelevant search results for their users because of your deception. This will work for a short period until Google finds out, which they will because they measure user-experience constantly. If you find a way around that, you are the new search engine and backlinking king and we will bow down to your absolute might.
- Another widely used and easily applied black hat SEO technique is to purchase links. There are websites and companies that offer huge packets of backlinks in bulk. This makes your whole backlinking progress extremely simple. A huge advantage of doing this, is that the buyer (i.e. you) can choose the anchor text of the link in question. This is very important in the eyes of Google. Now, because you can simply buy the links and don’t have to generate them; you don’t really have to worry about the quality of the link. Moreover, most of the times the companies selling you the links will not even allow you to change the content of those websites. This means that with these techniques you can manipulate search engines results by feeding users misinformation. Therefore, even though it takes a bit more effort, it is always better to result to legal and very effective techniques such as purchasing expired domains with authority. CatchTiger will guide and help you towards purchasing domains with valuable links. Using our domain auction page, you can filter domains in any way you seem fit.
- Spinning articles is a technique that is used more and more often these days. There are companies that sell programs that literally steal articles from other websites and automatically change them to desired content that differs only slightly from the original. This is a form of posting duplicate content in the hopes of hooking onto the success of other articles. When you choose to do this (which is basically committing plagiarism and therefore, NOT a good idea), make sure you change the content enough so that the automated plagiarism checker won’t rat you out to the Google police. If you do not want to partake in spinning articles, but still write articles by gaining knowledge from other places. Please make sure you cite sources using the proper format (i.e. APA). You can also check your articles for any coincidental plagiarism with the many plagiarism checker tools out there.
- A final widely used technique is one which you are probably more than familiar with, involves spam. As a website and/or domain owner, you have probably received countless annoying entries on any form you have put on your website. Whether it be a comment section or a questionnaire; spambots will fill every possibly opening with their ugly content. These spambots will mostly post gibberish with a long URL at the end, automatically generating a backlink to the desired website. Again, we do not advise you going out and building a spam bot; because Google will destroy it within a short matter of time. It’s very important that you protect your own website against pests like these with matters such as Recaptcha.
We will leave you with a great Structure made by Kalin, explaining the difference between White, Grey -and Black Hat SEO in the eyes of Google as opposed to the actual truth:
In conclusion: wear whatever SEO hat suits you best!
Whether you choose to use white, grey or black hat SEO techniques is entirely up to you. It depends solely on your goal as a domain/ website owner. If you want to use black hat SEO techniques to aggressively rank your domain in a short period, you could try it with a high risk involved. Maybe you just bought a useless domain with low ranking and you want to try out some grey or black hat SEO techniques to see how they work before using them on your main website or domain. The possibilities are endless and should all be considered when building your online marketing and SEO strategy.
However, our advice will always be to use white and/or grey hat SEO techniques just to minimize the risk of losing rank. The famous, lazy, idea-stealing Thomas Edison once said quite ironically:
“We often miss opportunities because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”
His quote perfectly describes the reason why people still result in using black hat SEO techniques: laziness. It’s easy and takes little effort. But then again, you will be missing out on the long-term profitable opportunities of white and/or grey hat SEO techniques. If you choose to put your shoulder into it, you will not regret it. Don’t be lazy, work hard and you will not regret it. Remember, Google is the boss that chooses which of his employees are allowed to keep working. So, it’s best to keep him close and be friends with him.
Want to increase the ranking and traffic of your website? Make a free account at CatchTiger now, bid on expired domains and start backlinking today!
We would like to extend our thanks to Kalin Karakehayov for helping us write this article. Kalin is a true Hardcore SEO-expert at heart. As Co-founder of SEO.domains and avid blogger; he pretty much breathes everything that is SEO. He is one of the leading experts fighting Google for the sake of Webmasters and Online Marketeers alike. He knows exactly what to do to use Google’s algorithms in your advantage.