What Color is Your Hat?
In SEO, we talk about white hats and black hats. Blackhat tactics are those that are frowned upon, and sometimes even punished by Google. Whitehat tactics are those that SEOs admit to using. But there are SEOs who admit to being blackhats, and plenty of whitehat or grayhat SEOs who lament the limitations of the SEO dress code.
I recently ran into a blackhat technique on a client’s site. It was interesting to me, sort of like encountering some rare specimen that you’ve read about but never expected to see in real life. Maybe even like meeting someone who actually makes gin in his bathtub.
This website had a black background, and black words along the bottom of it. If your words are the same color as your background, they are invisible to human visitors to the site, but visible to the search engines. Blackhat SEOs, so I’d heard, would hide keywords there. The idea would be to put invisible words on your site to which you weren’t really entitled. Perhaps you’d put a famous brand name when you were selling a much less famous generic version, or some racy words that people often search for, but which you wouldn’t want to have showing up on your site.
(I once was high on search for the phrase “hot teachers” with one of my websites, but that was completely innocent, I assure you, and I digress.)
So what’s wrong with invisible words your website? My client didn’t even know they were there, actually. She had an amateur design her website, and it was a surprise to her to learn that she had any blackhat tactics going on. Her visitors certainly didn’t know.
Why did I recommend that she get that little blackhattery cleaned up? It’s a matter of ethics. She wasn’t behaving in an unethical manner herself, but her website was. And maybe your website is, too. If you haven’t checked your code and your backlinks, you might not know.
Here’s why it matters:
- Good ethics are good business. It isn’t just Google PageRank that’s based on a perception of trustworthiness. Visitors to your website are deciding, to a large extent, whether or not they trust you. They can get the goods and services you offer in plenty of different places, probably all over the world. If they choose to get those goods and services from you, it’s largely because they trust you. And let’s face it, blackhat marketing isn’t a strong indicator of trustworthiness.
- Whitehat tactics work better over the long run. We’ve heard of clever tricks that got someone to the front page of Google fast, or brought in plenty of paid-for clicks for a couple of days. Unless you plan to take the money and run, though, you need to develop your business with the future in mind. You need happy clients who come back to you and speak well of you to their friends. You don’t get that with tricks.
- It isn’t really a secret. Are you sure nobody’s looking under the hood at your website? While it’s true that most people aren’t viewing your code or analyzing your links, the truth is that anyone can. When I worked as an in-house SEO, I discovered that one of our vendors was using link farms and other blackhat tricks. I figured, if they were willing to cheat on Google, they might be willing to cheat on us, too. We changed vendors.
When you analyze your website, of course you want to check for usability, compelling content, appealing design, and search engine optimization. Go ahead and check the color of your website’s hat at the same time.