Defining White Hat SEO in 2011 March 6, 2011

There’s been a lot of media exposure in the world of search engine optimization in the last few weeks. Most news articles have shed a negative light on many SEO strategies and link building methods with respect to intentionally ranking for desired keywords.

Is link building considered a form of search engine manipulation? Should SEO professionals be deemed as “librarians” as search engine algorithms have become the modern day Dewey Decimal System? And most important, what methods are considered “White Hat” in 2011?

Let’s be honest, Internet marketing is a competitive industry regardless of the method of promotion. According to guidelines set forth by leading search engines, the following practices have been stated as a violation of webmaster terms:

• Creating links intended to manipulate rank
• Building links from “bad neighborhoods” on the web
• Exchanging links excessively
• Buying or selling links to pass ranking or authority

As guidelines encourage webmasters to produce high quality and unique content, how is it possible to remain competitive without building links (strategically) after content has been created? Taking the “if you build it, they will come approach” and adhering to suggested webmaster terms (entirely) will not help users discover content (compelling, time sensitive, etc.) without a strategy that involves some form of link building. For new websites entering competitive niches, this can be nearly impossible without link building (intentionally) and utilizing content distribution strategies. Simply put, On-page SEO tactics will only get you so far without building links.

Comparing Search Engine Algorithms To The Dewey Decimal System

The Dewey Decimal System was originally developed in 1876 and has been greatly modified and expanded over the years. The system has undergone 22 major revisions for the purposes of organizing books (content) on library shelves (results pages) in a specific and repeatable order that makes it easy to find any book and return it to its proper place. The Dewey Decimal System is used in over 200,000 libraries (search engines) in at least 135 countries.

While some search engine optimization specialists may pride themselves as being “Black Hat”, their purpose is really no different than a librarian intentionally reorganizing results pages on search engines as linking methods have become the common denominator to influence the categorization of content. Is this practice against the law? No. Is it ethical? That really depends on methods, applications, and intent.

When used inside the terms of recommended guidelines, does ethical link building help search engines provide the most relevant and accurate results to users? Absolutely.

With recent updates to search engine algorithms the need for bright and creative SEO professionals is needed more than ever. Building links for the purposes of categorizing relevant information for users on results pages should be viewed as a positive action from both search engines and users as efforts are often designed to promote related content to enhance the user experience. What concerns both search engines and users is that such tactics are often associated with monetizing without defined or set parameters of control.

White Hat SEO Is Difficult To Define

If you’re creating content for a blog, business website, or product that you’re trying to sell, it’s likely that you’re conscious of ranking positions for targeted search terms. Have you purchased links or solicited webmaster’s to “trade links”? Have you tried leveraging links from authoritative websites to increase ranking positions on selected keywords? If you’ve engaged in the practice of intentionally building links to increase search engine ranking positions you’re probably not considered “White Hat” by an executive working at a search engine, regardless of how ambiguous the term has now become.

If link building professionals were buying 125×125 banners on authoritative websites they would be purchasing advertising which doesn’t raise any flags or concern. Nobody really considers the title attributes and associated link properties because it’s considered advertising. When that small banner becomes anchored and backed by 20,000 links, a line is now crossed where the action is no longer viewed as just “advertising”.

It’s important to keep in mind that any promotional methods directed toward search engines may one day have a negative impact as algorithms are constantly being updated. The only reason why search engine optimization has recently become a hot topic is because people have become tremendously reliant on search and more devices have been enabled for search.

Whether it’s a local plumbing business relying on their rankings to generate leads for jobs or an e-commerce website selling auto parts, there is a pot of gold sitting at the top of search engine results pages. From local to competitive national markets, economies are now driven and dictated by search.

Simply stated, an algorithm change can put established and upstanding companies out of business if they are no longer ranking well for targeted search terms. How will that company react? What are their alternatives?

SEO in 2011 is like playing chess; if you’re not thinking 10 steps ahead, there’s a good chance you will not remain competitive when drastic algorithm changes take effect. New changes will always bring opportunity. Take advantage of recent updates by thinking long-term.

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Nick Cuttonaro

Nicholas Cuttonaro is an Internet Marketing professional specializing in search engine optimization, lead generation, and online reputation management.

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  1. Matthew • March 7, 2011

    Great post, Im right there with you. The changes will bring about opportunity as other pages drop from the rankings. Long term is the goal. Reply

  2. admin • March 7, 2011

    Indeed my friend. The one thing that I keep coming back to myself is how do you even define what's good for long-term or not? There are no clear definitions anymore, and with a few of my friends getting their 4 and 5 year old $1,000,000+/year business site's slapped which are 100% white hat, not only is there no line - but the figurative line is now completely misconstrued.

    The hat's are dead, let's just stick with what works. The line is no longer figurative, but based on the success of a tactic or technique (which, in my opinion, is how it's always been). Reply

  3. brad m • April 6, 2011

    thanks.. this was helpful for me to better understand this voodoo. Reply

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