White Hat & Black Hat SEO

Special Note: our website was up for renewal, and we used a renewal coupon code to save a bunch of money (this is the website we used)! You might find this site useful if you have a site coming up for renewal, or they have coupons for setting up new accounts too!

In terms of SEO, ‘White Hats‘ are good and ‘Black Hats‘ are bad. ‘Grey Hats’ fall somewhere in the middle. Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of each category.

Black Hat SEO

You really want to avoid using any black hat techniques because while they might be effective in the short term, long run they are going to get you penalized by Google and possibly dropped off of the search engine listings entirely. They also tend to make for a very poor user experience for a human, and you should really focus on making the website useful to your customers first, and Google’s spider bots second.

  • Making use of Link Farms – Don’t do this, ever. Link farms are just giant collections of links that have nothing to do with each other. If anybody ever wants you to pay to be listed in their ‘directory’, don’t do it. Paid links of any kind are typically bad news.
  • Hidden text – This text is the same color as the background, or set to be hidden through CSS. Search engines don’t bother with style rules, so the text will still show up to a search bot but not any human visitors to your site. It is often used in conjunction with the next technique…
  • Keyword Stuffing – This is when you put as many keywords as you can into the content without worrying about silly things like sentence structure or readability. Some people just put lists of keywords (often in hidden text, as explained above). In WordPress any of your important keywords should go into the Tags for the post, and in your content of course but only if it makes sense in context.
  • Blog spamming – We’ve all seen or gotten those comments on a blog post ‘Great article! Thanks for sharing!’ that exist for no other reason than to create a backlink to a completely irrelevant site that’s probably selling Nike or Ray-Ban knockoffs.

White Hat SEO

  • Quality Content – No, we’re not going to stop harping on this one. Write good content, and lots of it!
  • Link Baiting – This is writing content that people will want to link back to. It could be a top 10 list, a highly informative article, or a news story. For most small businesses, I would consider writing an article or page on something that your company specializes in, and include your personal experiences and things you’ve learned.
  • Internal Linking – Make your site easy to navigate! The easier it is for the bots to find their way through the site, the better it is for you. There are lots of plugins out there to add Breadcrumbs to your WordPress site.
  • Site Optimization – Make sure you are using your header tags, site title, and meta tags effectively.

How To Add Value for Your Customers With No Cost to You

Adding Value is Incredibly Important: But How Do I Do It For Little Or No Cost?

A blogger friend of mine (whom I have incredible respect for) wrote a new post about his tech company’s plan to take over a convention.

He outlined exactly what goes into an amazing booth at a convention (the ones that everyone crowds around) and where to get all the add-ons (free gifts, prizes, contests, etc.).

He even outlined where he ordered his booth’s decorations (Vistaprint) and where he got hats with his company logo (Lids).

This is Great Value in Itself.

This sounds like a great post, right? The kind you would bookmark and come back to if you find out your company is going to a convention.

It would’ve been easy for this blogger to stop there, and it would’ve been a really good, quality article.

But then he went above and beyond.

He posted exactly where to get promo codes for each of the services he ordered. He’s not an affiliate for anything. He just told everyone how to have an amazing convention booth, but then also told you exactly how to do it for much cheaper.

It’s a free way to add value to your customers in a way that costs you absolutely nothing. All you need is a quick google search and you can pick the top two or three websites that have the coupons your customers are looking for.

In a bit of shameless repetition of his idea, here were his top three picks for getting Lids.com coupons:

Lids Coupon Codes – Promo Codes for Lids.com!
Retailmenot.com
Groupon.com/coupons

And now you have three sweet resources to get coupons for Lids, and it cost me nothing! This is just one way to create amazing value for your customers without pulling money out of your own pocket.

Websites Referenced In this Article:

Vistaprint – for booth decorations at a convention.

Lids.com – for custom imprinted hats with your company’s logo on them.

Is SSL the New SEO?

There may be a new requirement for webmasters in the world of 2014 and beyond: mandatory SSL-certified websites.

While, not exactly mandatory. But if you want to rank well in Google, then you’ll probably going to need to encrypt your website.

Let’s back up a sec: Google hosted an event called “HTTPS Everywhere“. During the event they mentioned that whether a website is SSL-encrypted is now part of Google’s ranking algorithm. It’s a “weak signal”, they said, but only because they wanted to give webmasters some time to start adding these certificates before they strengthened the “SSL ranking signal”.

I’m sure you fellow webmasters have tons of questions. We can answer as many as we can:

  • What is an SSL Certificate? – The “SSL” stands for “secure-socket layer”. The certificate essentially creates an added layer of encryption between your website and the visitor. This ensures that no one is eavesdropping on your interactions on a website (i.e. copying your credit card information or passwords). Previously only online commerce sites and websites where people entered passwords were advised to add an SSL certificate. Now it seems that every website should get one.
  • Why is Google doing this? – One theory out there is that Google wants to stamp out the NSA’s ability to spy on people. Since SSL only stops one type of cyber-crime (surveillance), Now, what’s Google’s motive here? Will the NSA be forced to pay for Google’s information once the surveillance racket dies away? It’s basically impossible to really know the real answer. And for us webmasters on the ground floor, it doesn’t matter.
  • How much of a ranking boost will I get? – Right now, it’s a weak signal among over 200 other signals that Google uses. So it’s not going to make you jump to the first page when you languishing on page 8. It can help in a tiebreaker situation, where your website is tied with another website that does not have HTTPS. But the signal is going to strengthen over time. And when that happens (which will likely be without warning), your website will unexpectedly start rising. Isn’t that a cool feeling?
    In other words you should get HTTPS because it will future-proof your website.
  • How Much Does an SSL Certificate Cost? – The cost varies widely based on the what kind and where you buy it from. Since GoDaddy’s the biggest domain registrar, we checked them and found that a standard SSL costs $49.99/year. That’s pretty steep. But a quick Google search found some coupon codes to knock 30% off that price. Namecheap has a coupon for Comodo SSL for $4.99/year, which is really good as well.
  • Are There Free SSL Certificates? Yes, but buyer beware. The OpenSSL “Heartbleed Bug” became such a problem mostly because the free, open-source software wasn’t maintained. StartSSL has a great reputation. But you’ll also need to know what type of server your website is hosted on: (i.e. Apache). Also if your website is hosted on a shared web server, then most web hosts have strict policies about adding SSL encryption to their servers. They are likely just trying to make sure you buy their products, but make sure your web allows 3rd party SSL certificates before trying to install one.

Articles Mentioned In This Post:

HTTPS Everywhere event.

Is Your Site Mobile-Friendly?

The New Google Ranking Factor Could Up-End Search Results.

If you’ve performed a Google search on your smartphone lately, you may have noticed that each listing is pre-faced with “mobile-friendly”. This is to indicate to users that this website will show up on users’ smartphones in a usable way (no pinching and zooming a gigantic website).

But Google is taking is a step further, and is suggesting that your website’s mobile-friendliness will be a major ranking factor in the near-future.

How ‘Near-Future’ is Google Talking Here?

Google has already started sending out mobile usability warnings to webmasters if their websites fail to meet Google’s criteria for mobile-friendliness. If you have a Google Webmaster Tools account, you can check to see if you have any recent messages from Google regarding your website.

As for when it becomes a major factor in ranking your website, you can bet that by May at the latest you will likely see a major algorithm change that will implement mobile-friendliness. Google released a Panda update last May, and you can bet that they will release a new version of Panda around that time this year. The Panda-updates, as you may be aware, deal with filter out low-quality websites by evaluating the on-page content. Mobile-friendliness and on-page content go hand in hand.

Ways To Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly:

There are two major ways to make your site mobile friendly: use a responsive theme (responsive means that the website automatically adjusts to the size of the user’s screen) or use a mobile-website plugin.

Option 1: Responsive Themes

Almost all major new WordPress themes are responsive. If you’re going the free route, you’ll want to search for websites that have ‘responsive’ in their keyword tags. For paid themes on sites like Themeforest.net, you can search for themes by filtering out any that aren’t responsive.

How does it work?

One example is Sahifa theme. It’s one of the most popular WordPress themes out there, so you’ve likely already seen websites that use it. The website itself changes based on the device that visits the webpage. Here’s an example of an external website that uses Sahifa:

http://coupontraveller.com/hotels-com-coupon-code/

Now, if you visit that page on your desktop, and then on your smartphone, you will find that the website looks vastly different. The content, the words and pictures, are all resized to fit your screen. This whole process is completely invisible, and involves no redirection.

If you can find a high quality responsive theme, this is the preferred method for making your website mobile-friendly.

Option 2: Install a Mobile Plugin

If you have a theme that isn’t responsive but you want to keep the theme, another option is to install a plugin that will create a mobile-friendly version of your website, like WP-Touch. These websites will create your website in mobile-form, and will then redirect smartphone users to a different version of your website. There are some drawbacks to this option:

  • The redirection isn’t always perfect: – Sometimes the plugin will detect a tablet or desktop PC as a mobile device and show them the mobile website…which looks terrible up on larger screens. Usually there’s no way manually select the ‘desktop’ version of the site, either.
  • The Plugins Don’t Match Your Site’s Look: – WP-Touch, for example, will make your website look like all the other websites that use WP-Touch. It strips out all the colors and stylings that make your website unique. Your website’s titel will be in plain lettering instead of that fancy banner you created. There is a premium version of WP-Touch with more styling options, if you choose to go that route.
  • The mobile friendly site is a sub-domain, which could have SEO issues – When you visit the mobile site, the web address becomes “www.m.yoursite.com”, which is a subdomain. So if you have a really amazing article that people want to link to, your audience may link to your mobile web address accidentally, which can dilute your link juice. Subdomains and domains have different domain authority in Google’s eyes.

Free Tool: Check Your Site With Google!

If you aren’t sure if your website is mobile-friendly or not, Google has created a free tool for you to check your website here:

https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

Using the Yoast SEO Plugin

There are a lot of SEO Plugins out there for WordPress, but Yoast is definitely the most popular and the one that I would recommend. It has a lot of great features, and it doesn’t cost you a thing! There is a premium version that you can purchase for $89 a year and it does have some really useful features, but if you are in individual or small business the free version is definitely useful. You can always upgrade to premium later. Here are a couple of my favourite features of the Yoast SEO plugin.

Content Analysis

The best feature of this plugin in my opinion is the content analysis feature. As we mentioned in previous articles, writing strong content is your best tool to get a good ranking in Google. The plugin lets you choose the title and meta description that will show up in your listing in Google instead of it just defaulting to the standard WordPress ones. This can be really helpful for boosting your rank on specific keywords, but also for bringing in more human users as you can use a description that is more eye catching or attention grabbing. You can also set up templates for different types of pages, so you don’t have to re-enter the information on every page.

Strategic Content Visibility

Sometimes you have a page or section of your website that you would prefer to keep out of the Google listings. It’s fairly simple to block a single page using robots.txt, but what if you have a category, tag, or custom taxonomy that you don’t want listed, there could be hundreds of pages in that. It would be pretty time consuming to list each page individually, but using the Yoast SEO plugin it is a one-step process! Why would you want to do this? There might be a page or section that you’d prefer to keep private, or you might want to block them from crawling duplicate content on your site (which lowers the ranking).

Those are my two favourite things about the Yoast SEO plugin, but it has way more feature like:

  • Breadcrumbs
  • Canonical
  • Permalink clean up
  • Clean up head section
  • XML Sitemaps
  • RSS enhancements
  • API Docs

Install it and check it out for yourself!

Initial WordPress install and set up for SEO

Yes there are several very good SEO plugins out there for WordPress, but there is a lot you can and should do with your ‘out of the box’ install and set up to give those plugins a good foundation to go on. If you are brand new to the site and have no idea what SEO is or need a refresher, please watch this video before continuing with the article.

Remember that in general the best practices will make your site more useful and easy to navigate for humans as well as Google bots, and it will take some work.

Content

You probably didn’t want to hear this, but there isn’t really a ‘magic button’ you can push to get your site to rank well if you haven’t put in the time and effort to create good content that will be relevant to what users are searching for. There is a saying that ‘content is king’ and it’s absolutely true. The most basic foundation of a well ranking site needs to be good content. If you are a small business, for example, it shouldn’t be too hard. What service or product do you offer? What kind of questions do you find you get asked over and over again? What are your customers typically looking for when they come to you? What sets you apart from other businesses that offer the same service or product? Write down the answers to those questions, there is your site content. Google is always changing their algorithm in terms of the value of incoming back links, URL structure, etc. but good quality content is always valued highly. Aim to have at least 300 words in an article or page, but don’t pad things out just to meet a minimum word count. Read up on the term Evergreen Content to learn more about creating lasting and powerful content.

Permalinks

By default your WordPress install will have your links set up using a combination of symbols and numbers. Functional, but not very search engine friendly. If you go into the ‘Settings’ menu on the left hand side of your WordPress dashboard, select ‘Permalink’, and then check the radio button for ‘Post name’ your links will default to the title of the article or page. Much better! You can edit the permalink through the article or page edit screen, if you’d like to shorten or change it.

Excerpt

This section might not be immediately visible on your post or page edit screen, look up to the top right for the button that says ‘Screen Options’. Select that to open the menu, and then check off the box for ‘Excerpt’, it should be 4th from the left. WordPress will automatically create excerpts from the first 150 characters of your post, but it’s better to add your own. Keep it under 150 characters, and make sure your keywords are in the beginning. It should still be a readable sentence though, not a list of keywords.

Image Naming

When you add images to your article (and you really should), make sure that you give them a descriptive name instead of some long generated series of numbers and letters. Fill in the Title, Alt Text, and Description boxes when you upload them to the media manager.

Categories & Tags

Make sure to make use of these two features, it makes it much easier for people to search your website. The Category should be something very broad, and then you can add as many detailed tags as you like. Do not use keywords that are not actually relevant to your content, you can be penalised for that.