SEO, Part I: White Hat vs Black Hat

Today we’ll take a brief intermission from HTML5 to start our discussion of Search Engine Optimization, commonly known as SEO. SEO is the art of getting your website highly ranked in search engines, in order to increase traffic. Getting 50% or better clickthrough from users requires being one of the first seven results; in this series, we’ll discuss how to do that.

SEO is generally broken down into two types, white hat and black hat. White hat techniques are search-engine approved methods of improving your site’s rating; black hat techniques are likely to lead to a brief improvement, followed by a quick ban. In general, black hat techniques are those that increase traffic to your site but create a poor user experience, and are often considered unethical. Today we’ll discuss black hat techniques so that you can be aware of them. Again, you should NOT use these methods to increase traffic; the search engines have ways to detect them and will penalize your site.

Keyword spam
One popular technique is to place a number of keywords on the page such that the search engine will see them but users will not. Usually this is done by setting the words to be the same color as the page background or a very small font size, although there are a number of other methods. Spammers use either keywords that are related to the page (to artificially increase it’s rating) or unrelated (to suck in people for whom the page is not useful). Search engines hate this. As a general rule of thumb, don’t do anything to make the page look different for humans and computers (but there are exceptions – we’ll cover one in part III).

Cloaking is when, rather than display the page differently to users and search engines, the webmaster actually shows them different pages using methods such as javascript redirects and 100% frame.

Doorway pages
A doorway page is when the main page appears to direct the user into one of a number of other pages based on some criteria, but every destination is actually the same. For example, the main page may contain a link to another page of the site for each state, but the pages do not actually contain any state-specific information; the point is just to get users to load more advertisements. Again, search engines consider this to be spam; you shouldn’t have duplicate pages on your site. The term is also used for pages what are created to be visible only to search engines.

Computer-generated pages
You’ve probably seen webpages that seemed to be on-topic, but when you read them they were poorly written and didn’t make a lot of sense. Often these pages are computer-generated, pulling content from various sources. Not only do these pages tend to be fairly worthless to the user, they’re a strong spam signal for the search engine.
This isn’t even close to being a comprehensive list, but hopefully you’re getting the idea: don’t try to trick the search engines. Next time: Google-approved SEO.