Tis the season… for most businesses to make the biggest share of their annual profits… well, if they go about it the right way!
Online purchases are booming! In fact, Google estimates that 40 percent of last year’s holiday shopping (2014) occurred online! The National Retail Federation estimated that in 2014, online sales accounted for $101.9 billion dollars of the holiday sales! Forrester Research conducted a study in April 2015 and now predicts that online sales will reach $334 billion by the end of the year (2015). In fact, they found that online sales were actually growing at a much faster pace than they had previously predicted! According to Signal’s 2015 Holiday Shopping Survey, 85 percent of their respondents said they would use their computer as their #1 place to shop for the holidays! Furthermore, 80 percent of them said they would buy a gift for themselves too!
Due to the incredible growth of online sales, many savvy business owners are now designating a much larger percentage of their overall marketing budget to online marketing. Furthermore, the bulk of this is often used to hire an internet consultant to improve their search engine rankings, i.e. to perform search engine optimisation (SEO).
An honest, highly skilled, reasonably priced SEO consultant can increase your profits many times over what you pay him or her. In fact, hiring the right SEO expert can easily be the biggest bang for your marketing buck! On the other hand, if you end up hiring someone who uses “black hat SEO” instead of “white hat SEO,” Google will likely penalise your site so much, your business could easily lose 10-100 spots overnight. Even worse, Google may remove you from their index entirely. Once this type of penalty occurs, it is near impossible to recover, and even if you can eventually recover, it may take many months, even years, and this is assuming you hire a really knowledgeable consultant to help you.
So, what is black hat SEO versus white hat SEO?
Black hat SEO uses techniques that intentionally attempt to “trick” the search engines. This is considered a form of spam and it is almost never good for the end user. Sometimes these techniques work well, even phenomenally well, for a while… until Google detects it, penalises the site, and they crash and burn! These black hat SEO spam techniques include:
- A. Keyword Spamming (aka keyword stuffing): using the same word or phrase an unnatural number of times and/or in an unnatural pattern.
- B. Hidden Text: putting keywords or key phrases on a page where they can’t be seen by the human eye but are seen by the search engine spiders. An example of this would be putting words written in white text on a white background. Please note that reasonable usage of text in alt image tags is not considered a black hat technique. However, keyword stuffing inside an alt image tag would be. An alt image tag is the words that would be seen if images were turned off and the words that would be read to a blind person. For example, an image of a yellow cat might say, “Picture of a yellow cat sleeping.”
- C. Doorway Pages (aka landing pages): these are pages that are added to a website specifically to focus on specific keywords or key phrases for the benefit of a search engine spider while offering little to no value to a human visitor.
- D. Cloaking: showing the search engine something entirely different than what a human visitor sees.
- E. Paid Links On Link Farms: paying for non-reciprocal inbound links, usually on lower quality sites and usually on a lot of them.
- F. Scraping: stealing copyrighted content including articles and images and putting these on your website to bulk up your content.
- G. Spinning Content: Using automated software to “re-write” content and putting this spun content on new pages and/or new websites.
- H. Creating Numerous Thin Content Pages: These pages may contain a bit of information but the content is very thin and the real purpose of the page is to add links to other pages and to attract search engines with certain keywords of key phrases. These are similar to doorway pages but a little sneakier (but Google is onto it!).
- I. Signing Guestbooks and Making Comments Just To Include Your Link(s): Peppering a few of your own links around the net in the normal course of discussion is fine. However, too much pepper will generate a spam alert to Googlebot!
There are many more black hat methods but these are some of the most common. If you are ever tempted to use these techniques, or you hear a potential SEO consultant talk about them, please be aware that Google has a whole team of very talented engineers who specifically work on this problem. It is probably safe to say that every black hat technique that has ever been invented has been (or will be soon) discovered by Google’s anti-spam team!
Keep this in mind too. Some people will talk about using “gray hat SEO” instead of “black hat SEO.” Don’t be fooled by this. Gray hat is the same as black hat, only a milder form of it. The Google anti-spam team works on developing techniques that recognise gray hat methods too and your website CAN BE penalised for using gray hat techniques. Perhaps more importantly, the line between gray hat and black hat is so nebulous, you can easily cross that line and not even know it!
Some businesses try to “save money” by doing their own SEO and internet marketing. Alternately, they may ask someone from their staff to dedicate a portion of their time to this task. The problem with this approach, however, is that many, if not most, clean 100% WHITE hat methods take advanced knowledge and advanced skill. Therefore, it is quite easy for a novice, even a really intelligent one who has done their due diligence, to INADVERTENTLY make a mistake and use one or more black hat (or gray hat) strategies! When this happens, it is an honest unintentional mistake but unfortunately Google doesn’t have the ability to differentiate between black hat methods that were used by accident versus those used intentionally!
No matter if the black hat (or gray hat) methods were used intentionally or not, the results can be devastating to a business’ search engine rankings. Thus, a business owner that was initially trying to “save money” by doing their internet marketing “in house” may end up losing thousands of pounds in profits. Moreover, if they hire a internet consultant that employs black hat (or gray hat) methods, they may actually end up paying someone for this devastation, costing their business even more, usually before they even know what hit them!
Thus, we are wishing you not just a “Merry Christmas” but a “Merry WHITE Christmas!”
Whether you choose to hire an internet consultant or do your own SEO in house, it is important to use only 100% pure white hat SEO methods, never black hat methods, if you want your online business to do well not only this season but for many seasons to come. We recommend you don’t even flirt with gray hat SEO methods!
Furthermore, as our gift to you this holiday season, we have decided to describe below some of the most effective white hat SEO methods you can employ! Knowing these will also help you select an honest and knowledgeable internet consultant.
1. Make Sure Your Website Is 100% Mobile Friendly
If you haven’t already addressed this, there is no question that this should be your highest priority! Further, you should get it done FAST so Google has time to detect your changes and you can reap the mega benefits of being a mobile friendly website before the season of online shopping reaches its zenith!
Google estimates that 50-60 percent of all Google searches in the United States and across all European countries are now done on mobile devices! These are smart phones, tablets, and similar devices. Moreover, in Asian and African countries, the percentage of searches done on mobile devices is even higher! Internet sales in these countries are growing faster than anywhere else!
Now, here’s where the stats get even more intriguing for this year’s holiday shopping season!
According to the IBM Corporation’s Digital Analytics Benchmark Report, mobile devices played a much larger role in holiday shopping last year (2014). In fact, sales on mobile devices accounted for 45 percent of all online retail shopping. This was up 25.5 percent from just one year prior (2013). Completed transactions on tablets accounted for 13.4 percent of total online transactions and completed transactions on smart phones accounted for 9.1 percent of the total online transactions.
On Thanksgiving Day, 2014, people bought $12.8 million on their smart phones! On Black Friday, they bought $18.1 million on their smart phones.
Bottom line, people will be doing some very serious shopping on their mobile devices this holiday season!
Given these incredible stats, and the fact that the percentage of mobile searches continues to grow at a rapid rate, Google made a very important decision. They decided to change their algorithm on April 21, 2014 to rank mobile friendly websites higher than sites that are not mobile friendly in mobile searches. This decision was based on their ultimate goal of giving their users the best experience and highest quality search results possible.
Unlike other major updates, Google gave plenty of advanced notice, even announcing it on their Webmaster Central blog about two months prior. In other words, it was a VERY big deal and it is THE most important white hat SEO tactic you can put into action!
How do you test if your site is mobile friendly on Google?
Luckily, there are no guessing games here because Google has made it super simple to find out.
Go to this URL: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/
Copy and paste in your URL and hit the “analyse” button! Voila! Google will tell you whether or not the page you have denoted is mobile friendly.
IMPORTANT: Don’t just test your homepage! Test ALL your webpages! It is possible for a homepage to be mobile friendly while other pages within the same website are not mobile friendly. It has become evident that the ranking of ALL pages on a website can be affected on mobile searches if only some of the pages are not mobile friendly. So again, test them all… and once you’ve made sure that all your existing pages are mobile friendly, be sure to test all new pages you add going forward. In fact, make this an automatic habit going forward because this issue is actually going to become even more important! And… any time you make a change to a page, even a minor one, re-test it at the link above just to make sure it is still deemed “mobile friendly” in the eyes of Google!
Understand too that making your website mobile friendly is not just about a “responsive website design” so it looks good on a tiny internet connected gadget. It is also about making the underlying code of your website, i.e. the part no one (except geeks) ever sees, mobile friendly too! In other words, your website must FUNCTION well, not just look good, on small mobile device for Google to consider it mobile friendly.
To give you a better understanding of just how important this mobile friendly update is and was, it was dubbed “Mobilegeddon.” This is related of course to the word, “armageddon,” relating to a catastrophic event, i.e. it could be catastrophic if your website is NOT mobile friendly! Mobilegeddon was also a play on “Carmegeddon,” used to describe a situation when the Los Angeles freeway system was closed for several weekends.
Think about this. What if your website was effectively and suddenly closed to all mobile searches!? This really would be a Mobilegeddon, and perhaps a “Salesageddon,” especially during the holiday season which you likely depend on for making a good chunk of your annual sales!
At the Search Marketing Expo (SMX) in Munich, one of the largest internet marketing events in the world, Zineb Ait Bahajji, a Webmaster Trends Analyst for Google, stated unequivocally that the April 21 mobile friendly update to the Google algorithm would have a BIGGER impact than both the Panda and Penguin updates! If you have followed SEO news even marginally, you’ll already know that these updates had enormous impact on the ranking of websites… and a Google representative who should definitely know said that Mobilegeddon was going to have an even greater effect!
Again, we must stress that the most important white hat SEO technique you should employ is making sure that every page on your website is mobile friendly. This will give you a tremendous bang for your buck.
2. Create Irresistible Link Bait
It’s amazing how much time and money people spend on black hat link farms and other black hat linking schemes. They should know that all this work and money will go down the drain once Google detects it and penalises their website!
It’s much better to spend your time and money on WHITE HAT SEO link bait. This is where you create something so interesting, so intriguing, that people can’t help but share the link on their social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Pinterest, Google Plus, and StumbleUpon. You’ll also pick up some quality “organic links” this way over time. This is where quality site owners, large and small, think that what you have to offer is so good, they link to it from their own websites.
The following are some ideas that you can use to create link bait. However, these are simply food for thought. You can probably think of many more that will pertain specifically to your business!
A. How To YouTube Videos
How to videos, when done well, are totally irresistible. If you do a thorough job of explaining things both visually and verbally, and you don’t try to oversell your own products in your videos, they will almost always get shared on social media and you will get organic links to your videos. The trick is to create how to videos that relate in some way to what you sell. Once a person sees your video, and likes how you helped them, they can click through to your website. You can also post your URL at the beginning and at the end within the actual video.
- Do you sell outdoor equipment online? Create videos on how to set up different types of tents or how to use various GPS navigational devices.
- Do you sell pet supplies online? Create videos on how to train a dog not to pull on a leash or how to train a cat not to claw on furniture.
- Do you sell kitchenware online? Create a video on how to properly season a new iron skillet or how to sharpen knives at home without damaging them.
B. Sponsor Surveys and Then Ask People To Share the Results
Surveys can be funny, serious, informative, or whimsical. Just make them appeal to your target audience, your potential customers, and the link(s) will be shared for sure. They may even go viral!
Do you sell surfing equipment? Go around to various beaches and interview surfers and then post the results! The possibilities are endless, and in fact, you could do a whole series of surfer interviews! What’s the gnarliest wave they ever surfed? Have they ever been bumped by a shark? Other shark stories? What’s their favourite surfing spots and why? What do surfers think about the war, the election, climate change, or the [insert a controversial event here]?
Do you sell health related products? Why not create a survey on the secret health habits of people and interview your customers, anonymously of course, and post the results! You could make it sort of funny or totally serious. How often do they change their toothbrush? How close is the cat box to their toothbrush? Do they secretly pick their nose? How often do they eat after 10:00 pm? How many hours of sleep do they typically get? Do they do eye exercises? How often do they stand up when they work at a desk? Make the questions interesting enough that people will want to share the survey!
Do you sell items that grown-ups would buy kids at Christmas? Do a survey on the types of Christmas gifts kids love and hate! Make it detailed and interesting. What’s the worst gift you ever got from a non-relative? Have you ever peeked at your presents before you were supposed to? What’s the best present your parent or grandparent ever gave you?
C. Collection Of Amusing Or Interesting Photos
The possibilities are endless here too, and the beauty of it is, once you start the collection, other people will contribute too and your collection will grow even more valuable!
- If you sell pet supplies, why not start a collection of pictures showing the funniest sleeping positions for cats and dogs?
- If your business caters to locals or tourists in a certain geographic area, you could start a photo collection of historic sites in the area. Alternately, you could start a photo guide to really cool spots the tourists never see!
- If you sell to parents, collect photos of funny or heart-warming bumper stickers about kids. Do you sell golf equipment to older golfers? Collect photos of bumper stickers about grandparents and about golf.
D. Sponsor a Homeless Pet (or two, three, four, etc)
Offer to pay the adoption fees and offer a big basket of pet supplies for a homeless pet. Show adorable pictures of the homeless pet and ask people to submit why they want to adopt this pet in 144 characters or less on Twitter! You could even set up a hashtag like #getbowwow so people could share and follow it more easily!
E. Sponsor a Children’s Group
Is there a very worthy children’s group in your own community or elsewhere that needs money to accomplish something terrific? Perhaps a choir group that wants to compete in a national competition or a girl scout troop that wants to earn enough money to go on a trip to NASA?
Find out how much money they need and announce on your website and social media channels that you’ll put up the money! Ask people to help spread the word and pronto! Put pictures of the group (with permission of course) on your website and explain their situation and why they need the money.
F. Write an Open Letter To a Governmental Entity
Do you see something that needs changing? Do you think most of your current customers and potential customers would agree with you? Write an eloquent and compelling open letter to a governmental entity responsible for making the change (MP, council, commissions, water board, etc). Post your open letter on your website and social media channels. Ask people to share it if they like it and comment on it!
G. Create In Depth Interviews
This is 100% original content that people will eat up!
- Interview the local principals about the problems in the schools.
- Interview a politician on a matter of regional importance.
- Interview a scientist about his or her research.
- Turn the tables and interview a reporter about how they cover certain stories or events.
- Do you sell hiking equipment? Interview some of your customers about their hiking experiences, especially something particularly challenging.
- Do you sell sewing supplies? Interview your own Grandmother, or another elder in your family, or perhaps another elder you know, about what happened at old-fashioned quilting circles or knitting circles?
- Do you sell fishing supplies? Interview some of your customers about taking their kids fishing. Perhaps you could throw in a freebie to the three that give you the best stories, i.e. the ones people will want to link to and share on social media!
H. Create a Crazy “Out There” Report
For this to work, it’s got to be really good and really crazy!
- Do you sell gourmet food items? How about creating a guide entitled, “What Do Insects Taste Like?” In this guide, you can review how each of a dozen insects taste… and NO, they don’t all taste like chicken! Call up some insect culinary experts and maybe offer a free sampling to get reactions and report on these! Add photos! Make it fun and something people would love to share!
- Do you sell garden supplies? Why not create a guide entitled, “How to Raise the Biggest, Juiciest Worms In Your Compost Pile?” You can also talk about how to use these worms in your garden too!
- Do you sell Halloween supplies? Create a guide on, “How To Make the Most Gruesome Fake Blood That People Will Think Is Real.”
Hopefully, you’re getting your own ideas on link bait you can create for your own website!
3. Proofread and Edit Your Website Periodically
This may sound too simple to be one of the “best” white hat SEO strategies but it absolutely is and this is why. Google likes to see that a website is tended to like a garden. There is a caring owner who is “pulling the weeds” and “watering” regularly. When googlebot, the Google spider that will come by and crawl through your site, detects small little changes on a fairly regular basis, this will give you a significant SEO boost!
Now, before you decide to assign a staff member to change three random words a day, Google is on to this type of gray hat method! In fact, this type of trick, in various iterations, has been tried for years. Google engineers have become VERY good at detecting natural changes to a website versus fake changes so don’t even think about fake changes of any kind. Instead, simply go through your site periodically and correct small mistakes, re-word passages to make them clearer to your customers, add a caveat here and there, maybe add a link occasionally, post a new pic or two, respond to comments on your blog posts, and just pull the weeds and water the site! Google will take notice and give you a nice boost, we assure you!
Many sites get built and are then left untouched for months, even years, at a time! Googlebot comes by and records that no changes have taken place. The site is “abandoned” it appears! What happens to abandoned properties? They go down in value! So too will your search engine rankings if you let this happen to your website. If you think of your website like a garden, you’ll be fine. Yes, you can probably go away for a week, maybe two, and get away with it during some seasons, but not all the time and not during the busiest seasons.
And speaking of seasons… tis the season for making honest money using white hat SEO techniques. We wish you and your family a VERY Merry WHITE Christmas!
Don’t forget… use white hat SEO, not black hat SEO, not even gray hat SEO, and your long-term search engine success will soar!