April 5, 2023 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
Most marketers and SEO professionals know that if you want to win over Google (and its searchers) you need a strong, high-quality backlink profile for your website. It’s creating that all-important profile that’s the tricky part. Marketers can get so caught up in wanting to hit the top spot on a search engine that they’ll do anything to get their content there. Even if it means engaging in some shady practices. But doing your SEO on the up-and-up is always better for the long-term potential of your content and your website. That practice is called white-hat link building.
Today, we’re looking at exactly what white-hat link building is and how you can incorporate it into your marketing strategy (if you haven’t already) to increase the quality and longevity of your backlink profile:
Link building is the process of getting other websites to link to yours. It sounds simple, but to do link building the right way is complex and time-consuming. The term link building typically earns a bad reputation in the SEO community because of its past association with underhanded tactics to boost your backlink profile without doing real work. When done the right way, link building can be an ethical SEO practice to help you get more exposure to your website and content without breaking any search engine terms or conditions.
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White-hat and black-hat labels are often used by people in technology and coding circles to determine between “the good guys” and “the bad guys.” You may most often hear these terms used for hackers. The color of the hat explains the person’s intentions for their work. People who engage in white-hat strategies are “the good guys.” Everything they do is for the good of their team, their users, or the public. When we talk about white-hat hackers, these are people who try to break into programs and systems to find their flaws. Then they fix those vulnerabilities to better protect programs.
Those who use black-hat tactics are “the bad guys.” They engage in their practices with unwholesome intentions. For hackers, that means they break into programs and systems with the intent of stealing data, corrupting devices, or completing some other illegal act. We also use these terms to describe link-building strategies. Here’s how they apply:
White-hat link building is the process of bringing traffic to your site through above-board SEO techniques. These tactics focus on improving the quality of your content or aiding the user experience of content or your website. It also focuses on gaining backlinks from trustworthy and authoritative sources. These tactics help increase your search engine results page (SERP) rankings. That’s because they align with Google’s and other search engines’ guidelines and follow the rules. White-hat link-building strategies often take more time and precision to implement than black-hat strategies.
Black-hat link building uses spam-centered tactics to drive traffic to your website. They offer low or no value to the content and they don’t improve the user’s experience. Anything that goes against Google’s guidelines is considered a black-hat SEO tactic. Black-hat link-building strategies typically offer short-term results to bring lots of traffic to a site quickly to give it a boost in the SERPs. But these strategies aren’t sustainable. Teams at Google and other search engines are always working to find and penalize sites that use them. Some examples of black hat link-building strategies include:
White- and black-hat strategies get a lot of attention, but have you ever heard of grey-hat link-building? This type of link-building gets its name because it mixes technically white-hat techniques with some black-hat ethics. Grey-hat link building gets away with technicalities. When you engage in this type of link building, you use tactics that Google hasn’t made a stance about. They’re not black-hat because they don’t break Google’s guidelines, but they’re not recommended either. Some examples of grey-hat link building include:
While grey-hat link building is better than black-hat strategies, it’s still not your best option. White-hat link building is the best choice for keeping your website authoritative and in good standing with Google and searchers.
It’s important to know that all link building is technically “legal.” White, black, and grey hats alike. Aside from some extreme or bizarre circumstances, you’re not going to go to court or jail because you linked to some clickbait or ran a few below-board schemes to get more visitors to your website. Unless you’re hacking into programs to make this happen or stealing user information, you’re likely safe from true legal problems. What all hats aren’t safe from are Google and search engine penalties.
White-hat link-building is the only way to ensure your website or content doesn’t get hit with a Google penalty that can tank your rankings. And even then, all white-hat tactics aren’t a 100% guarantee because of Google’s changing algorithms and guidelines. But if you’re playing by Google’s rules and consciously trying to build a better experience for your audience through your links, you have much less of a chance of getting hit with a penalty.
Using white-hat link-building strategies also helps increase your website’s authority by creating high-quality content and high-quality experiences for searchers and your visitors. These qualities encourage people to come back to your content or site after their first visit.
If you want to stay on Google’s good side when building your link profile, white-hat link building is the only way to do it. Earning a manual penalty from Google can set your SEO back years in some cases. That’s not an exaggeration. While it may be tempting to take the fast or simple route of black-hat tactics, it’s not worth undoing any good progress you’ve already made toward your backlink profile and your SEO efforts. Using white-hat tactics is the only way to preserve the hard work you’ve already done while continuing to set your website and content up for future SEO success.
We’ve talked a lot about what you shouldn’t do for link-building and have talked up the benefits of white-hat strategies. It’s only fair that we share some of those strategies with you to help improve your link-building efforts. Here are some options to add to your marketing strategy to engage in white-hat link-building:
Guest posting, done the right way, is a good white-hat link-building strategy. While guest posting can be a time-consuming link-building process because you have to create new content for multiple sources, it’s worth the effort. The links you place throughout a guest post should be relevant and authoritative to both your content and your brand. When you get these posts placed on high-authority websites you can improve your backlink profile and gain link equity, or “link juice.” This improves the quality and authority of your website by being associated with the other.
It’s important to make sure all your guest-post activities stay above board and follow Google’s guidelines. Guest posting should be done through partnerships for the good of both companies and their audiences. Engaging in payment for guest posts or link “trades” that don’t provide information for the good of your audience violates Google’s guidelines. These behaviors could put your site at risk of a penalty.
Instead, look for guest posting opportunities such as calls for contributor submissions. You can also work with brands in smaller niches that aren’t direct competitors but who cater to the same audience as your company.
Content promotion is the process of distributing your pieces on a variety of paid or organic channels. Different from guest posting, content promotion allows you to share pieces you’ve already developed on new channels. Think of it like distributing a book in both a hardback and eBook format. You can attract readers in two ways, no matter their book preferences. When promoting your content, the idea is to share your pieces on different sites and channels to help the largest audience find and engage with them.
When done right, or with the right partner, content promotion helps you place plenty of links quickly. You can receive a traffic boost much faster than you do with other white-hat strategies. Content promotion might be the tactic that helps you get as close to black-hat results as possible without encountering penalties.
When you reclaim links from other websites, you don’t have to create new content. This makes link reclamation an easier white-hat link-building option than any that requires you to develop new content. There are two types of link reclamation you can use. They include:
For certain brands and businesses, utility link-building is a viable white-hat link-building option. Companies that sell local services like cable or internet can get a link placement on sites that residents may reference to find the right service providers in their area. Contact city or county local government websites or real estate websites that list utility information for residents. Ask if they’ll share links to your site or content to provide your information to their audiences.
If you’re not in the utility business you may still be able to capitalize on backlinks for local traffic through website directories or business listings. Website directories like Yelp, Yellow Pages, and Angi (formerly Angie’s List) feature many service companies and local businesses to help people find solutions to their problems. Most directories list businesses for free. The programs let your team upload and control the information you share with searchers, including backlinks to your website and content.
Sharing content from your website on social media is one way to increase the potential to earn more organic backlinks. Whether you share content on your brand’s social media channels or share links to helpful content in the comments, both are opportunities for your pieces to get more views and reach. Make sure that you’re sharing links only when they’re helpful and provide a resource to answer comments. This avoids spamming, which is a black-hat SEO technique. The bigger the audience that sees your content, the more likely you are to earn organic backlinks.
One of the best ways to do white-hat link-building is to create original and unique content people want to link to or share. Seriously. It’s that easy. If you’re providing quality content and resource that people can’t get anywhere else, they’re going to be more likely to link to your content. Getting these organic links and shares gets two thumbs up from Google and helps increase your authority and SERP rankings.
Brainstorm ideas for content that are relevant to your audience and factually accurate, but that you haven’t seen anywhere else. What types of pieces or assets can your team create to fill those gaps? Creating unique content makes your brand the source for that information. When you’re the source, you’re more likely to get backlinks from high-authority websites.
The more diligent you are about sticking to only white-hat link-building strategies, the better your SEO future will be. Don’t be tempted by quick-fix black-hat tactics that won’t sustain your content’s SEO long-term. Following Google’s rules and guidelines is the only sure way to protect your SEO work and ensure that you can rise to the top of SERPs to get the most attention for your website and content.
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