Google's algorithms have hopscotched their way across the Internet for years, always trying to keep one step ahead of those so-called Black Hat SEO mavericks. Those are the digital CSI technicians whose forensics are used to investigate the crime scene of websites whose Page Ranks (PR) have taken a a brutal beating. This occurs usually after a Google algo shift, the likes of a Panda or Penguin update.
The SEO experts who wear the White Hats are of course considered the good and ethical cowpokes, as any old stereotypical western movie flick will tell you. They're the rank and file that adhere to Google's best practices, even when those practices might be contrary to what they were several months prior. They are good and loyal folk who follow the rules because their Big Daddy search engine is demanding they do so.
Matt CuttsAdam Stetzer, president and co-founder of Hubshout, notes in his post, titled, "Google Doubletalk and the Three Bears," that "Google rules the Monarchy in SEO," and Matt Cutts who heads Google's Webspam team appears contradictory when justifying the rationale behind the recent changes to Google's algo, when it comes to Penguin 2.0. He lays out the vagaries and conflicting direction as such:
Contradictory statements like these are baffling for website owners who want to play by the rules. However, it's difficult to assess where that line is drawn. For example, exact 'keyword matches' was not only considered a legitimate white hat SEO tactic, is was promoted by Google extensively with their 'paid search' keyword campaigns. Companies and brands paid dearly for specific keywords that would direct traffic to their site in greater numbers than the competition.
So, for instance, a car rental firm in the UK might choose to pay more for the keywords "car hire London," instead of, say "car rentals," mainly because in London, folks would search for the former set of keywords versus the latter. Post Penguin 2.0 update, those same keywords if purchased in large numbers can penalize that same website. Why? Because what was once considered a "must do,' Penguin 2.0 deems to be "over-optimization."
In essence, that same white hat professional who continues to work under the old guidelines has just crossed over to the 'dark side.' And in so doing can be highly penalized by the Big G. Also under the old rules, we were told never to hyperlink vague terms such as "click here" or "read more," as they were considered "junk" anchors and did not pass along relevance to our destination websites. Today the Penguins requires us to do just that (because they now deem those words more natural) -- in essence, taking a step backwards.
It's ironic that in Google's request for us to pepper our websites with more authenticity, they are now encouraging us to be "less" descriptive with our anchor texts. While "relevancy" was the key in the past, today its considered less 'natural'? Oh, how the tables have turned!
Techniques now considered 'spammy' use to be acceptable, and folks used those methods because they got higher search rankings. Why? Because a higher PR equates to making more money. I would venture to say that every player who's used black hat SEO tactics at one time or another used them for one reason -- namely to earn a living.
Does that mean any form of link-building via inbound marketing would now be considered unnatural? The jury is still out as the dust continues to settle, post Penguin 2.0 was released.
Another area affected is leaving comments on a blog. While, user-generated content has long been believed to be a staple of Web 2.0, it is technically no longer an acceptable white hat SEO practice, because comments can be manipulated by site owners to their benefit. Pure white hat SEO as it relates to optimizing a website today has reverted back to the idealized organic world of: "if we build it, they will come." Yup, see if that one pays the bills?
Federico EinhornFederico Einhorn is the founder and CEO at Full Traffic, a company focused on driving website traffic. In his recent blog, titled, "Black Hat Still Winning after Penguin 2.0," he ponders the question as to why black hat SEO still thrives? "Pre-Penguin 2.0, our site ranked 3rd, but now we’ve dropped to 6th-9th despite playing by the rule book as proposed by Google." (Update: FullTraffic.net requested we remove their link from this article.)
"Maybe if Google turned their focus on promoting the sites that are actually doing it right instead of focusing on the bad, they might actually achieve their goal of promoting the user experience. Until then, it looks like those with white hat tactics may want to start seeing a little bit of gray if they want to get ahead," added Eihorn.
If playing by the rules one day makes one a wizard of the black arts the next, perhaps we need to learn to bleach our hats on a daily basis, less we find ourselves the last cowboy at the rodeo!
Please weigh in, readers and let us know how you are adapting to Penguin 2.0 - but more importantly, please let us know if you're still wearing your White Hat?