How to Play by the Rules

How to Play by the Rules

Do you need to rank for aggressive phrases with out worrying about potential Google penalties? Then go white hat.

In this put up, you’ll be taught what white hat search engine optimization is, the way it compares to black hat search engine optimization, and the way to implement just a few white hat search engine optimization ways.

White hat search engine optimization refers to the use of search engine optimization methods, methods, and ways which are inside Google’s guidelines.

The focus is the consumer. White hat SEOs prioritize customers by offering related, high-quality content material reasonably than content material designed to “trick” engines like google.

White hat vs. black hat search engine optimization

The flip facet of white hat search engine optimization is black hat search engine optimization. 

Black hat search engine optimization refers to the use of methods, methods, and ways that don’t essentially comply with Google’s tips. Its focus is on discovering and exploiting algorithmic loopholes.

Sometimes, these black hat ways may be plain unethical—we’re speaking about SEOs spamming rivals with malicious hyperlinks, injecting different web sites with malicious code, and extra.


The phrases “white hat” and “black hat” happened as a result of outdated movies in the Western style used these hats to symbolize the distinction between good vs. evil. (White hats have been worn by heroes and black hats by villains.) This then gave rise to the phrases in laptop hacking, which adopted into search engine optimization. They’re not crucial the finest phrases. But we’re utilizing it right here for now as a result of there is no such thing as a various in common use.

Why is white hat search engine optimization necessary?

Here are three causes:

1. Black hat search engine optimization is dangerous

Following the legislation confers no reward. But there are downsides in not following them, comparable to fines and imprisonment.

The identical goes for white hat search engine optimization. Just since you’re following Google’s tips doesn’t imply you’re robotically assured larger rankings. And sadly, in some niches (for instance, payday loans), black hat search engine optimization is the title of the recreation. 

But similar to in the actual world, not following the “rules” all the time runs the threat of getting caught. In this case, it’s not legislation enforcement, however Google. 

If Google discovers you’re utilizing black hat ways, it may penalize you. When that occurs, you’ll see visitors like this:

Drastic traffic drop after a likely Google penalty, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

So in case your purpose is to construct a model for the long run and generate constant visitors, you’ll have to use white hat search engine optimization ways.

2. Black hat search engine optimization is troublesome to implement

With frequent Google algorithm updates, low-cost spammy ways, like key phrase stuffing, now not work. 

So if you need to go forward with black hat search engine optimization, you would possibly go for ways like constructing a non-public weblog community (PBN). But constructing a PBN accurately is dear (i.e., shopping for expired domains, devoted internet hosting, non-public Whois, and so forth.), is technical, has no ensures of working, and may even trigger you to be penalized.

In that case, you might as nicely make investments that cash, time, and energy into white hat search engine optimization, which may truly deliver long-term visitors and model worth, like our firm:

Traffic coming to Ahrefs, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

3. Black hat search engine optimization makes everybody’s life worse

Though you’re an search engine optimization, you’re before everything a search engine consumer. You’re most likely Googling for issues on a every day foundation.

So you might win as a black hat search engine optimization if you happen to efficiently spammed Google SERPs, however you’ll lose as a consumer if all the pieces you seek for solely comprises poor and irrelevant outcomes. 

Six white hat search engine optimization methods

So how do you get began with white hat search engine optimization? Here are just a few ways you may use. 

1. Do key phrase analysis

One of the key finest practices in Google’s Search Essentials is to “use words that people would use to look for your content.”

You can discover out what these phrases are by doing key phrase analysis.

Here’s how to get began:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter one or just a few related phrases or phrases
  3. Go to the Matching phrases report
Matching terms report, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Here, you may see over 4 million potential key phrases you may goal. If they’re related, you need to rank for all of them. But you additionally possible have restricted sources, so it’s best to prioritize.

We can slender the record down by specializing in two metrics:

  1. Traffic Potential (TP) – Pages now not simply rank for one key phrase. It can rank for a lot of and get visitors from all of them. TP is the sum of natural visitors that the #1 rating web page in your goal key phrase receives from all the key phrases that it ranks for. You’d need this to be excessive. 
  2. Keyword Difficulty (KD) – There are solely so many areas you may rank for on the first web page of Google. As a end result, SERPs may be aggressive. KD offers an estimation of how arduous it’s to rank in the prime 10 natural search outcomes for a key phrase on a 100-point scale. You’d need this to be low.

How excessive TP and the way low KD ought to be relies on your web site. But for this instance, let’s set them like so:

You’ll additionally need to set the Target filter to examine in case your web site is already rating for any of those key phrases.

Matching terms report, with filters, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Look via the record and select related key phrases. 

2. Create useful, dependable, people-first content material

Google’s Search Essentials states that we must always create useful, dependable, and people-first content material.

But what does that imply in actuality? Here are the steps it’s best to take:

Align your content material with search intent

Google needs to serve related content material to its customers. And a key facet of relevance is whether or not searchers discover the search outcomes helpful.

In order for search outcomes to be helpful, Google wants to determine why searchers are in search of that question, so it will possibly serve the proper outcomes. 

This is named search intent. 

If you need to rank excessive on Google, you want to determine search intent. We can do that by analyzing the SERPs for the three Cs:

  • Content kind – Are they weblog posts, product pages, touchdown pages, or one thing else?
  • Content format – Are they tutorials, listicles, how-to guides, recipes, free instruments, or one thing else?
  • Content angle – Is there a dominant promoting level, like low costs or how simple it is?

For instance, let’s say we’re concentrating on the key phrase “how to save money.”

SERP overview for

If we analyze the SERPs for the three Cs, right here’s what we see:

  • Content kind – They’re all weblog posts.
  • Content format – Despite the “how to” modifier, persons are truly in search of an inventory of how to save cash.
  • Content angle – There are just a few angles right here: “proven,” “simple,” “easy,” and extra.

If we would like to rank for this key phrase, we possible have to create a listicle of money-saving suggestions.

Cover the matter in full

The finest end result for a question covers all the pieces searchers need to know. So if there are subtopics that the top-ranking pages cowl, you’ll need to embody them in your content material too.

Here’s how to discover these subtopics:

  1. Enter your key phrase into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Scroll down to the SERP overview
  3. Select three to 5 top-ranking articles (make certain they’re related)
  4. Click Open in and select Content hole
Using the feature

In the Content hole report, click on the Intersection dropdown and select “4, 5” to see solely the most related subtopics:

Content hole report outcomes

If we’re targeting the keyword “inbound marketing,” these subtopics can make great H2s:

  • What is inbound marketing
  • Inbound marketing strategies
  • Inbound marketing examples

Create one thing distinctive and authentic

Google’s guide on creating useful content material suggests asking these questions:

How to Play by the Rules image11 6

Simply put: Google wants you to create content that’s unique and original.

How do you do that? Here are a few ways you can stand out from the rest:

  1. Provide original research Consider running studies, surveys, polls, experiments, or crowdsource/interview experts.
  2. Give a unique perspective or opinion – This can be from you, industry experts, or someone in your organization.
  3. Build on what’s already out there – Imagine you’re a scientist contributing to a corpus of knowledge. Help investigate claims, expand on key ideas, or challenge existing consensus.

Ensure content is created or reviewed by someone with expertise and experience

Google also aims to reward content that demonstrates E-E-A-T:

  • Experience – Firsthand or life experience in the topic.
  • Expertise – High level of knowledge or skill in a particular field.
  • Authoritativeness – Reputation, particularly among other experts and influencers in the industry.
  • Trustworthiness – Legitimacy, transparency, and accuracy of the website and its content.

It sounds complex, but it’s what you expect good content to be. If you’re reading something, you’ll likely want it to come from someone with firsthand experience or expert knowledge. You don’t want it to be from a writer who has regurgitated what’s ranking.

Demonstrating this can be as simple as actually using a product you’re reviewing. Or having been to Milan if you’re recommending the best places to visit. 

For example, most of our content is created by our marketing team, which consists of people with years of experience in the SEO industry. Like my colleague, Chris Haines, who has worked in SEO agencies for 10 years. 

If you do not have the required experience or expertise, hire someone who has to create or review your content. 

Make sure content is easy to read

Nobody wants to read a chunk of text. Your content should be readable for your users.

I recommend following the ASMR formula:

  • Annotations – Use elements like sidenotes and blockquotes to break up the post.
  • Short sentences and paragraphs – Split long sentences into shorter ones.
  • Multimedia – Include videos, images, and GIFs to eliminate extra words.
  • Read your copy out loud – Highlight areas where the content doesn’t flow smoothly.

3. Pay attention to on-page SEO

In Google’s own words:

Use words that people would use to look for your content, and place those words in prominent locations on the page, such as the title and main heading of a page, and other descriptive locations such as alt text and link text.

You’ve done the first part via keyword research. Now, it’s time to make doubly sure that Google can understand your content. To do this, you should:

  • Include your target keyword in the title and H1 tag.
  • Add concise and accurate alt text to your images.

4. Provide a good user experience

Google wants to reward pages with a good user experience. It explicitly states this in its guide on creating useful content material:

Google says to present an ideal web page expertise in your guests

To provide a good user experience, you’ll want to:

  • Use HTTPS – Encrypt your site with SSL/TLS and protect your readers’ data.
  • Make sure your website is mobile-friendly – Most people search on mobile these days. Your website should work on all devices.
  • Ensure your pages load fast – Slow pages are a pain. Use a tool like PageSpeed Insights to check your pages’ performance.
  • Avoid intrusive interstitials – Interstitials are full-screen ads that appear before a webpage’s content is loaded. Nobody, including Google, likes them.
  • Improve your Core Web Vitals (CWV) – These are speed metrics that are part of Google’s Page Experience signals used to measure user experience. They’re not make-or-break for SEO, but improving them can help with better user experience.

5. Utilize structured data

A major part of SEO is really about helping Google understand the content of your pages. You can provide explicit clues about the meaning of a page for Google by using structured data.

Structured data is a standardized way to provide information about a webpage. It conforms to a particular format, and the universally recognized format is schema markup

For example, if I wanted to tell search engines my given name is “Si Quan,” I would have to use the givenName property and use it in its exact form in our code. 

Givenname property

Learn extra about how to implement schema markup in our guides under.

6. Build high-quality links

Links are an important Google ranking factor. But buying backlinks is against Google’s guidelines:

Google's guidelines for buying or selling links

What must you do as a substitute? Here are some concepts on how one can purchase backlinks the white hat method:

Guest blogging

Guest blogging is when you create content for other websites. In the process, you’ll usually be allowed to link back to your website.

Here’s how you can find potential guest blogging opportunities:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Content Explorer
  2. Set the dropdown to “In title”
  3. Enter a relevant keyword
  4. Set these filters: 
    1. Language filter to English (or your target language)
    2. Live/broken filter to Only live
    3. Filter explicit results to On
    4. Domain Rating filter to 30–90
    5. Website traffic filter to >500
    6. Check One page per domain
    7. Check Exclude homepages
    8. Check Exclude subdomains
Using Ahrefs' Content Explorer to find guest blogging opportunities

Look via the outcomes and select related websites you may visitor write for. Find the proper particular person’s e-mail and pitch them. 

Create link bait

There are many pages you’d like links to. These are likely your “money pages,” e.g., product pages and landing pages. But nobody wants to link to them because they barely provide any value (unless they’re recommending your product).

So one way to build links to such pages is to use the Middleman Method:

  1. Build links to a page that attracts backlinks, i.e., link bait
  2. Add internal links from the link bait to your important pages
Illustration of the Middleman Method

How do you find good link bait ideas? The best way is to piggyback off what’s working for your competitors:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Best by links report
Using Best by links report to find link bait opportunities, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Look via the record to see what sorts of codecs and subjects resonate with individuals in your area of interest. For instance, we will clearly see that research and statistics are common in the search engine optimization house:

Data studies are popular in the SEO space


Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is a free service connecting journalists to sources and sources to journalists. Once you sign up, you’ll receive daily emails with queries from journalists of different publications.

Example of a HARO email

If your response is chosen, the publication would possibly hyperlink to you. 

Learn how to construct hyperlinks utilizing HARO in the information under.

Final thoughts

White hat SEO is about the right mindset: putting users first, creating useful content, and not spamming people.

Some black hat SEOs may be able to get results in the short term, but white hat SEO is essential for long-term success.

Remember, white hat SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.

Any questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter.

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