Content & SEO

White-Hat SEO: How to Use It to Rank Higher and Boost Your Traffic

By alexandra-cote ·  January 22, 2021

Dealing with penalties? Or perhaps you’re just not seeing your content rank as you had expected it to?

White-hat SEO is the solution for you. Specifically, sticking to all of its common best practices.

Today’s SERP landscape is largely composed of websites that nail white-hat SEO. Avoiding black-hat SEO techniques also lets them ensure they keep a clean domain that Google will deem as influential. In fact, you’ll see fewer black-hat techniques in the articles you stumble upon because they simply don’t work these days.

Not to mention that a whopping 88% of people are less likely to get back to a website that offered them a bad experience at some point. In turn, this tarnishes the brand’s reputation and leaves people disappointed or looking for a different solution.

So let’s see how you can use white-hat SEO to provide a good user experience and get better rankings for your articles and product pages.

What is white-hat SEO?

White-hat SEO is the only method that can help you both grow your rankings and stick to Google’s strict SEO guidelines.

The most common types of white-hat SEO include:

  • Writing unique and insightful content
  • Using keyword optimization appropriately and adding your main keyword to your meta description, title tag, relevant headings, etc.
  • Ensuring your website loads fast and is mobile friendly
  • Providing a sitemap and robots.txt file that will make it easier for Google’s bots to crawl your website in a logical order
  • Only linking to related websites, gated content, and videos
  • Adding in simple website navigation for your visitors
  • Maintaining standard-compliant HTML and lean code
  • Obtaining relevant backlinks through organic growth methods

Do you need to implement all of these?

Yes.

Most keywords, specifically high-volume ones that can bring in loads of traffic and leads, already have solid websites and content ranking among their top 10 results. And these top articles and pages will likely stick to all of these white-hat SEO techniques within the upcoming years.

What is the difference between white-hat SEO and black-hat SEO?

White white-hat SEO attempts to add value for users, black-hat SEO turns to deceptive hacks that can even be harmful for them.

Black-hat SEO techniques include:

  • Buying links and link farming
  • Keyword stuffing and using keywords that are not related to your main topic
  • Cloaking content [when a website displays different content to Google’s bots while the human user gets to see something else that’s often not what they were promised to read]
  • Hiding text or links
  • Including doorway pages
  • Having duplicate content [ecommerce websites are prone to this issue for their product pages]
  • Using parasite hosting
  • Trying to increase your rankings through mirror websites
  • Cookie stuffing [also known as cookie dropping]
  • Writing bad content and plagiarizing
  • Sending automated queries to Google
  • Including redirects to irrelevant, spam, illegal pages

And all this does is turn your traffic into something like:

black hat SEO traffic

White-hat SEO techniques to implement right away

The best general tip I have for staying within the SEO white-hat guidelines from day one is to keep track of everything that’s happening around your website. Know where you’re getting a backlink, see if anyone’s linking to you without permission and check if their website is trustable, constantly monitor your website’s speed, and aim to offer quality at all times.

Here’s a detailed list of white-hat SEO techniques to cover:

Gather all the value you can offer and put it into your content

Quality guidelines are listed first in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines—your go-to source if you want to maintain core white-hat practices. The overarching goal is to direct your content primarily towards its human users instead of making the search engine your main reader.

An omnipresent bad habit is to copy what others are doing. Still, the Google algorithm does take into account what people prefer reading [see the next section on matching reader intent for details on this]. As a result, most websites translate this into having to copy the ideas and headings that articles doing well cover. Why? Because this seems to be what people want to read.

Everyone is already doing that and there are only 10 leading spots you can “fight” for. This is where Google’s guidelines for quality and authenticity come in. One closer look at these same 10 results and you’ll notice they come from high-authority domains, add in their own unique touch, or simply go into extensive details of the topic.

The bottom line is just as Google puts it:

“Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.”

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Always match the reader intent

So you just wrote the best article ever. But is it really what people searching for the keyword you’re targeting want to read?

Matching the reader’s intent helps you deliver the information people want and shows Google that users trust your content. This is because they spend more time on your article, they engage with the post, and they might even look at other pages on your website.

The reader’s intent for the majority of keywords is easy to deduce. Look at the first 10 results for that keyword and spot the common idea. Is it a guide? A list of tips? A series of tools? A job board? A report? News and updates on current world events?

Take the “email marketing guide” keyword. You literally need only 5 seconds to tell that the general reader’s intent is to get information about what email marketing is and how to get started with it:

email marketing guide

Beyond this overarching goal, what articles at the top get right is the actual structure of the post. Every single heading aims to satisfy another need or answer a question.

This is how headings are structured in the first article:

optinmonster headings structure

Going to an article a couple of positions below and you’ll notice they cover similar ideas but they failed to answer basic questions like “What is email marketing?” and “Why email marketing?”:

campaign monitor list of headings

Note: People searching for “email marketing guide” are marketing beginners or non-marketers looking to start a newsletter. Starting from point zero with the topic has allowed OptinMonster to become their preferred guide as it covers everything they need from tips to tools and unique insights.

On the other hand, you’ll also stumble upon keywords with multiple reader’s intents such as “work from home”:

work from home keyword

Here people could be looking for work from home jobs, tips for working from home, or lists of companies hiring people to work from home right now. Since the reader’s intent is so diverse, the websites you see in the image above target other keywords as well. Examples include “guide to working from home”, “companies hiring remotely”, “work-from-home jobs”, “flexible jobs”, and more.

Another option is to go for the general reader’s intent. For instance, a guide to working from home also lets you add in companies, tips, and current job openings. The article will be longer but it meets everyone’s needs.

Mobile-friendliness, website speed, and code cleanliness

Ah, good old technical SEO. Everyone claims to be doing it right, but SEO audits say otherwise. Slow website speed due to pop-ups, bad code, or forgetting to compress images is way too common. The PageSpeed Insights tool will tell you all of the things you need to tweak on your website to boost its speed. 

WebPage Test will offer even more details which will prove to be a must along with core web vitals becoming a ranking factor. Here’s what the part of the result from a test on the Microsoft.com website looks like:

web page performance test

Other technical aspects to tweak include:

  • Providing easy site navigation and a flat website architecture
  • Having well-structured markup language
  • Fixing indexing errors
  • Ensuring your pages are mobile friendly and maintaining a mobile-first mentality
  • Prioritize user experience and run A/B tests to experiment with UX best practices

Get on-page SEO factors the right way

White-hat SEO starts with keyword research. If you’re just launching your blog and don’t yet have a solid domain authority, you’ll want to target long-tail keywords. In fact, even high-authority websites stick to this practice as it helps them create content clusters and position themselves as subject matter experts.

Use a tool like Semrush or Ahrefs for your keyword research process by starting from a more general keyword and looking up its keyword variations. The latter are the long-tail keywords you want to aim for. You also use these as secondary keywords to support the main one you’ll choose:

keyword analysis tool

For more ideas, you can go to a competing post and look up what keywords that article ranks for:

keyword organic search position

Tip: Sort keywords on a competitor’s post by search volume and correlate this metric with the keyword difficulty [KD%] to see better ranking opportunities.

If you want to answer real questions people are looking for, a tool like AnswerThePublic is a must:

answer the public example

While keyword stuffing is something to stay away from, there are a couple of clear best practices for using your main keyword on-page within:

  • The Title Tag
  • Your page’s meta description
  • Headings and subheadings
  • Bold and italic words
  • ALT tags and image file names
  • Link anchor text

Having the main keyword in all of these is a good practice but you might not want to have just the main keyword across all headings. Instead, use the main keyword in 2 or 3 headings. Then, look up a relevant secondary keyword [can include your main keyword as well + an extra attribute] and add that to other headings to support your target keyword and boost your chances of ranking for other keywords as well. Here’s a perfect structure from the Shopify blog:

blog structure

Build inbound links in all the right places

If there’s one thing to focus on besides providing a good user experience, that’s keeping track of the backlinks you’re scoring. Great articles tend to get these links organically. As you’re just launching a website or if you write on a topic that’s not so popular yet, you’ll have to do the outreach manually.

This process does come with its SEO benefits though. You’re able to know exactly what types of links you’re getting. As a general rule, aim only for websites within your industry and those with higher domain authority. 

Reaching out directly to a website’s managers and asking for a link can prove effective but is also time-consuming. An alternative is putting together a guest blogging plan to get on leading websites. Not only will this provide you with a valuable link to your content, but it will also position your brand in front of a larger audience and strengthen your expertise in the field. 

Just make sure you stick with guest posts within your field and shoot for the biggest websites possible. Having loads of guest posts irrelevant or low-authority blogs won’t help you grow and can come off as a shady link scheme to Google.

Another technique is broken link building. This is a win-win situation as you’ll be getting a link by helping a website keep track of their outbound links and avoid having articles that lead to non-existing pages [or worse, pages that have changed].

So if you’re considering automating the outreach process, it’s a big no from me. Manual outreach lets you customize every email you’re sending so you’ll show that you’re truly interested in being on that website.

Turn to internal links to aid your SEO efforts

Internal links are the holy grail of SEO. 

There are two different types of internal links to include:

  1. As you’re writing a new article, link to other past content on the same subject so you can tie topics together and keep readers on your website for longer.
  2. After publishing a new article, go back to previously published content and link back to the latest article using relevant anchor text keywords.

Both can show Google what your content is about through the keywords you’ve chosen for the anchor text.

How to tell if white-hat SEO is right for you?

The universally-valid answer is: White-hat SEO will bring some form of results for every kind of website. Whether you want to get an article to rank higher, increase your domain authority, get your products seen on the first page of Google, or simply strengthen your thought leadership, white-hat SEO is likely to provide a huge helping hand—or do the job in your place.

Now the real question is: Are you sticking to all best practices?

Here’s a quick list of steps to go through to check the basic SEO health of your website:

1. Run a basic SEO audit – You can use the Google Lighthouse tool as shown in the video below as well as the PageSpeed Insights tool. At this point, you also want to check if you’re getting all on-page SEO factors right.

2. Check your Spam Score – The MozBar can provide a realistic representation of your Spam Score for free but you’ll need the paid version to get the list of backlinks that are affecting your website. You can also manually check these from the backlinks profile through the usual SEO tool you’re using.

3.  Analyze your current backlinks – Go to Semrush or Ahrefs and check every single backlink you’ve received so far to make sure it’s from high-authority websites.

backlink checker

What to do to ensure white-hat SEO actually works for you

Approach these white-hat SEO tips systematically. You’ll need a step-by-step plan to stick to for months to come and keep tweaking your strategy as you go. 

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For example, if you’re looking to grow your domain authority or use backlinks for better article rankings, have a professional on your team take care of this task on a daily basis. Research where your competitors are getting backlinks [exclude nofollow links when looking at these], check for top articles with broken links that could be replaced with your article or look up lists of resources where your content can fit in. 

Create a spreadsheet of websites where you want a link and order them by domain authority so you’ll start reaching out to the top websites first. Take these efforts one step further and create separate sheets for every single article. 

Then, reach out to the website’s owner or writer [only for in-house writers] to see if they’re willing to link back to your content. Keep in mind some websites don’t add new links once the content is published. So if you really need to reach out to their audience, consider guest posting as well.

Fun fact: Guest posting on similar topics to the ones you usually write on helps Google position you as an expert in that field. So if you’ve got someone else on the team who currently writes on a specific subject, have them in charge of guest posting on those topics.

The outreach process alone gets even more complex as you’re tweaking pitches, running follow-ups, building relationships, coming up with unique guest post ideas, and more constant changes you need to keep up with.

The same is valid for all of the other techniques mentioned. White-hat SEO is a long-term endeavor. It can take months of effort [even years if you have an ambitious goal] to start seeing the results you want. This is why it pays off to prioritize these white-hat SEO techniques. 

Here’s the order I suggest you start working on them:

  1. Ensure you’ve got all technical aspects in check for all pages
  2. Only create valuable content that provides new insights for the industry [always keep the reader’s intent in mind!]
  3. Fully optimize your on-page SEO efforts [internal links and image compression included] as you’re writing and after publishing a new piece
  4. Craft a bomb link building strategy and stick to it [here are three “secret” brands with amazing outreach plans if you want to check out their backlinks: Venngage, SnackNation, GetApp]
white hat SEO techniques

Bookmark this article and use it as a checklist whenever you feel like your content is not living up to your expectations. There’s always one more thing that you can test or change up a bit to improve your chances of ranking higher, creating brand awareness, and becoming known as a leader in your industry. 

Feel free to also reach out to us if you need help with your white-hat SEO strategies.

Until next time, keep optimizing! You’re never quite done. 😄

About the author

Alexandra Cote Alexandra Cote is a SaaS content writer and strategist with a passion for content marketing, social media marketing wonders, and artificial intelligence. She’s a strong supporter of staying happy at work and choosing a career path that’s healthy for people’s wellness.
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