White-Hat Link Building: What Is It and Why Does It Matter for SEO?

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Backlinks are one of the top Google ranking factors and “link building” is turning into a popular buzzword within the marketing industry. Marketers are willing to do anything to build their clients’ profiles and to get a backlink. Yet, there is a fine line between how you should and should not build links that can drastically affect your SEO.  This is where “white-hat” link building can help.

What is “white-hat, gray-hat, and black-hat” and what do they mean?

Hackers are sometimes categorized by the type of metaphorical “hat” they wear:  “white hat”, “grey hat”, and “black hat”. The terms come from old westerns, where the bad guy wears a black cowboy hat, and the good guy wears a white hat. There are two main factors that determine the type of hacker you’re dealing with: their motivations, and whether or not they are breaking the law.

Like all hackers, black hat hackers are unethical, they have extensive knowledge about breaking into computer networks and bypassing security protocols. They write malware to gain access to these systems.  Their usual motivation is personal or financial gain.

White hat hackers choose to use their powers for good rather than evil. Also known as “ethical hackers,” white hat hackers can sometimes be paid employees or contractors working for companies as security specialists that attempt to find security holes via hacking.

White hat hackers employ the same methods of hacking as black hats, with one exception- they do it with permission from the owner of the system first, which makes the process completely legal. White hat hackers perform penetration testing, test in-place security systems, and perform vulnerability assessments for companies. There are even courses, training, conferences, and certifications for ethical hacking.

As in life, there are grey areas that are neither black nor white. Grey hat hackers are a blend of both black hat and white hat activities. Often, grey hat hackers will look for vulnerabilities in a system without the owner’s permission or knowledge. If issues are found, they will report them to the owner, sometimes requesting a small fee to fix the issue. If the owner does not respond or comply, then sometimes the hackers will post the newly found exploit online for the world to see.

The term “white-hat” isn’t limited to just link building. It’s used to define agreeable SEO practices as a whole and should be an important part of any off-page SEO strategy. Practices that align with Google’s guidelines are considered white-hat.

In other words, keep it clean and play by Google’s rules. Your goal should be to focus on the user by creating a good experience and adding valuable content to the internet, not manipulate search rankings with dirty (black-hat) SEO methods.

Why Should You Engage Only in White-Hat Link Building?

Google is constantly updating its algorithm. When it identifies spammy or low-quality backlinks pointing to your site, you will likely be penalized, and your rankings will plummet. 

Manipulating search engines in any way is against Google’s guidelines, so don’t participate in link schemes, such as buying, selling, or trading links for SEO purposes, using link farms, or producing low-quality, auto-generated or spun content to place links.

If you have only authoritative, high-quality backlinks, earned naturally through a variety of white-hat link building strategies that I will go into next, you don’t need to worry about your rankings when the algorithm updates since you aren’t breaking any rules. White-hat methods are “future-proof”; they hold up in the long run.

White-Hat Link Building Techniques

Guest Posting is a slow, manual process and yields a lower number of links,  But, these links can be highly valuable to your site—well the effort if they’re relevant! The links placed through guest posting should be relevant and authoritative. It allows you to control the context around your brand and include suitable related keywords. Placing guest posts on sites with greater authority will add to your backlink profile and gain link equity (the value a link passes onto your page).

Your main focus in this approach is to create quality content and cater to the audience. Reach out to online media outlets, bloggers, and other websites related to your industry and ask to write an article for them. Within the article, link back to relevant content on your site as a resource. This will help establish your brand as a reliable source of information and authority in your industry.

It’s against Google’s guidelines to trade or pay for links in any way. If another site asks you to place a link on your site for them or asks for payment to place a link or publish a post, RUN. This is a clear violation of Google’s guidelines and puts your site at risk of being penalized.

Content Promotion

Content promotion takes place when you place a large number of links in a short amount of time, which can result in a high volume of referral traffic and quickly expand your brand awareness.

You’ll create and publish an exceptional piece of content on your site, such as a comprehensive how-to guide, tool, or original data. Then, reach out to online media outlets, like news stations and magazines, and ask them to cover your content on their site. This tactic will showcase your brand’s expertise and help to build its authority in your industry.

Utility Link Building

If your company sells local services like home security, TV, or internet, then utility link building can be beneficial and require little effort on your part. You don’t need to write articles or create new content at all, just send a quick email.

Look for utility and resource pages on local government (like city and county) sites and real estate sites. Reach out and ask them to include your website as a resource. This is an easy way to target local, engaged audiences that are already searching for the services you provide.

Link Reclamation

Like utility link building, link reclamation doesn’t require you to create new content. It’s a simple way to turn unlinked brand mentions into links or fix broken links that should lead to your site but don’t.

Reclaiming Unlinked Brand Mentions

Using off-page SEO tools or Google search queries, find instances online where your brand name is mentioned but doesn’t link back to your site. Email those sites and thank them for referencing your brand, then ask them if they would (pretty please) include a link to your site.

Broken Link Reclamation

You might have discontinued a product or service, remove outdated content, or re-launched your site and it affected some of your URLs so the pages they refer to no longer exist.

Use your off-page SEO tools to find these broken links that should lead back to your site. Figure out what the links originally referenced and find a new page on your site with products or content similar to the original. Email the sites and let them know the link is broken, provide them with a link to the new page, and ask them to replace the old link with the new one.

Even Panda Express has the occasional broken link. Ahrefs is a great way to identify broken links

Whatever you do, stick to the guidelines

White-hat link building (off-page SEO) is the only way to ensure your brand obtains high-quality backlinks and maintains its place in the SERPs over time. Don’t be tempted to use sloppy black-hat tactics and link schemes, or else your site will pay the price in the end. Adhere to Google’s rules and don’t be a cheater!