This is a great question that leads to a lot of different explanations. More now than ever, the line that is drawn between white hat and black hat SEO is growing wider. With the inherent difficulties associated with marketing medical websites, some companies are tempted to blur that line. While you always hear that black-hat SEO is a horrible way to achieve long-term results, it really comes down to what you see as black-hat, what you see as white-hat, and how broadly you draw the line between them.
Each medical marketing company can have a very different view of what is black-hat, and what is white-hat. Of course, when it comes to acquiring new clients, every company claims to use only white-hat techniques. No one wants to admit to using risky techniques that directly go against Google’s best practices. This can lead some to hide their efforts behind the facade of white-hat SEO, while also taking very big risks with the site to show a large initial improvement. This blog will lay out the agreed upon differences between the two medical marketing strategies, but will also offer a world of grey. A world where risks are taken and skirt the edge between right and wrong to deliver results.
What is White-Hat SEO?
As you might infer, white-hat SEO offers a strategy that adheres closely to Google’s best practices and standards. The main focus is through promoting the website through more traditional PR methods, and typically requires more work on behalf of a medical marketing agency. This method involves a constant attention to the ever-changing search engine environment to ensure that every approved method possible is being done to get a website noticed within search engines. Especially true for new medical websites, white-hat SEO typically takes more time for a website to rank, because it relies on word-of-mouth and creative content. The website has to be noticed and shared before it starts to see a return on investment.
Every medical marketing company claims to use white-hat SEO, but quite frankly, there’s much more grey involved than anyone wants to admit. After all, we’re all trying to get a website ranked for competitive keywords quickly, which inherently goes against what Google is trying to achieve. We all want to deliver high-traffic keywords quickly to please the client, and hopefully have more time to do things the right way. With each marketing company trying to improve your rankings faster than their competitors, it can be tempting to move closer to the middle of the road. In the long-run, sticking closely to Google’s best practices will deliver the best long-term results, but it does typically take more time to show positive results.
What is Black-Hat SEO?
In general, black-hat SEO is the use of any technique that does not comply with Google’s best practices. It involves using a strategy that is either devalued, or actually penalized by Google to achieve quick results. It’s the idea that it’s only wrong if you get caught. For medical websites that don’t get caught, it can be a quick way to improve search engine rankings and often leads to a medical professional applauding the efforts of their SEO company early on. Some agreed upon black-hat methods are site-wide footer links, purchased back-links, and keyword dumping. While these methods have been hit hard in recent years, these methods are still being used to this day to improve search engine rankings. Why would anyone use a tactic that has been directly penalized by search engines? It’s simple really, sometimes they actually work. The question any medical professional should ask themselves is, “Can I afford to lose my rankings overnight?” This has happened, and will continue to happen, as long as companies are willing to take the big risks. But is it a medical marketing company’s right to take risks with your medical practice?
If you’re willing to take a big risk with your success, and by risk I mean potentially never recovering from a Google penalty, then using any and all methods available can offer some short-term success. The main problem with black-hat SEO is that medical professionals are rarely aware of the risks that are being taken with their overall success, and by the time they find out, it might be too late. An all too often example at black-hat SEO is link-wheels. This is where a medical marketing company decides to link all of their client’s sites together without actually notifying their clients. This is done through hidden pages on their site that are a laundry list of clients with links going out to other websites. While this can give a medical practice a boost early on, the long-term ramifications can be severe. Not only is Google looking to penalize these “link-wheels,” but if a potential client found this page, would you want them to see a list of your competitors on your medical practice website? As you can see, black-hat can be more than just taking risks. Attempting to hide black hat SEO practices behind a veil of white hat SEO can actually be dishonest and unethical.
The Evolution of Grey SEO
While any marketing director will tell you that Google provides what it considers black-hat SEO techniques, they tend to move the field goal posts when search engine results no longer deliver valuable content. For example, up until late 2011, footer links were a great way to add value to your site. With a number of updates since, sites that use site-wide footer links have been penalized severely for the practice and are now struggling to recover. While we don’t know what the next target will be, we can certainly make assumptions as to where search engines are heading. Finding a good SEO company can be as simple as finding the company that has the most logical forward-thinking strategy. That is to say, medical marketing companies should be taking calculated risks to deliver results. The most important step though, that often gets skipped, is honest communication. Any good medical marketing plan, black, white, or grey, will include an honest discussion with those who have the most to lose; the medical professional. Is black-hat SEO the use of risky techniques to increase ranking, or is it an overall dishonesty that makes a strategy black-hat? Anyone who has done medical marketing for any length of time knows what risks are necessary to meet the desired goal, but taking large risks with the success of your medical practice, without having you on board, is the worst of the worst when it comes to black-hat techniques. Grey SEO is willing to take risks to achieve results, but it should never be without transparency with a client.
So what does this all mean for your medical practice?
At Omni Medical Marketing, we understand the importance of achieving rankings quickly. More importantly, we understand and have seen the impact that penalties from Google can have on the overall success of a medical practice. It’s important to know that white-hat SEO is always the best bet for long-term success. Occasionally, we all want to drift closer to the line, and even blur the line, when the pressure is on to deliver results more quickly. However you decide to conduct your medical marketing strategy, the most important thing is that you stay informed on the risks you or your medical marketing company are taking. Slow and steady (Following Google’s guidelines) wins the race in the long run, but if you want to lead laps in the meantime, sometimes you have to take calculated risks. When it comes to the riskiest of black-hat strategies, make sure you can afford to crash and burn. Trial and error can be a big part of an ever-evolving medical marketing plan, but it should never compromise the professionalism of your medical website design and medical practice.
Perhaps we should just throw out the terms altogether. At the end of the day, we all want to see search engine gains, we just have a different way of achieving them. Perhaps instead, we should break it down to honest and dishonest SEO practices. At least in this case, it leave less room for grey.
If you want to learn more about SEO for medical practices, and our personal commitment to an honest SEO strategy, give us a call.