A useful guide

33 winning “White Hat” SEO tips that boost SME websites

SEO  |  10 min read

The Google Search Essentials (formerly Google Webmaster Guidelines) aren’t just best practices, they’re white hat search engine optimisation (SEO) tips (meaning good guys advice) that get your business’ website and its pages discovered and their content presented to searchers who want to know more about your industry, offerings, and expertise.

Black hat SEO techniques (adopted by bad guys) are tricks and attempts used to deceive Googlebot – and sometimes visitors – to cheat their way to better results. Some of those tactics and why Google disapproves of them are mentioned later in this article.

Read on to find some specific ideas for adding helpful details and several ways to capitalise on these guidelines. It may take some time to show results but creates long-term benefits that position your company as a leader and a trusted resource.

Illustration depicting white hat SEO expert optimising website

Google Search Essentials – the basis of white hat SEO

Even SEO experts regularly consult Google Search Essentials to get the latest information to ensure Google can find, index, and rank their pages. The guide highlights:

Technical requirements of your webpages

Make sure that Googlebot can read your pages

You want Google to uncover, “see” your pages, and easily read the contents (metadata, words, images, links, intention) and the details of how recently your pages are refreshed with new, original material. Make it efficient for Googlebot to find the pages by including a sitemap on your website.

Using the URL Inspection Tool in Google Search Console can test whether Googlebot can see the pages required to be indexed and ranked. Too many webmasters don’t check to ensure that pages on their website can be easily discovered, read, and indexed and then don’t achieve strong rankings.

Using a content management system or template (such as WordPress, Wix.com, or Squarespace) may help create pages, but you still need to make sure the pages are indexable. Or you can check with your web developer or hosting contacts to ensure that your pages are being seen.

Design your site with a clear hierarchy that keeps URL structure simple and consistent

Organising pages with easy-to-understand titles and reasons to read, click, or interact make more logical sense to your visitors. And search bots will have the same easy time in gathering data about your pages if they are set up with simple, descriptive, action-oriented language. Answer the “why?” question because you should provide a compelling reason to continue.

Avoid duplicate content – especially over long-term

Retail shops have seasonal holiday promotions every year. New products and service announcements can pile up and repeat key words and phrases – even with different works – and viewed negatively by search engine indexing. How is your company managing the addition or new material and retirement of older, non-relevant, or perhaps obsolete pages?

Sometimes, this material is intentionally aimed at deceiving spam filters or search engine tools. Other situations such as syndicating content can backfire with consequences for your company if Google flags it as a third-party rather than original to you. Here are some ways to reduce problems:

  • Minimise lengthy boilerplate text that appears on multiple pages. Consider putting the text into artwork blocks or other spaces where it won’t be penalised for repetitions.
  • If there are pages with similar content, let Googlebot know which page is the preferred/primary by using canonical tag or 301 redirect.
  • Be careful about publishing content from your site elsewhere or accepting material for your website with links (syndication).
  • Know how to handle a content management system that displays the same content in multiple formats such as WordPress, Wix templates, or other styles. Your pages may look very different to different visitors unless you know the reasons why.

Links are important but limit them on each page

Having just the right number of recent, relevant links on each page helps the visitor move smoothly through your website, so make sure the links are crawlable. Too many links and PageRank (an importance/popularity score) would be reduced, potentially lowering the position your page appears in search results.

Identify the route you want visitors to take through your pages and compare that goal to actual visitor traffic. Website clicks vary and, over time, visitors will show which pages are valuable by which ones are clicked, bounced, or ignored entirely. Be prepared to respond to that feedback with regular update to add new pages, refresh content.

Be genuine, do not spam – important aspects of white hat SEO

Defining “quality” can be tough, but you know it when you see it. Being original, creative, unique, and appealing are some of the key traits.

Usually, website quality factors are the ones managed by SEO agencies and web design contractors who are hired outside of your company. These are issues to be aware of as a business owner or store manager as you try to make pages that serve your audience, enhance your company’s image and online ranking, plus deliver profitable results.

Tips include several “What not to do” ideas:

  • Don’t write page content thinking you will outsmart search engines. Write for the human visitor.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you would feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with your company or to a Google employee.
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field, and tell the reader why this material stands apart.

Other things to avoid:

  • Link schemes to trade or exchange reciprocal links
  • Sneaky redirects from unrelated pages
  • Hidden text, links, or metadata designed to deceive indexing or boost scores
  • Scraped content or material found on other URLs you don’t control and automatically generated content
  • Pages containing irrelevant keywords
  • Website infected by malware

Google knows that hackers sometimes try to attack and install bad code on websites to deny service. So, monitor your site regularly and remove hacker content or spam and user-generated off-topic content as quickly as possible. Using Captcha or other tools to deter bots is just one toolkit. Then, after the repairs are done, you can request a review from search engines.

Illustration depicting 2 persons discussing white hat SEO and black hat SEO

Key best practices not to be ignored

Create helpful content

How useful and relevant are your pages in serving the needs of website visitors? Does the site offer comparison data, independent reviews, rankings, or other information that assists people with research, purchasing, or other decisions?

In August 2022, Google announced the helpful content algorithm update. It’s an ongoing effort to make sure users of Google’s search engine get the best answers they seek.

So, create content that’s original (not copied from elsewhere), useful (meaning not salesy or pushy or critical of a competing business), and for humans (not search engines). How? Google provides us with a list of self-assessment questions.

Tell Google about your business

Your prospective customers – and Google – want to know whether your business is genuine. One way for you to prove the authenticity of your establishment is by claiming your Google Business Profile. Make sure your business profile details are correct and up-to-date. Indicate clearly how support is provided, such as phone, email, chat, and other methods – in your profile and your website.

Also, show Google you’re the rightful owner of your website by registering it with Google Search Console. The search console contains tools to help you identify indexation issues and understand how people discover your website.

Post information on your website on a regular schedule

Website success is similar to laundry and hairstyling – it’s a repetitive process that no one gets right on the first attempt. There may be ongoing changes or modernising, with questions or suggestions from friends and customers. And it may take several tries to get the outcome you are seeking.

Keep posting and updating your content (web, blog, photos, descriptions, reviews) to ensure that your material is recent, relevant and includes the most current details about your business product or services. Prices are less important than what you offer, and quality or reviews matter most when you are in a field such as restaurant, food service, travel, where a review can make a significant impact. 

Having a blog lets you start conversations with customers and prospects, answering questions and replying to comments. This can lead to spam, of course, so you will need to remove the occasional troll. And be sure to write a unique, descriptive, helpful title for each post – that gives Googlebot information that helps with search results.

Help Googlebot to read images, video using text

Because Google does not recognise images, photos, and videos, file names and text such as captions and titling go a long way. Good-quality, original photos and videos with proper titles can be featured on search engine results pages (SERPs). They also encourage visitors to click, increasing your pages visited and time on-site. Both of those are signals that can boost ranking, thanks to pages built for visitors, not just to impress index engines.

Consider creating a Vimeo or YouTube channel for video content so that Google counts both versions, the website and a separate platform. All the copies and video captions, thumbnails, etc. can be ranked separately, reinforcing each other. A dedicated page for each video – where that video is the most prominent item on the page – also improves performance along with keywords.

Will your website pass a review by a Google search quality rater?

Google regularly conducts tests and hires third-party raters living in various parts of the world to evaluate the pages ranked as a result of these experiments. Their feedback helps Google fine-tune its search algorithms.

Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, the training manual used to prepare these raters, reveal what Google considers are the most important factors to determine page quality:

  • Why the page exists and how well the page achieves its purpose
  • Experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) of the author of the content
  • How well the main content is written and if it’s accurate and substantial
  • Whether information about the owner of the website and ways to contact the owner is present
  • How reputable the website is
  • Whether the webpage fits the screens of various devices properly

So, choose your writer, web designer, and SEO advisor carefully. Make sure they create content that’s relevant and useful to visitors to your website, develop a website that can fit into their palms, and don’t do anything to deceive or harm them.

Key takeaways
  • Make sure your website is easy to navigate, adapts to multiple screen sizes, and loads quickly on the devices of visitors. Make it safe for users and you would be rewarded with increased interactions and even online sales.
  • Pages should be written, designed, and intended for helping visitors, not gaming the search engine ranking process. Don’t make pages just to score SEO points.
  • Help Googlebot understand photos, videos, and illustrations by giving them proper titles and descriptions. They are also contents a search engine presents to searchers seeking information besides text.
  • Regular content updates should be budgeted and planned depending on how dynamic your industry is for seasonal promotions, new items, and added services. Watch your rivals to see when they add web features, new pages, or key words or phrases terms.
  • Cultivate a reputation for knowledgeable, customer-oriented service via your website, and get people talking about it to draw visits and increase usage.
Kirby Poh
Kirby Poh

Search marketing & web design

Spent years marketing and selling to SME customers in Southeast Asia - he knows B2B marketing. Gets a kick out of using his SEO and PPC ad abilities to make money for Emerge mLab’s clients.

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