White Hat SEO: The Definitive Guide

White Hat SEO:The Definitive Guide

This is a complete guide to white hat SEO.

So if you want to rocket your site to Google’s first page (without breaking the rules), you’ll love the strategies and tips in this guide.

We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get started.

White Hat SEO: The Definitive Guide

About The Author

Hey, it’s Brian Dean.

When I launched my first website back in 2010, I used 100% black hat SEO.

Keyword stuffing.

Shady links.

And strategies that were designed to “trick” Google.

Even though these shady tactics worked temporarily… they didn’t last.

That’s why I eventually switched over to a white hat SEO approach.

(In other words, Google-approved SEO strategies)

Introduction: Author, Brian Dean

And it worked!

Today, thanks to the strategies in this guide, my site ranks on Google’s first page for thousands of different keywords, including competitive ones like, “keyword research tools”:

"keyword research tools" SERPs

And now it’s time for me to share these strategies with you.

Chapter 1:Keyword Research

Chapter 1: Keyword Research

In this chapter you’ll learn exactly how to find keywords that your customers search for every day.

Specifically, I’ll walk you through 5 proven keywords strategies that I personally use to find keywords.

Let’s kick things off with our first strategy…

Find Awesome Long Tail Keywords With Google Suggest

This couldn’t be simpler:

Just type in a keyword that you want to rank for…

Weight loss search

…and jot down the keywords that Google suggests.

Weight loss suggest

Why is this important?

Well, most people struggle with SEO because they target keywords that are too competitive.

(I can’t tell you how many people email me saying: “I want to rank #1 in Google for ‘weight loss’.” #facepalm)

That’s why Google Suggest is so darn powerful:

These suggested keywords are “long tail keywords” that aren’t insanely competitive.

But because Google is suggesting them, you know that people actually search for them.

Copy Competitors’ Keywords

Honestly, this is my go-to keyword research strategy right now.

You can easily spend HOURS hunting around for the right keyword.

Or you can just steal the exact keywords that your competition is targeting.

Here’s how it works:

First, find a competing site that’s doing really well with their SEO.

Then, pop that site into a keyword research tool… like Ahrefs or SEMrush.

SEMRush Backlinko search

Bam! You get a list of the exact keywords that site already ranks for.

SEMRush ranking keywords

Online Communities

This strategy is simple:

First, head over to an online community where your audience hangs out, like Reddit.

Paleo subreddit

Then, pay attention to the words and phrases people use over and over again.

(Especially when asking questions)

Paleo subreddit questions

These questions make GREAT keywords.

If you want to automate this process, check out Answer The Public.

Answer The Public

It’s a free tool that analyzes the web for questions that people ask around your topic.

Answer The Public – Results

Google Search Console

Here’s one of my favorite ways to find new keywords.

First, head over to the “Performance Report” in the new Google Search Console.

Google Search Console – Performance Report

By default, you’ll see keywords sorted by number of clicks.

The thing is:

These are keywords that you already get traffic from. So sorting by clicks isn’t super helpful.

Instead, sort the queries by “impressions”:

Google Search Console – Sort by impressions

And take note of any keywords that you could create a great piece of content around.

Good keywords

Why?

Well, if you already “accidentally” rank for this keyword…

…imagine how easily you could rank if you actually tried!

Speaking of ranking with content, that’s what the next chapter is all about.

Chapter 2:Amazing Content

Chapter 2: Amazing Content

When it comes to search engine optimization, content is EVERYTHING.

In fact, when you consistently publish great content on your site, you’re well on your way to the top of Google’s first page.

Fortunately, publishing amazing content isn’t as hard as it sounds.

All you need to do is make sure that every piece of content that you publish has the three features I’ll outline below:

Feature #1: Long, In-Depth Content

If you want to rank higher on Google, you need to STOP publishing generic, “me too” content.

(Like: “5 Tips for X” or “7 Reasons to Start Y”).

Why?

A recent study of search engine ranking factors found a strong correlation between in-depth content and rankings:

Content and rankings correlation

In other words:

Content that ranks well today covers an entire topic on one page.

For example:

Earlier this year I found a keyword that I wanted to rank for: “Mobile SEO”.

Instead of a generic list post, I created a massive 4,000+ word guide:

Mobile SEO Guide

And because my guide shows you EVERYTHING you need to know about mobile optimization, it very quickly climbed up to the top 3 in Google:

Mobile SEO SERPs

Feature #2: Satisfies User Intent

Thanks to an AI technology called Google RankBrain, Google can measure whether or not searchers are satisfied with a particular set of search results.

In other words:

If your content gives searchers what they want, Google will rank you higher.

For example, check out this piece of content that I first published a few years back: 21 Actionable SEO Techniques That Work GREAT.

SEO Techniques

My primary keyword for that page is: “SEO Techniques”.

So before I wrote a single word, I asked myself:

“What would someone searching for this keyword want to read?”.

In this case, the answer was pretty obvious: they want to get a list of no-nonsense SEO methods.

So I didn’t start my content off with a lots of background information. Instead, after a very short intro, my post dives right into tip #1:

SEO Techniques – Immediate information

And because my result makes people happy, Google WANTS to show it to more people.

(Which means more website traffic for me!)

Feature #3: Great User Experience and Readability

Like I just mentioned, Google closely tracks how people interact with your site.

Specifically, Google pays VERY close attention to one thing:

The amount of time that people stay on your page.

If Google notices that people leave your site after a few seconds, you can expect a rankings drop.

Pogo stick effect

(Want to see a real-life example of this happening to my site? Check out the video below)

So: how do you keep searchers on your site longer?

Here are two simple tips that work great:

First, write an introduction that gets straight to the point.

For example, check out the brief intro from this post on my blog about SEO tools:

SEO Tools – Intro

Next, make sure your content is SUPER easy to read.

That means…

Big font (15px+):

Font size

Lots of subheadings:

Subheadings

And short paragraphs (1-2 sentences MAX):

Short paragraphs

Now that you’ve published a piece of awesome content, it’s time for chapter 3.

That’s where you’ll learn how to keyword-optimize your content.

Chapter 3:On-Page SEO

Chapter 3: On Page SEO

Here’s the deal:

There’s a lot more to on-page SEO than just “optimizing your meta tags”.

And in this chapter I’ll show you four of my favorite on-page SEO strategies.

So if you’ve ever wondered: “How do I actually use keywords in my content?”, you’ll LOVE the tactics and case studies in this chapter.

Strategy #1: Descriptive URLs

Google uses your page’s URL to understand what your content is about:

Google Guide

That’s why you want your URLs to be:

  1. Short
  2. Keyword-rich

For example, my target keyword for this blog post is “ecommerce SEO”:

Ecommerce SEO post

So I made the URL for that webpage: /ecommerce-seo:

Keyword in URL

Simple.

Strategy #2: Internal Links

Why is internal linking important?

Two reasons:

First, these internal links help Google understand your content better.

How? Google looks at the anchor text that you use in your internal links.

In other words:

Keyword-rich anchor text helps Google understand the topic of the page that you’re linking to.

Keyword rich anchor text helps Google understand

For example, this internal link helps Google understand that the page I’m linking to is about “RankBrain”:

Internal link

Second, internal links send link authority to pages that need it, which can give them a rankings boost.

Internal links rankings boost

Strategy #3: Use Keywords Strategically

In the old days of SEO, you could rank your site using a black hat technique known as “keyword stuffing”.

(This meant cramming keywords into your content 1000 times)

Today, search engines are MUCH more sophisticated.

Which means that keyword stuffing doesn’t work anymore.

What does?

Using your target keyword (and close variations of that term) a handful of times on your page.

Like in your title tag:

Title tag

The beginning of your content:

Beginning of content

And in H1 or H2 tag:

In heading

Strategy #4: Optimize Images With Alt Tags

Remember:

Google, Bing and other search engines can’t “see” your images.

Instead, they rely on the text they see in “alt tags”.

And when you optimize your images using descriptive alt tags, Google can get a full grasp of your content’s overall topic.

(Which can help it rank for more keywords)

For example, check out this image from my post about getting more traffic to your website:

Increase in traffic

What does that image show? An increase in traffic.

So I made my alt text for that image: “increase in traffic”.

Image alt text

Who said SEO had to be complicated 🙂

Chapter 4:Link Building

Chapter 4: Link Building

There’s no doubt about it:

If you want to rank your site to the top of Google’s search results, you need backlinks.

(And lots of ‘em)

The question is:

How do you build backlinks to your site WITHOUT resorting to black hat link building strategies?

It’s simple, actually: just stick to the four white hat link building strategies in this chapter.

Strategy #1: The Skyscraper Technique

The Skyscraper Technique is as white hat as it gets.

First, you evaluate Google’s first page for content that’s already ranking well.

Next, you figure out what that content has in common.

Finally, you write a post that’s similar to what you just found… but WAY better.

For example:

A while back, I wanted to create something around the topic of: “how to optimize videos”.

So I did a search for terms like “video SEO”:

Video SEO search

And I analyzed each piece of content that was ranking in the SERPs.

SERPs sample

(By the way, SERP = Search Engine Results Page)

Anyway:

I noticed that most of the content I found were list posts and guides.

To me, a guide made the most sense for this keyword. So I went with that.

Specifically, I wrote a guide that CRUSHED the other guides about video SEO:

Video SEO Guide

And because my content deserves to rank on Google’s first page, it now ranks in the top 3 for my target keyword:

"video SEO" SERPs

Strategy #2: Broken Link Building

This is one of my favorite white hat SEO tactics.

Here’s how it works:

First, find a page on the web that you’d like to get a link from.

Page you want a link from

Next, use a tool like Check My Links to scan the page for broken links.

Check my links

Lastly, let the person that runs the site that their page has a broken link:

Broken link outreach

(And if you have a page on your site that could replace the broken link, suggest that they replace that content with the dead link)

Strategy #3: Industry Studies and Original Research

This strategy definitely takes some work.

But when done right, an industry study can land you LOTS of backlinks.

For example, earlier this year we published a study about ranking signals that impact voice search SEO.

Voice Search SEO study

Even though this content is only a few months old, it’s already racked up an impressive 521 backlinks.

Voice Search SEO study – Backlinks

Strategy #4: Guest Posting

When it comes to guest posting, you have two options:

You can write guest posts for any site that will publish your content (even if the site isn’t remotely related to yours).

OR

You can publish guest posts on authority sites in your niche.

And make no mistake:

When it comes to SEO, these two approaches are VERY different.

In fact, Google considers spammy guest blogging a “link scheme” that can get your site penalized:

Google Policy Guestposting

In my case, I ONLY write guest posts for sites in my niche, like this one that I wrote for the Buffer blog:

Brian Buffer guest post

And I recommend you do the same.

Chapter 5:Technical SEO

Chapter 5: Technical SEO

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

Technical SEO can make or break your entire site’s SEO efforts.

Really.

Fortunately, thanks to lots of helpful tools, you don’t need to be a coder to master technical SEO.

And in this chapter I’ll show you four of the most important technical SEO best practices:

Speed Up Loading Time

Google is usually secretive about the factors that go into their algorithm.

But there’s one factor they’re not shy about:

The importance of your site’s loading speed.

Loading speed importance

So:

How do you know if your site is fast enough?

First, use a Google tool called PageSpeed Insights.

Google PageSpeed Insights – Homepage

If you have bloated code or huge images slowing down your page, this tool will tell you about it:

Google PageSpeed Insights – Results

If you want to dig deeper, try WebPageTest:

WebPageTest

Unlike Google’s PageSpeed Insights, WebPageTest gives you A LOT of details on your site’s performance…

WebPageTest results

…and hooks you up with actionable things you can do to reduce your site’s loading time.

WebPageTest recommendations

Use a Smart Site Architecture

When your site is brand new with only a few pages, your site architecture doesn’t matter that much.

But as your site grows, your architecture becomes REALLY important.

What do I mean by “site architecture”, exactly?

It’s how the pages on your site are organized and arranged.

The goal is to keep your architecture “flat”. That way, it only takes 3-4 clicks to go from one page to any other page on your site.

Site architecture

Why is this important?

Flat architecture helps link authority “flow” from one page to another… which can improve the search rankings for every page on your site.

Fix Errors

Next, use the uber-helpful Google Search Console to find errors and problems with your site’s technical SEO.

Just head over to the “Index coverage report”.

Index coverage report

And see if Google has trouble finding your important pages (which can happen if you blocked Googlebot by mistake).

Google Search Console – Errors

As you can see, everything is A-OK for me.

But if you do run across errors, I recommend checking out Chapter 2 of my guide to the Google Search Console, which breaks down errors that you might run into.

Be Mobile Friendly

You might have heard that Google has largely moved to a new “mobile-first index”:

Mobile-first index

Let me be the first to tell you:

This is a VERY big deal.

For the first time ever, Google considers the mobile version of your site the only version that matters.

That’s why it’s important to use a tool like the “Mobile-Friendly Test” to make sure Google considers your site easy to use for mobile searchers.

Mobile-Friendly Test results

Now that your technical SEO is all good, it’s time for something cool:

A bonus chapter where I walk you through a real life case study of someone that used white hat SEO to rank #1 in Google for his target keyword.

Keep reading…

Chapter 6:Case Studies

Chapter 6: Bonus Chapters

In this chapter you’re going to see two white hat SEO case studies.

First, you’re going to learn how Emil rocketed his site to the #1 spot in Google.

Then you’ll see how Richard boosted his organic traffic by 348%… in 7 days.

Case Study #1: How Emil Ranked #1

Today you’re going to learn how Emil rocketed his site to the #1 spot in Google using ethical, white hat SEO.

(And a good amount of content marketing)

Let’s walk you through the specific steps that Emil used…

Step #1: Find an Awesome Keyword

Emil’s company sells snacks to offices.

SnackNation homepage

And didn’t take Emil long to figure out that VERY few people searched for healthy office snacks.

For example, a keyword like “healthy office snack ideas” gets only 10 – 100 searches per month.

"healthy office snack ideas" low monthly searches

But here’s the interesting part:

Emil realized that people interested in healthy office snacks are ALSO interested in the broad topic: “employee wellness”.

So he popped “employee wellness” into the Google Keyword Planner

Employee wellness Google Keyword Planner search

…and voila! — he found this gem of a keyword:

Wellness program ideas

Step #2: Find Content That Already Ranks for That Keyword

Once you’ve found a keyword, it’s time to get a feel for what’s already out there…

…so you can destroy it.

(Yes, I let out an evil laugh when I wrote that ????)

So:

How do you find content that’s already done well?

A simple Google search.

Simply search for your target keyword (and a few closely-related keywords), and see what comes up.

Wellness program ideas search

For example:

Emil Googled “employee wellness program ideas”, “wellness programs” and “corporate wellness programs”:

Corporate wellness programs

And he noticed a few trends in the results.

(Namely: most of the results were lists of program ideas, they lacked visuals, and they didn’t provide any details of how to actually implement each program)

Lists lacking visuals

Step #3: Create Something That Deserves To Rank #1

Here’s the truth:

First page rankings have NOTHING to do with “keeping your site updated with fresh, quality content”.

Instead, your ability to hit the first page (and stay there long-term) depends on ONE thing:

Creating something that deserves to rank #1.

Here’s how Emil did exactly that:

1

Emil’s post listed more wellness program ideas than any other guide

Most of the content that Emil found only talked about 5-10 wellness program ideas:

Bad wellness example

So Emil went crazy and listed a whopping 121 ideas (more on that later).

2

Emil asked experts to contribute ideas

Emil’s company partners with dozens of healthy snack companies.

And Emil guessed that these health-obsessed offices would be happy to share the wellness programs they used.

And he was right.

Emil got his team to ask their partners to send their best creative ideas:

Emil – Team outreach

And, as you can see, these partners were happy to lend a hand:

Response to Emil
3

Emil split up his content into sections

Let’s face it:

Sifting through a huge amount of items on a list can be a real a chore.

Despite that fact, many of the articles ranking in Google didn’t organize their ideas into sections:

Bad wellness site – No sections

That’s why Emil decided to organize his list of ideas into 7 categories:

Emil – Sections

Not only do these sections make Emil’s content easier to skim, but they got him nifty sitelinks in Google:

Emil – Sitelinks
4

Emil added multimedia to make his content more visually appealing

Like I mentioned earlier, most of the articles ranking on page 1 had VERY few visuals, like images, charts, or videos:

Lack of competition

That’s why Emil peppered his post with eye-catching images…

Emil – Post with images

…and helpful videos:

Emil video in post

And after a few tweaks, Emil’s kick butt post was live: “121 Employee Wellness Program Ideas For Your Office“.

Emil – Finished post

Now that Emil’s post was live, it was time to celebrate right?

Wrong.

I probably don’t need to tell you that hitting “publish” is just the beginning.

That’s why I want to show you the exact content promotion strategies that Emil used to get the word out about his new guide.

Step #4: Promote Your Epic Content

Here’s how Emil promoted (and built links) to his content.

Emil Used “Pre-Outreach”

Once Emil put the finishing touches on his post, he knew he had something special.

That’s why he decided to promote his post…

…before he even published it.

(This is known as “Pre-Outreach”)

Here’s how it went down:

First, Emil found blogs that wrote about employee wellness. And he sent them this message:

Emil – Outreach message

Because he didn’t beg for a link or share, they were happy to hear from him:

Emil – Outreach message response

In fact, one of the people that Emil reached out to linked to him later that day:

Emil – Link

(And several people shared his blog post on social media)

Emil Promoted With “The Content Roadshow”

Next, Emil promoted his content with “The Content Roadshow”.

Let me show you how The Content Roadshow works:

First, Emil searched for bloggers that wrote about employee wellness, human resources and other related topics.

Emil – Search

And when he found a piece of great content like this one…

RecruiterBox site

…he emailed the author:

Emil – Email to RecruiterBox

In this case, Kristi asked Emil to submit his content to her roundup:

Emil – RecruiterBox response

He did… and got a sweet backlink in return:

Emil – Backlink

Emil Emailed Brands

Next, Emil emailed the other companies that he referenced in his post.

For example, Emil mentioned Authority Nutrition here:

Authority Nutrition

And sent them a message to let them know that they’ve been featured:

Emil – Authority nutrition email

As you can see, they happily shared his post:

Authority Nutrition response

Emil Built Backlinks

Now that Emil had some social proof going, it was time to get down and dirty with link building.

Here’s the exact process that Emil used:

First, he searched for his target keyword in Google…

Emil – Target keyword Google search

…and popped the top 50 results into a spreadsheet:

Emil's spreadsheet

Next, Emil found out who linked to the top 50 results.

He popped each URL into a backlink analysis tool:

Emil – Ahrefs URL

And went one-by-one through the results.

Emil – Ahrefs results

Then he emailed each of those people to let them know about his new, superior resource.

Let’s take a look at a real life example of Emil’s outreach in action…

Here’s his first email:

Emil's first outreach email

Her response:

Emil – First outreach email response

His second email (with a link to his content)

Emil – Second outreach email

Boom! A link:

Emil – Another backlink

All of these links led to a solid uptick in traffic:

Emil – Traffic increase

And a #1 Google ranking:

Number one in SERPs

(Because Emil didn’t do anything shady, these rankings should last over the long run)

Case Study #2: How Richard Got 348% More Traffic

Now it’s time show you how Richard boosted his organic traffic by 348%… in 7 days.

The craziest part?

Richard got these results in a SUPER competitive niche (digital marketing).

Here’s what went down:

Step #1: Richard Found a Keyword

As an SEO newbie, Richard wanted to know which white hat SEO tools the experts used (in other words, not automated black hat tools).

And when he typed “link building tools” into SEMRush, he noticed that this keyword got a decent amount of searches every month.

Richard – SEMRush

Step #2: Richard Sized Up The Competition

When Richard went through the first page results for “link building tools”, he wasn’t super impressed:

Link building tools – SERPs

Most were lists of tools, like this:

Tools list

Sure, a list like this can be pretty helpful.

But lists like these don’t answer the fundamental question: “Which link building tools should I use?”

That’s when he decided to create something that DID answer that question.

Step #3: Richard Created an Awesome Piece of Content

Like I said, Richard was brand new to SEO.

So he wasn’t about to write a post like: “Here’s the best link building tool on the planet”.

Instead, he emailed 115 influential people in the SEO space…and got 47 replies (that’s a 41% conversion rate).

Richard outreach

The end result is Richard’s expert roundup post, 55 SEO Experts Reveal 3 Favorite Link Building Tools:

Richard – Post

Step #4: Richard Promoted His Content With Email Outreach

Specifically, he used Broken Link Building (which I outlined in Chapter 4).

First, he found pages with broken links.

And he sent the author of that page this script:

Richard outreach email

When they replied saying “What’s the broken link?”, he sent them this email:

Richard's outreach reply

And he was rewarded with a handful of high quality backlinks:

Outreach response

Including links from:

  • SearchEngineLand.com (DA92)
  • An authority resource page
  • A popular digital marketing firm’s blog

And those links led to a HUGE spike in organic traffic (an increase of 348% to be exact):

Richard – Traffic spike

Now, Over To You...

Your Turn

What did you think of my new guide to white hat SEO?

Or maybe you have a question about a strategy or technique from the guide.

Either way, I’d like to hear what you have to say.

So go ahead and leave a comment below right now.

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