White Hat SEO versus Black Hat SEO Definitions
Hopefully your insurance agency is now familiar with terms like insurance agency SEO, insurance agency search engine optimization or insurance agency search engine marketing, the process in which agents attempt to lift their websites to a top position on page one of Google or Bing’s search engine results pages (SERP). There are two basic approaches to accomplish improved search engine rankings, which can ironically (or iconically) be found in old Westerns. I’m referring to the old white hat versus black hat cowboy days featuring white hat actors like John Wayne and Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger) against black hat actors like Jack Palance. For a more contemporary version, Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader comes to mind, minus the hat for Luke. Fast forward to today and we’re now referring to white hat versus black hat SEO tactics. Hopefully your agency is not engaging in black hat tactics accidentally or otherwise. As with the movies of yesteryear, the black hat represents the villain, and the villain is usually vilified. Black hat SEO tactics can get your agency in trouble with the search engines, and there is no need to resort to these methods to achieve compelling SEO results for your agency.
Long Tail Keywords and White Hat Keyword Density
Insurance Agency Search Engine Optimization begins by creating a list of preferred insurance keyword phrases, often referred to as trophy words. Examples of this may include: California Liability Insurance, Massachusetts Business Insurance, New York Truck Insurance or Group Health Insurance. These phrases are called long tail keywords and need to appear on insurance agency websites in a variety of ways. Once your agency has determined the best keyword phrases (after reviewing them in Google AdWords or other keyword analytics tool), your agency should populate your website using your preferred keywords. This needs to be accomplished with your metadata (description, meta keywords, page title, etc.) and on the actual content which appears on your web page. Your agency should also measure “on page” keyword density. Each page should be optimized for one to three phrases. Experts and empirical data varies on this, but many consider 5% to 6% to be optimum density for the major search engines. Working within the boundaries of “reasonable” keyword density, meta best practices, quality inbound links to your insurance agency website and a robust social media marketing initiative will yield positive results for your insurance agency SEO web marketing plans.
Black Hat Methodologies, Link Building and Link Farms
This brings us to our first black hat alert. If your insurance agency web page were to continuously repeat your keyword phrase (Massachusetts Business Insurance for example) and were to do this 30 times in a 100 word page, your density would be abnormally high, and you would be keyword stuffing. The same would be true if you repeated Massachusetts Business Insurance five times in your meta description, or ten time in your alt image tags. Search engines can take note of this, resulting in the penalization or marginalization of that website page, which in turn will cause inferior rankings. Other black hat SEO approaches include Link Farms, Hidden Content and Gateway Pages. Let’s review each of these. Link farms are little more than a listing of companies and their website links. If you’re contacted by an organization that boasts they can provide “10,000 inbound links” to your website, you must carefully assess the type and quality of these links (and the company which is contacting you) to ensure there are no black hat tactics being employed. These days, Google and Bing are trending toward quality over quantity, and discount link farms in their complex ranking algorithms.
Hidden Content and Gateway Pages
Hidden content is another taboo, a good example of this is using both text and background that are the same color, allowing agencies to stuff “invisible keywords” on your website without taking up prime real estate. Search engines, however, are looking for this tactic, and if discovered, your website can again be penalized. Gateway pages should not be confused with legitimate landing pages. A landing page is appropriately optimized for your specific solution. For example, you can create a landing page for Professional Liability Insurance, featuring relevant content and appropriate keyword density exclusively for your PLI products and services. One could argue that Gateway Pages (sometimes referred to as Doorway Pages) originally had the same intent, but are now being abused by some companies, as they can be computer generated in the hundreds or even thousands. This refers back to the Link Farming or Link Building black hat tactic because the thousands of generated pages can include a “follow” link back to a designated website. This tactic was purportedly used by a major retailer over the last holiday season, which resulted in their website being removed by Google from Google Page One results.
Most agencies should leverage the old “crawl, walk, run” approach when it comes to search engine optimization, working first on relevant content with optimized meta, meta tags and keyword density, then supplementing these efforts with blogging, ePublishing, YouTube Videos and other Social Media Marketing campaigns. Make sure you or your marketing agency are not leveraging any black hat tactics and you will see your insurance agency SEO results consistently improve. And remember, no matter how pretty that big photo or image happens to be on your insurance agency website, these do nothing to help your SEO efforts. Make sure your website is balanced between graphical appeal and sufficient, relevant content.