SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.
In simple terms, SEO is the practice of making websites get more traffic from online search engines.
There is no formal definition of the different types of SEO, but the various techniques are often organized into logical categories.
For example, we have white-hat vs black-hat SEO, on-page vs off-page SEO, as well as various different SEO techniques that have their own names.
This article first looks at white-hat vs black hat and on-page vs off-page SEO. Then it lists the 7 most common types of SEO techniques that are currently relevant.
White-hat vs black-hat SEO
Different SEO techniques are sometimes split into two categories based on whether they comply with search engine guidelines (mostly Google’s) or not.
White-hat SEO involves wholesome techniques that comply with search engine guidelines, while black-hat SEO involves practices that are against the guidelines.
Put simply, white-hat SEO is about using wholesome methods to make websites and their content as good as possible for both users and search engines.
A big part of white-hat SEO is making sure that the content of websites is of a high-quality, and that the user experience is very good.
It also includes technical SEO, such as optimizing code and making sure that all important pages can be discovered by the search engines.
Another popular type of white-hat SEO is link building based on outreach.
If you build your website’s traffic with white-hat SEO methods, then you are likely to gain a sustainable amount of traffic that lasts for a long time.
In contrast, black-hat SEO is not really about making websites or content better.
Instead, these methods attempt to manipulate the search engine algorithms to rank higher in the search engine results pages.
One of the most common types of black-hat SEO is using automated tools to build links to websites.
Other forms of black-hat SEO include buying links, keyword stuffing, link cloaking, hidden text, sneaky redirects, auto-generated content, and others.
These were very commonly used about 10 years ago, but Google has since become very effective at penalizing sites that use these types of tactics.
Black-hat SEO techniques are generally a bad idea. The search engines are likely to find out about it and remove your website from the search results so that it doesn’t show at all.
Plus, black-hat SEO is often highly unethical and considered a form of cheating.
The term gray-hat SEO is often used for techniques that don’t quite cross the line into becoming black-hat but aren’t exactly white-hat either.
To help you understand the difference between “good” and “bad” SEO methods, the Google Webmaster Guidelines offer the following advice:
Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
It is highly recommended to read the guidelines carefully to make sure that you aren’t breaking the rules.
If you want your rankings to last, then you should follow the rules at all times and stick to white-hat SEO.
On-page vs off-page SEO
It is also common to categorize SEO into two types depending on where the optimization happens. These two types are on-page and off-page SEO.
On-page SEO refers to optimization that occurs on the website itself.
Most importantly, it involves making sure that the website content is of exceptionally high quality and that it provides valuable answers to people’s search queries.
It also involves optimizing the user experience, which is very important for search engine rankings.
Technical SEO also largely belongs in this category, because it mostly involves changes on the website itself.
Here are a few common types of on-page SEO techniques:
- Title tags: Having descriptive and interesting titles with keywords can help your rankings and click-through rate from the search engine results pages.
- Meta descriptions: Good meta descriptions can help you get more clicks from the search engines.
- URL structure: Having clean and descriptive URLs can also help improve your site’s appearance in the search results.
- Heading tags: Using h1, h2 and h3 heading tags to organize your text into logical sections.
- Meta robots tags: Using the noindex meta tag on low-quality and redundant pages can help improve the average quality of your web pages.
- Sitemaps: Having XML sitemaps can help the search engines discover all of your pages.
- Internal links: Linking to other pages on your site from within your content can help improve crawling and ranking.
- Image alt tags: It is considered standard SEO practice to add descriptive alt tags to images.
There are many other techniques that fall under the category of on-page SEO, such as keyword targeting, optimizing site speed, making the website mobile friendly, adding structured data, etc.
Off-page SEO happens outside of the website that is intended to rank.
The most important aspect of off-page SEO is building inbound links to the website that you want to rank.
Inbound links, also termed backlinks, are a key signal used by Google to determine the popularity and authority of domains and web pages.
If your site gets a lot of natural links from high-authority websites that talk about the same topics, then the search engines are likely to boost your site’s rankings.
There are many different strategies to build links, but one of the most common is doing manual email outreach to ask other sites to link to your pages.
This can be very difficult to do because most webmasters already get tons of these requests. But if your content is of exceptionally high quality, then it will be much easier for you to gain links.
Other types of off-page SEO include social media marketing, guest blogging, influencer outreach and more.
7 important types of SEO techniques
The categorization of SEO into white-hat vs black-hat and on-page vs off-page can be useful.
However, SEO involves a wide range of different practices that are hard to sort into so few categories.
Below is a more useful categorization of the different types of SEO techniques into 7 logical categories.
1. Keyword research
Keyword research is one of the absolute fundamentals of SEO. It has been crucial since the early days of the search engines.
The best way to get traffic from search engines is to produce high-quality content about topics that people are actually searching for.
Importantly, you also need to use the actual words and phrases that people use when typing into the search engines.
Keyword research is a way to figure out which keywords and topics you should target and write about.
It usually involves keyword tools that you can use to examine keywords and see which keywords your competitors are ranking for.
It is best to find keywords with a decent amount of search volume but low competition, then write super high-quality content that truly deserves to rank for these keywords.
2. Content SEO
The art of content SEO involves creating content that is very effective at answering people’s search queries.
When people search for something online, they want to find content that gives them a great answer to what they are looking for.
If your article is the single best piece of content that exists on the topic, then the search engines’ sophisticated algorithms and AI should start showing your content eventually.
Another important part of content SEO is using your keywords and their synonyms in different places to make sure that the search engines know what your content is about.
It is most important to include your keywords in a natural way in the title, but also include them in a natural form in various places inside the text.
Keep in mind that high-quality content is confirmed by Google as being the single most important ranking factor.
3. Technical SEO
Technical SEO involves various changes that are mostly invisible to your users and usually don’t affect the content in any way.
These include various techniques that ensure that the search engines can easily crawl and index your most important pages.
Things that may also fall under technical SEO include optimizations like making your site faster and making it function well on mobile devices.
Backlinks are among the top ranking factors in Google and using different techniques to acquire backlinks is considered to be a core part of SEO.
Types of backlink strategies include manual outreach, guest posts, press releases, viral marketing, influencer marketing, etc.
What all of them have in common is that the goal is to get other sites to link back to your site.
Importantly, links need to be natural these days. The best ones are from high-authority domains that talk about similar topics as you.
Paying for links or using tools to build them is firmly against Google’s guidelines. These methods are considered to be black-hat SEO that can easily get you in trouble.
5. Image SEO
Some websites get a lot of traffic from image search.
Image SEO involves optimizing these images to increase their chances of showing up for relevant searches.
This includes using descriptive file names, image alt tags and optimizing the text around the image to provide context.
It is also important to compress your images to make the file sizes smaller because poorly optimized images can slow down your site.
6. Video SEO
Video SEO involves optimizing videos, either on your own site or on YouTube, in order to rank higher in search engines.
YouTube is actually a massive search engine on its own as its 1+ billion users regularly use the search box on it to look for videos.
In addition, YouTube videos often rank in Google searches when videos can be helpful to answer the search query.
Some video SEO techniques are similar to standard on-page SEO, such as using a great keyword-targeted title and enticing description.
7. Local SEO
Local SEO is important if you have a local business, such as a store or a restaurant.
By using the various local SEO techniques, you can make your site rank high when people located in your area search for your services.
It can also help your business show up in Google maps, which drives physical traffic to your business.
Modern SEO is a “holistic” practice
Today, SEO involves pretty much anything related to making a website and its content better for both users and search engines.
It is a much more holistic practice than it used to be back in the day when SEO was largely about using the right keywords and getting as many links as possible.
These days, SEO involves content, user experience, analytics and various types of technical aspects that used to be the focus of web developers.
It is a multi-disciplinary approach that requires a holistic view of the website and its content.