The SEO industry takes on the same phrasing in relation to SEO activity.
White hat SEO
Black hat SEO
What Is White Hat SEO?
White hat SEO means following the “rules”. Clearly, you use only ethical tactics and follow search engine guidelines.
What Is Black Hat SEO?
Black hat SEO means using high-risk practices. You utilize tactics that can (and, let’s be honest, do) work. Until they don’t. These range from using tactics that go against guidelines from search engines to many dangerous activities (which can lead to manual actions).
Google is well known for having quite clear webmaster guidelines that are used by SEO professionals to identify what could land a website in hot water if discovered.
Google calls our attention to the “Quality Guidelines”, those that denote “the most common forms of elusive or manipulative behavior”.
In these guidelines, we see mention of activities such as “cloaking”, “doorway pages”, and “scraped content”.
The guidelines straight relate to the changes in Google’s algorithms over the years.
Penguin, Panda, and Payday all included measures to minimize the presence of websites in the SERPs that don’t follow the guidelines.
The Difference between Black Hat & White Hat
The core difference between black hat and white hat SEO is whether you are working in the spirit of the search engines’ guidelines.
There may be nuances to the guidelines that you find unclear, but are you working to meet the guidelines or get around them?
Why Do These Definitions Matter?
Essentially, the use of white, black, and gray hat terminology is arbitrary.
The Ways They Differ
It’s not just in their definitions that black, white, and gray hat techniques differ. It’s in their risks and rewards too.
Implementing black, white, or gray hat techniques all carries risks. Black hat techniques have a direct risk of manual actions.
If you are caught going against the search engine guidelines then you may be penalized by some or all of your website content being taken out from the search indices.
White hat techniques run the risk of being inefficient. The web might be the best place if every website played by the search engines’ rules, but they don’t.
As such, if your brand is in a very aggressive industry you might not be able to rank against competition that is employing black hat techniques.
PBNs and other link schemes can be highly powerful. If you are determined to play by the rules you might sacrifice the high rankings in near instances.
The gray hat method has the risk of being penalized in the future. What is arguable does do is assist keep SEO practitioners in check when they are working on websites that they don’t own.
Black hat techniques, ones that purposely go against the search engine guidelines, carry risks.
As such, websites that go against the guidelines could be punished by an outright or partial ban from the search engine.
That’s very important if the website isn’t your own. You may cause a business to lose its biggest source of income if it can no longer be found through its main organic source.
The Importance of SEO
Quality over quantity is the best motto for life, but is it also the key to SEO? With all the complex layers that come along with practicing effective Search Engine Optimization, it can seem overwhelming to figure out what should be prioritized.
Let’s set one thing direct – there is no golden technique with SEO. In fact, everyone practices it slightly differently depending on what works great for their website and brand.
That being said, there is a fine line between taking part in around with tactics that work for your website and manipulating search engine algorithms to up your rankings. The difference between good and bad SEO practices is well known as White Hat and Black Hat SEO.
Keyword Stuffing & Sneaky Links
There is a long list of Black Hat SEO tactics to avoid, but some of the top no-goes include keyword stuffing, hidden text, and manipulative links. The comical thing is that there is little more evidence that these tactics actually work, and it is almost guaranteed that they will actually damage your rankings.
Keyword Stuffing is when Black Hat SEOs attempt to manipulate their website’s rankings by repeating their main target keywords unnaturally and out of context. It is explicit when keyword stuffing is taking place as the text typically sits outside of the main content, and makes little sense when read aloud. It is an out-dated strategy that will not work with Google and Bing’s algorithms today and is almost certain to result in a penalty.
Hidden Text is text that is colored to match the background color of a webpage so that it cannot be visible to the viewer. Hidden text is also commonly implemented by Black Hat SEOs in hopes to sneak extra text or applicable keywords onto the webpage to appeal to search engines. Occasionally, the text is even written in a font size of zero. This is a deceptive strategy, advanced search engine crawlers will likely catch on to this sneaky tactic and lowers your ranking.
Manipulative Links, or link schemes, are one of the most common forms of Black Hat SEO. Mutual back linking occurs when Black Hat SEOs hide links in various parts of their sites, blog comments, and even physically hidden (font size zero or matching the background color of the webpage). Since adding links to your content is the best way to up your rankings, Black Hat SEOs pack them into their sites, even when they add no value to their content, in order to rank higher. Again, this malicious strategy is fit to be shut down quickly by search engines.
Violation of Guidelines
All Black Hat SEO tactics clearly disregard Google and Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines and should be avoided at all costs. If you are likely that a web page or site is violating guidelines and might be implementing Black Hat SEO, you can file a report for spam.
Creating content of value to users with the goal of educating, informing, or delighting them.
Just so happens that the content is so adorable that other sites want to link to it as a resource.
Private Blog Networks (PBNs), adding your website link to any blog comment you can, and paying for links.
Talking about your PBN scheme is not going to achieve your next search award.
It’s also most likely to make risk-averse clients very nervous.
Most employers, if they know much about SEO, will be unwilling to take a risk on someone who brags openly about their advance with content farms.
White hat SEO techniques, used successfully, show the best skill.
Playing by the search engine rulebooks can be a slower, more counter process than black hat SEO.
If you are fortunate without cutting corners then it is something to definitely shout about.
Gray hat SEO, in truth, will form a large segment of any SEO campaign. As such, it is highly well accepted in the SEO community.
Although they straddle the white hat/black hat divide due to the intention to manipulate the search results, they pay dividends and aren’t a clear-cut infraction of the webmaster guidelines.
Many of the people reading this article will possibly have differing opinions on what activity is the white or gray hat.
White hat SEO and black hat SEO might seem simple to explain on the surface, but in truth, most SEO seems to fall into the gray zone.
Black hat SEO carries substantial risks.
If the website you are working on is not your own, and the owner does not understand the risks, then it is not acceptable to expose the site to those risks.
White hat SEO might seem the obvious step to go if you want to know that you are above reproach.
Is it going to construct you competitive enough though?
In this author’s opinion, white hat SEO and delicately considered gray hat SEO is likely your safest route.