White Hat vs Black Hat SEO: What’s the Difference

white hat vs black hat seo

It’s pretty clear that SEO is important for any business looking to make an impact online. A lot of people aren’t familiar with SEO and how to best approach it, though, and not all optimization is the same. 

Taking a wrong turn at any point could cause serious damage to your search ranking and your brand’s reputation. We’re going to discuss two types of SEO in this article: white hat and black hat. 

Understanding white hat vs black hat SEO is crucial for a number of reasons. We’ll break down these concepts in the sections to follow.

White Hat vs Black Hat SEO

This article is going to cover a number of concepts that do require a little knowledge of the fundamentals of SEO. We’ll do a brief rundown of these concepts next. If you’re already familiar with basic SEO, this can serve as a good refresher.

The Basics of Search Engine Optimization

An SEO campaign aims to tailor a website or webpage to fit the preferences of search engines. When a page ranks highly for keyword searches, that page is much more likely to get clicked upon and the business makes money. 

That’s the simple picture. There are a lot of pieces of optimization. The primary goal of a campaign is to generate traffic and revenue, so there’s a lot overlap among all components of the digital marketing puzzle. SEO involves social media, pay-per-click marketing, networking, and more. 

There’s also a lot of competition in the field. Popular keywords are heavily optimized for by a lot of companies, and the ones who are already popular will likely get the spot. 

It’s tempting to take unethical means to get top search spots because it seems like there’s no risk. But is there a risk? To answer this question accurately, we have to think about the perspective of the search engine.

The Search Engine’s Goal

Search engines operate just like any other business. They want to provide their users with the best service possible. If they don’t, they risk losing users to other search engines who can do it better. 

In order to provide great search results, engines use an algorithm that takes upwards of 200 factors into account. These factors are used to determine how relevant and useful a site will be in relation to the keywords and phrases that the user typed in. 

SEO is the process of appealing to these search factors and climbing higher in rank. One thing that search engines look closely for, though, is site owners who try to scam the system by appearing to be relevant when they aren’t. The hunt for web traffic can drive people to do some sketchy things. 

Remember that search engines are combing through their indexes for the most relevant, useful sites. They want to provide the user with the best experience possible. It holds, then, that sites that would scam users or pose no benefit to them all are punished for their behavior. 

Sites that are seen to be spamming or cheating the algorithm can actually be punished. If things are bad enough, a site can even be unindexed and never appear anywhere in the search results. 

We refer to this type of unwanted behavior as “Black Hat SEO.”

Black Hat SEO

It’s important to take a look at the specifics of black hat SEO because some of the tactics used in it might seem like good ideas. 

Generally, a great way to avoid conducting a campaign that includes black hat tactics is to read through search engine guidelines and make sure you’re abiding by their regulations. 

You can sniff out these behaviors on your own, though, because they’re generally pretty easy to see. Here are some general qualities of black hat SEO:

It Works Too Quickly

SEO is a process that, when done right, takes some time to unfold. Any method that gets you to the top of a search engine results page overnight or within a few days is one to be suspicious of. 

Remember that success is earned in the SEO domain. Search engines reward hard work, great content, and well-polished sites. 

If your site is relatively unknown and an SEO agency promotes a method of getting results that will skyrocket you in a few days, make sure that you understand how they’re doing it and whether it’s an unethical tactic. 

It Tends to Be Manipulative

Whether the tactic is manipulating the search engine or users of the site, there’s typically some trickery involved. 

For example, one old black hat tactic for keyword optimization was to embed target keywords invisibly on the background of the page. So, if the background was red, there would be a couple of thousand keywords on the page that were also red. 

It seems like a good idea to blast your page keywords, right? At one point, that worked. That tactic was quickly sniffed out, though, and search engine intelligence is far more advanced than it used to be. 

If you have too many keywords present or you use it too unnaturally, you can bet that you’ll lose points in the eyes of the search engine. 

Black Hat Manipulates Users, Too

Spam is a perfect example of something used to gain a following that serves little purpose to actual users. People hate spam, and search engines might hate it a little bit more. 

If you’re sending out mass emails to people who didn’t sign up for a list or trying to trick people into visiting your site, you can bet that you’re about to get unindexed. 

It’s Always Easy

Finally, you can bet that a tactic is black hat if it’s extremely easy. There’s so much competition for most keywords online that you’re going to have to put some work into making a quality site if you want to succeed. 

Remember that taking the easy way, in this case, could lead you to lose all of your SEO progress, thereby hurting your business in a big way. 

It’s better to lay solid foundations and work the right way. The right way is the “White Hat SEO” way.

White Hat SEO

White hat SEO is essentially any tactic that falls within the search engine guidelines and generates search traffic. 

We’ll talk about some of the principles of white hat SEO:

It Caters to Users, Not Search Engines

The goal of your website should be to create the most useful content for users. 

You have to conduct some level of SEO to compete with other businesses, but don’t let the idea of search results dictate everything you do. SEO is kind of paradoxical because optimizing too much can actually hurt your position in search rankings. 

Think about it: search engines want to provide the most organic and relevant content to their users, and content is made less organic and less relevant as if it’s made to appease a search engine. 

So, you can think of creating quality content as an essential part of white hat SEO.

It Requires Persistence

It’s unlikely that you’ll see big results from one or two well-optimized posts. Your goal should be to optimize all of the main pages on your website extremely well and create a regular flow of quality content that branches out to your audience. 

You’ll want to share content regularly on all social media platforms and ensure that it’s optimized to current, topical keywords. This requires you to do regular research and generate content on a regular basis. 

White hat SEO also requires you to keep up on search engine changes and updates. As things change, so do sites like Google. 

You have to be aware of these changes and put in the work to keep your site up to the standards of current search engines. One simple change could seriously affect your rankings if you’re not paying attention. 

It Requires a Network

Social factors play a big role in how well you rank in search engines. Primarily, the user speaks the loudest in terms of approval. When users are vocal about your site, you’re going to see your rankings rise. 

At the end of the day, search engines just want to see that people like what you’re doing. When they see that, they’ll reward you. But part of this is building a network of links, comments, and reviews from individuals and businesses

Link building is a key piece of SEO. It requires that other sites see the value you in you and link to your site from theirs. If their site has enough popularity, one link can really boost your spot in search rankings. 

Business reviews are also direct proof that you’re relevant. Do your best to incentivize your customers and users to review your business online. 

Need More SEO Help?

Understanding white hat vs black hat SEO is a big step toward cultivating lasting success online. It’s a long process, and the last thing you want to do is get unindexed because of a bad move. 

It’s important that you keep up on the ins and outs of SEO. Explore our marketing knowledge base for more information on how to make your site the best it can be. 

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Antonio Calabrese Founder GHAX

Hey, I’m Antonio Calabrese, Founder at GHAX. We love working with businesses who are serious about growth.

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