The Difference Between White Hat and Black Hat SEO
An abridged overview of the light side and dark side of SEO
Optimizing your site for SEO is key to getting found through organic search, but proper optimization methods can take time to execute and yield results.
This long game approach was not always a standard operating procedure, especially back in the early days of SEO. Companies could climb their way to the top of the search results through shady methods such as keyword stuffing and filling their content full of spammy links. Nowadays, thanks to Google’s consistently changing SEO algorithm, these black hat tactics are identified and penalized almost as soon as they go live.
If you want to earn your way to the top, as opposed to trying to game the system and cheat your way there, then it’s important to understand the difference between the right way (white hat) and the wrong way (black hat) of doing it.
Here is more on the differences between the proverbial angel and devil propped on SEO’s shoulders:
White Hat SEO
The term “white hat SEO” refers to the SEO methods that fall within the confines of the major search engines’ rules and regulations, most commonly Google’s. Basically, if you want to improve your search rankings while also maintaining the integrity of your website, then abiding by white hat tactics is what you want to do.
When in doubt, just remember, if you keep your human readers at the forefront of your optimization strategy, then chances are you’re practicing white hat SEO.
Here are a few examples of white hat SEO practices:
Valuable content: Content is usually the first prize winner when it comes to impactful SEO strategies. People have and always will have an unwavering appetite for quality content, and it’s your responsibility to make it original, grammatically sound, and highly appropriate for your particular audience.
Good use of keywords: Not only is this a sound SEO best practice, but you will most definitely get busted if you try to utilize anything other than relevant keywords, thanks to Google Panda. Aside from that, strategic use of keywords will actually win you some major SEO brownie points. Do your research, choose short and long-tail keywords specific to your business, and organically include them in areas like your content, titles, and meta descriptions.
Internal links: Organically linking to existing material on your site will help position you as a thought leader and create more opportunity for you to appear in search results. A little goes a long way here. Two or three links are all you need.
Quality backlinks: Search engines love it when other sites link to yours. It’s almost like a stamp of approval from your peers, and a nod to the quality of the content that you produce. If the links leading to you come from reputable and quality sources, then search engines will reward you with higher search rankings.
Black Hat SEO
“Black hat SEO” is the opposite of white hat SEO. Instead of creating content for human audiences, those who implement black hat strategies rely on weaving in and out of the rules to get ahead.
While this may sound tempting to some, you’ll want to proceed with caution. Search engines, specifically Google, have hawk eyes and will bring you down if they find you trying to cheat the system.
Here are a few examples of black hat SEO practices:
Limp content: Producing quality and regular content takes serious time and dedication, and because of this, some try to create the facade of content by posting copy that holds little to no value at all. Thin content can include anything from employing a bot to post irrelevant content on your behalf, to providing too little information on your site. Either way, thin content provides no value and search engines will pick up on it.
Keyword stuffing: This is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and also an element of thin content. Keyword stuffing refers to the practice of taking the most used keywords in relevant search queries and stuffing them into your content. In today’s world, the repeated and unnatural use of the same word and variations of that word on your site will no longer help your rankings. You might as well be waiving a red flag and asking to get penalized.
Spammy links: The appropriate use of links is highly favored by search engines, but when you purchase your backlinks from spam sites or fill your anchor text full of keywords, then that is a serious no-no. Black hat linking strategies refer to links that are surrounded by irrelevant content, come from dubious sources, are comprised of unnatural wording, or are even invisible. Yes, invisible. Some actually include links that are the same color as the page’s background, as not to be seen by the naked eye.
Cloaking: This is an advanced technique, but cloaking refers to the method of presenting users and search engines with completely different content. In this instance, the web server is designed to return more favorable content to search engine crawlers (bots looking for black hatters) than it does to the reader. As you can imagine, this is highly illegal and an efficient way of being permanently banned from Google’s index.
While those practicing both white and black hat SEO strategies are working toward the same goal – higher search engine rankings – they are utilizing very different strategies. There can be an allure to using black hat practices, which are quicker and less labor intensive than the more ethical strategies, but Google is making updates and changes to its search algorithm every day and the consequences of dabbling in the SEO dark arts can be devastating.
You will be better suited to educating yourself in the ways of white hat tactics. Yes, going this route may take you longer to see results, but you will come by your reward honestly, through hard work, and by proving quality content to your readers. If that doesn’t speak to your soul, then do it to keep Google off your back. In either scenario, white hat is the way to go!