White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO

Landing on the front page of the search results for any given keyword can be a battle. Higher rankings can mean massive amounts of traffic, which equate to profit.

This stiff competition for the top of the search rankings results in various SEO methods and tactics. While many of these tactics are natural, time-tested techniques, others fall outside of Google’s best practices and guidelines. This dynamic has created two different schools of thought resulting in white hat vs. black hat SEO tactics.

SEO techniques that fall within the normal Google guidelines are considered white hat tactics, while methods that break these rules are referred to as black hat.

While most serious digital marketers agree that white hat strategies are the surest way to improve site SEO steadily and safely, there are still many that opt for the quick results that can result from black hat methods.

What Is White Hat and Black Hat SEO?

As you likely know, Google utilizes a system of algorithms that evaluate the millions of sites on the web and index them in the search results. These algorithms are consistently undergoing changes to provide a better user experience and more relevant results for searchers. While you might understand the way the search algorithms work, you may be less clear about what white hat and black hat SEO is.

Marketers that employ black hat methods attempt to circumvent these revamps and changes and game the system. This encourages further changes in the algorithms to account for these black hat methods, and the cycle continues.

Black hatters focus their efforts on the search bots and algorithms at play. They attempt to employ techniques that take advantage of the current system for quick and easy SEO results.

The consequences of being caught using black hat SEO techniques are a major downside to this school of thought. Sites flagged for utilizing methods outside of Google’s guidelines risk penalties and being removed from the index.

Typical black hat techniques include:

  • Duplicate and Automated Content: You may have spotted content that has been generated by a bot. It’s often in the comment section of a site and generally makes little to no sense, but it has a few keywords in an attempt to push the URL ranking higher. Black hat marketers also use specialized software to spin previously used content and rephrase it to look like original content and pass any plagiarism detection tools.
  • Gateway Pages: This is basically a bait-and-switch tactic where a page is packed with keywords. When searchers click on the link for the page, they are redirected to a different page altogether.
  • Cloaking: This technique displays one URL to the search engine bots and a completely different one to searchers in an attempt to deceive search engines and rank for different keywords.
  • Using Invisible Text: Black hatters often use invisible text to hide links on pages to boost rankings. These links are often unrelated to the content of the page and offer no value to the reader, which is the reason they're hidden. SEOs that utilize this technique use sneaky methods like changing the font color of the text to match the background or making the text font size too small to read.

White hat SEO techniques focus on the user, as opposed to black hat SEO techniques, which turn their attention to the search bots. Many consider white hat SEO techniques to be the more ethical choice.

White hat methods typically take longer to see results and require more work on the front end. While the results from black hat methods can be more immediate, a white hat SEO strategy is much more stable and is void of the risk involved in black hat methods.

White hat methods focus on creating organic traffic through tested strategies that are within rules of Google's best practices.

Common white hat methods include:

  • Quality Backlink Building: Google considers each high-quality link back to your site as an indicator that your content is valuable. Each site that sends a link to your content is basically an endorsement for your site. These endorsements will result in higher search rankings. The key word here is quality. Not all links are created equal, so take the time to ensure all backlinks are relevant and of good quality.
  • Content Creation: Creating original content that's relevant and valuable to your target audience is one of the best ways to build up SEO clout. Creating highly relevant content on a consistent basis will bring in traffic and establish your brand as an authority within your niche.
  • Keyword Strategy: Using thoroughly researched keywords in a relevant and natural way is a highly effective part of an overall SEO strategy. Your research should focus on identifying the most valuable keywords that your ideal audience is searching for. Don't neglect long-tail keywords, as they can be extremely effective at targeting users with very specific search queries that relate to your brand.
  • Site Mapping and Organization: Laying out your site in a way that is optimized for search bots makes it easier for them to crawl your content. Search engines also place emphasis on certain locations on your page, like headers and titles. You can use this knowledge to map out your site and place the high-priority keywords in the most valuable locations.
  • Meta Descriptions: Meta descriptions are, as most white hat techniques, focused on the reader. These descriptions appear under the page title in search results and tell the searchers what they may find if they click the link. These should be void of unnatural keyword usage and focus on compelling the reader to view the content.

The final aim of both SEO schools of thought is to boost a page's search ranking. While the end goal of black and white hat strategies is the same, the methodology and thought process behind each are very different.

Black hat strategies are often much more effective in the short run and, as a result, attract marketers that want fast results. The risk for utilizing these short-sighted techniques is higher than more sound methods and is only increasing as the Google algorithms become much more effective at spotting them.

Most respected digital marketers have the long game in mind. They choose to employ white hat methods that focus on building a solid SEO strategy that is more stable for the long term. While the results from these strategies take a bit longer to appear, the rewards for the work are steadfast and keep you in good standing with Google.

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