Two opposing technologies exist for improving search engine rankings for a website: white hat SEO and black hat SEO strategies. In many old western movies, the good guys were identified by their white hats, while the bad guys wore black. SEO is not that different: White hat or “good SEO” means playing by the established rules, while black hat or “bad SEO” utilizes deceptive or unethical methods to get ahead quickly.
This post discusses both strategies — as well as the intermediate gray hat SEO — and explains the importance of following search engine guidelines to achieve long-lasting SEO success.
What Is White Hat SEO?
White hat strategy involves the use of Google-approved methods for undertaking search engine optimization. While achieving a higher position in the search engine results using these tactics takes time, the effort to improve the overall site experience will have a lasting impact on a company’s success.
This strategy includes:
- Creating high-quality, readable and relevant content that is useful to the website’s or web page’s visitors
- Integrating suitable keywords into the content and meta tags
- Developing a site that is easy for users to navigate
- Obtaining backlinks from other sites in a legitimate way
- Providing fast loading times
- Building a mobile-friendly environment
- Properly cross-linking internal pages
- Incorporating and optimizing images and videos
White Hat SEO Results
White hat SEO naturally improves a site’s ranking on the search engine results page (SERP) while maintaining its integrity. Following the rules means that moving up in rankings takes some time, but the website will benefit in the long run. Paying attention to Google’s guidelines results in a site that is engaging, unique and valuable to users seeking its content, in addition to providing a good user experience that is sure to rank well in the long term.
What Is Black Hat SEO?
Users of black hat SEO do not follow Google’s guidelines. Instead, they actively thwart the rules to try to get ahead without putting in the amount of work required to do the job in the right way.
Manipulative black hat tactics include:
- Publishing duplicate content (including stealing content from other sites)
- Using invisible text
- Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
- Cloaking or redirecting users to a different site
- Performing improper (paid) backlink schemes
- Creating doorway pages or fake pages that users don’t see
Black Hat SEO Results
Those using black hat tactics may see their websites move up quickly in the SERP. Not only are the results short term, but they come with risks. A site caught violating the guidelines may be penalized by Google. Penalties for using deceptive or unethical practices range from a demotion in rankings to getting banned from Google altogether.
What Is Gray Hat SEO?
Gray hat strategies are those that are in between white and black hat SEO. Gray hat tactics may be manipulative, but they are not specifically forbidden by Google. While not considered totally black or white today, these strategies may be declared acceptable or unacceptable in the future.
Examples of gray hat techniques include:
- SEO squatting or domain grabbing to avoid having to build the site’s authority from scratch
- Attempting to decrease a competitor’s rankings in the SERP or negative SEO
- Spinning content to make another site’s articles appear to be original to the website
- Obtaining links by less than wholly ethical methods
Is breaking or even stretching the rules to gain quick results worth taking the chance of getting penalized or even banned from Google and other search engines? No! We believe that white hat or ethical techniques — creating relevant content, using keywords appropriately, obtaining backlinks according to the guidelines and more — may be time-consuming, but will result in higher rankings over the long run and the assurance that the website will appear on the SERP for years to come.
We recommend that marketers and web strategists avoid black hat strategies at all costs. While not strictly against the rules, think carefully about using gray hat tactics; you don’t want to cross the boundary even inadvertently into forbidden territory. Trying to trick Google is not a winning strategy!
Author Bio: Aaron Wittersheim is Chief Operating Officer at Straight North, a digital marketing company. He helped startups, middle-market, and Fortune 500 companies improve organizational structure and grow through his expertise in process conception, task automation, technology and internal project management.