SEO encompasses a whole range of different techniques and methods that all have one common end goal: to get your site as high up in the search engine rankings as possible.
But how do you know if you are using methods that will not get you slapped with a Google penalty? If you don’t know the difference between white hat and black hat SEO techniques, you could well be at risk of Google’s wrath.
This article will explain to you exactly what constitutes white hat and black hat SEO. I’ll also give you some pointers on which direction your SEO should be focused.
What is White Hat and Black Hat SEO?
Think about the typical hero and villain in a super-cliché Hollywood movie: the hero is wearing white and the villain is wearing black. This image pretty much encapsulates what is happening with white hat and black hat SEO.
White hat methods include those which align with Google’s search guidelines and will not leave you at risk of one of their penalties. White hat SEOs try and play by the rules by providing excellent content and doing everything possible to stay well within those Google guidelines.
Some examples of what we consider to be white hat methods are:
- Creating user-focused, helpful content
- Optimizing heading tags and meta descriptions
- Decreasing page loading times
- Attracting links to your site from other quality websites
- Making your website mobile-friendly
- Improving overall user experience
White hat SEOs take a user-first stance and put their energy into building high quality backlinks. They put their trust in the fact that Google’s bots will do their job and rank the best content in the top positions.
On the other hand, black hat SEO experts most certainly do not play by Google’s rules. Black hat SEO involves using techniques to essentially trick the bots into ranking their website.
The benefit of black hat SEO is it is usually much faster and leads to better rankings in the short term. If you can find a loophole that works well, it can be very profitable to pour everything you have into it and scale it as much as you can.
The major downside is that you are at a higher risk of a Google penalty from one of their updates like Panda and Penguin.
Well-known black hat techniques include:
- Plagiarizing content from other sites
- Building links by spamming blog comments and forums
- Backlinks from PBNs
- Buying links to your website
- Cloaking, which is explained in this video
- “Sneaky” redirects
- Any method used that doesn’t fit within Google’s guidelines and attempts to manipulate the search rankings is classified as black hat.
Is White Hat or Black Hat SEO Better?
There is no denying that black hat SEO provides you with some quick wins. Sites are able to rank much more quickly and usually higher in the early days if you put black hat tactics to use.
The major downside is you are at risk of receiving a penalty from Google and losing your traffic. This is why I personally only test out black hat strategies on SEO practice sites.
Many black hat SEOs will argue there are measures you can take and if you are smart, you can avoid getting caught by Google. However, I would strongly argue against this. Google’s algorithms are getting smarter all the time and you never know when your favourite methods will become detectable by the bots.
For example, until Google’s Hummingbird update, black hat SEOs probably thought they would be able to get away with keyword stuffing forever but that has all changed now.
If you want to ensure your safety from such penalties, white hat SEO is the only way you can do that effectively. Sure, it may take you a bit longer to rank but at least you won’t have to worry about that ranking plummeting because of a penalty.
White Hat SEO lets you build an asset
Websites that take part in black hat SEO cannot be sold in the traditional sense. Buyers know what the risks are, and if they see anything suspicious, there is no incentive to spend money in investing in it.
So black hat SEO’s never really build any real assets. And asset building is one of the biggest upsides of building blogs.
Take NerdWallet for instance, a successful blog in the personal finance industry.
Yes, there are thousands of black hat SEO’s who made a lot of money by spamming the personal finance industry. But their methods are short lived. They made a quick buck, then got destroyed and moved onto the next thing.
But NerdWallet focused purely on white hat SEO. As a result, overtime, their search traffic has steadily increased. As a result, their valuation continues to grow and they are a healthy 9 figure company.
All that work will actually come with a huge pay day if they ever decide to sell it.
Even in the most competitive industries in the world, this is what white hat SEO results in. Continuous growth. No worrying about penalties at this company.
The bottom line is that webmasters who use white hat SEO practices will be able to enjoy more sustainable search engine rankings without the worry of Google penalties destroying them overnight.