White Hat SEO vs Black Hat SEO

When considering investing in Search Engine Optimization for your company, two of the first terms you will probably encounter are “white hat” and “black hat” SEO. To anyone unfamiliar with SEO this can be somewhat confusing. Where do they come from, to what do they refer, and do they matter? Hopefully this article will help answers these questions.

The Origin of ‘White Hat’ vs. ‘Black Hat’

The origin of these terms actually goes back to the old westerns of the early to mid twentieth century. Back in those movies many of the good cowboys fighting to protect the innocent wore white cowboy hats to differentiate themselves from their wicked counterparts, the thieves and murderers wearing black hats (Ninja Hacking: Unconventional Penetration Testing Tactics and Techniques).

Fast forward several decades and you have the rise of computers, and with the rise of technology came hackers. However, despite what hollywood might often say, hackers are not necessarily “bad guys.” Many for example will actually be hired by banks and other organizations to test firewalls and other security features. Others might be hired by the government for law enforcement purposes or other such jobs.

Consequently the need was felt to differentiate these two types of hackers, and so the good hackers became white hats and the bad black hats in reference to the divisions of old westerns. Those that fall somewhere in the middle are sometimes called grey hats as they don’t fit neatly into either category. (howtogeek.com).

These simple definitions have transferred over into the world of SEO. White hat techniques are those that are ethical and focus upon creating good content for people to raise search ranking. Black hat refers to unethical techniques that reply upon solely the exploitation of search engine algorithms to manipulate search ranking.

Google and Bing approve of white hat techniques while strongly disapproving of  black hat techniques. If they catch sites using black hat techniques such sites will receive penalties. These penalties can range from lowered search engine rank (often more than reversing any gains the site received) or, in rare cases, a complete ban from Google or Bing results.(unamo.com).

White Hat SEO

White Hat techniques are built ultimately around delivering quality content to real people and it shows in their techniques. Here are five common ones.


  1. Quality Content: The first and most important part of white hat techniques is the delivery of quality content to an audience. For all that keywords and backlinking might do for a website, it ultimately matters little if quality content isn’t present. While Google might use an algorithm, it will still always err towards websites with a lot of content that seem knowledgeable about their subject. A simple website that only delivers the bare minimum amount of information will always lose to one offering far more. The ultimate goal of any search engine is to push content that is authoritative and knowledgeable.


  1. Semantic Structural Markup: If content is king it is essential that search engines be able to actually read your content. Consequently another SEO technique is to clean up presentation code and use proper heading elements. This makes it more clear to the search engine what is actually on your website.


  1. Provide proper titles and Meta Data: Similar to before, a proper title makes it clear to the search engine exactly what kind of content your website contains. While black hat abuse has lowered the value of titles to Google, they still carry weight when they match the content.


  1. Backlinking: Backlinks help search engines decide the trustworthiness of a website. You could consider them references from one site to yours. However, any reference is only as good as the one who gave it. Consequently, white hat techniques rely on building up references from sites and pages that Google trusts, unlike black hat techniques which simply search for any kind of backlinks. 


  1. Keywords: Finally, identifying proper keywords makes it easier for users to find your website. If you know what kind of terms people might search related to your site, you can then tailor your site to note these keywords, making it easier to find. The key with white hat techniques is performing actual research to identify these important terms and not overstuffing content or code with keywords.

Black Hat SEO

Black hat techniques, in sharp contrast to white hat techniques, do not care about delivering quality content to people. Rather they rely on manipulating search engine algorithms in order to provide a temporary boost and this can be seen in the their strategies. Here are five common ones.


  1. Keyword Stuffing: While white hat techniques rely mainly around identifying keywords and correctly noting them, black hat techniques simply involve cramming in as many keywords as possible in order to boost a site’s rank for every search it can. Sometimes this is in the text, other times this might occur in the html. 


  1. Doorway Pages: Related to keyword stuffing are doorway pages. These are fake pages stuffed full of content appealing to bots, such as keywords. They are not designed for users who will generally never even see them as they are automatically redirected to a target page. 


  1. Duplicate Content: As the name suggests, this technique is based around duplicating content across different domains. Often this involves quite literally copy pasting the content. A more advanced version of this is Article Spinning which attempts to use software to slightly alter and rephrase the content in order to make it appear new.


  1. Cloaking: Cloaking is a technique whereby a website separates users and bots by ip address and then sends them to different pages. Bots are sent to pages stuffed with keywords and other content not on the actual site proper, while users are sent to the real page. The idea being that this will trick bots into ranking the site higher regardless of what the actual site displays. 


  1. Invisible Text: Like most black hat techniques, invisible text is content designed for bots and search engines, not actual users. This technique involves creating white text on a white background full of keywords. Users will not be able to see it because of the color matching but bots can still detect it.

When the Smoke Settles

White hat techniques focus on building good content, optimized for search engines but also appealing to users. Black Hat techniques revolve around manipulating search engine results and care nothing about end user experience.

It is important when investing in SEO to remember these key differences. While black hat techniques can help in the short term, they do not actually make your website any better. They simply trick search engines with techniques that search engines continually get better and better about spotting. Many of the black hat techniques noted here are becoming less and less effective. When discovered, websites that use black hat techniques can face serious penalties, making its few potential benefits short lived.

While white hat SEO does not usually work quite as quickly, the results it provides are far more stable and often are linked with an improvement in the website for users, not just search engines. White hat SEO is built for the long term, unlike black hat SEO which only provides short term increases.

How to Avoid Black Hat Agencies

Now that you know the difference between black hat and white hat SEO you might be interested in knowing how to avoid marketers that use black hat SEO tactics. Here are a few quick tips.

  • Be careful of agencies that promise immediate results, especially paired with number one rankings. These kind of lofty promises are often signs that they practice black hat SEO tactics. Any good agency will tell you that SEO results take time.


  • In a similar vein be careful of guarantees in general, whether that be ranking or traffic. While a good SEO agency can put you in a position to get noticed, no one can actually guarantee it. This is especially true of links as no one can force a user to click a link.


  • Another major warning sign is excessive secrecy. Any serious white hat SEO agency, like we here at Mack Media, has nothing to hide. In fact we are proud of our techniques and happy to share. Any agency who isn’t probably doesn’t want you to know what they’re really doing.


  • Finally, the best piece of advice I can give is to rely on an agency with a proven track record and reputation, like us here at Mack Media. Here at Mack Media we provide transparent white hat SEO service designed and customized for your business. Just like your business our SEO is designed for the long haul. We are always happy to answer questions and if you are interested please give us a call at 203-778-1120.

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