What Should I Know About White Hat and Black Hat SEO?

Much like the good guys and bad guys in your favourite movie westerns, there are also White Hat (good) SEO practices you should follow—and Black Hat (often unethical) SEO practices to avoid.

When businesses aim to secure top-ranking spots on Google search results pages (SERPs), they must adhere to the latest search engine optimization (SEO) guidelines. But, how businesses manage those rules can get complicated. Some folks choose to take the high road, and others may instead use more unsavoury practices.

Let’s take a look at what White Hat and Black Hat SEO tactics look like, and how they may affect your website.

White Hat SEO is anything you do to improve your search rankings on SERPs, within Google’s rules. Tactics used for high-rank fall within search engine’s terms of service and effectively boost your website’s integrity and may include:

  • Employing the use of accurate and appropriate keywords.
  • Using meta tags that are relevant.
  • Backlinking to valuable related sites.
  • Writing quality and impactful content for human readers.
  • Producing content that’s been informed by keyword analysis and research.

Black Hat SEO is instead when Google’s rules are bent and broken, in order to secure higher site ranks in search. These tactics often result in penalties from search engines and may include techniques like:

  • Keyword stuffing, or loading a web page’s metadata and visible content with an overflow of keywords in an attempt to gain unfair advantage through web spam or spamdexing. 
  • Cloaking, or misrepresenting your website content to search engines.
  • Using private link networks.

What Is White Hat SEO?

The term “White Hat SEO” describes SEO tactics that are aligned with the rules, terms, and conditions of popular search engines like Google. 

If you value maintaining your website’s integrity, you should always be compliant with Google’s terms of service. A safer method of optimization, White Hat SEO practices can be checked by reading Google Search Essentials (formerly Webmaster Guidelines)—this is a great way to ensure you’re not inadvertently using deceptive techniques that might be flagged as Black Hat SEO. 

Positive, White Hat SEO techniques that can help you champion your web content include:

  • Practising good keyword research.
  • Using long-tail keywords with short-form head terms.
  • Targeting Google featured snippets.
  • Offering high-quality services and content.
  • Using pillar pages.
  • Swift website load times.
  • Mobile-friendly web design.
  • Using meta tags and alt text for optimised site accessibility.
  • Well-designed website navigation and functionality.

What Is Black Hat SEO?

Using a group of methods that may violate Google policy to increase a domain’s or page’s rank in SERPs is called Black Hat SEO.

Black Hats SEO tries to cheat the algorithms used by search engines like Google and Yahoo. Leveraging Black Hat SEO techniques may give you a small boost in traffic, but long term they can cause harm to your site. You can even be penalised by Google and have your SERP rank cut severely. 

What Types of SEO Impact Your Business?

Before breaking down the impacts of White Hat and Black Hat SEO, we need to first fully understand what SEO is and why it’s essential to you and your online business.

The process by which we optimise a website for the best possible search engine ranking is how SEO is defined. To do this, search engines like Google weigh your website’s pages, content, configuration, relevance, and link popularity compared to competitors. The more relevant, popular, and findable keywords your site uses to help visitors answer their search queries, the better rank you’ll receive on SERPs.

To excel with your site SEO, you need to know which search engine you would like to target. Specific search engines, like Google, use algorithms and ranking factors to find content pages that have the greatest traffic potential. And, site traffic is like internet currency—it directly translates to more ad revenue, better rank, and stronger page authority. 

Additionally, it’s helpful to understand the difference between paid and organic traffic, and how these impact SERP results. When you Google something online, that query produces organic and paid results. Organic search traffic is when users enter a search query and click through to content that’s organically served on the resulting SERPs. Inorganic content is served by organisations that pay for SERP placement, pay-per-click (PPC), paid social, and so on.

How Can Black Hat SEO Specifically Hurt Your Business?

In an effort to cut corners and gain a better SERP rank, Black Hat SEO often uses practices that violate Google rules. These shortcuts can get your website banned from search engines, dropping your SERP rank down well below that prized Google snippet spot. And, if you’re blacklisted from Google, it’s nearly impossible to regain your positive SERP rank quickly (or at all).

To help better explain how Black Hat SEO can impact you and your business, let’s imagine two people: Jack and Bob. Jack has a job and follows the law, but Bob is trying to make a quick buck, by any means. Jack will survive in society much longer and have the ability to keep and grow his earnings. But, Bob has no guarantees—and the law will inevitably catch up with him. 

Similarly, using Black Hat techniques here and there might sometimes feel like a good move, but the cost of getting caught by a search engine can get your website, online business, or even related accounts banned from Google and affiliate websites.

Review Black Hat SEO practices in Google’s Search Essential overviews, and discover services you can pay for to help determine if issues you may encounter might fall under the Black Hat SEO flag or not.

If you purchase links or use any other deceptive cloaking techniques to cheat the search engine rankings, you’re likely using Black Hat SEO. Again, Black Hat SEO may give you some good revenue in the short term, but you’re at greater risk of getting penalised by search engines, particularly with the frequency of Google algorithm updates.

These algorithms are constantly updated and augmented. Paying someone to use Black Hat SEO might not even work. It’s best to simply not invest your time or money in Black Hat SEO and instead work on building a good authority and rank using White Hat SEO techniques.

Why Are White Hat SEO Techniques Important?

Failure to implement some White Hat SEO practices can get your site banned from Google and other search engines. 

As the number one search engine, Google is visited by billions of people every day. Good SEO practices can help elevate your site above the millions of competing websites. White Hat SEO can also help you build authority and strengthen your brand image, differentiating you from other businesses in your niche.

Google is an undeniably powerful source of the traffic to your website and being banned can result in a drastic drop in visitors and advertisement revenue. And, once banned from Google, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to re-list. 

What Beneficial White Hat SEO Tactics Should You Try?

White Hat SEO practices are a great way to create an ethical, sustainable, and successful website-based enterprise. In addition to reading Google Search Essentials and staying up-to-date on the latest algorithm changes, consider the following key factors:   

1. Use Good Meta Tags

Strive to follow the latest SEO updates, and employ the most recent best practices to create your meta descriptions (instead of spamming up your website tags). This helps search engines easily crawl your website, so more users can discover and enjoy your website’s content.

2. Focus on Quality Content and Services

Google carefully crawls your website to confirm it’s delivering trustworthy, original, and quality content to visitors. In order to rank high in SERP, your content needs to adhere to Google rules and best practices. Plan to research and employ keywords that align with your business niche, in order to reach your best SEO potential. There are a number of free, online tools you can use to inform which keywords will be best for you to employ on your site pages. 

A word of caution: Don’t overpack your keywords. Overloading your site isn’t a good user experience, and Google can penalise you for it, too. Instead, aim for a healthy balance of keywords in your content and opt to keep your editorial clean and focused, so it’s easy to read for your visitors.

3. Make Your Site Easy to Navigate

Review your website and make sure your navigation helps visitors easily move through your site’s web pages. You can do this by aligning content with your main topic pillars and deploying a site structure that intuitively guides readers throughout your site. Have an easily recognizable home page as your landing page, and link directly to solid pillar content pages, and include a comprehensive “about us” page, “contact” page, and “shopping” page.

Navigation essentials include an easy-to-spot top and footer menu, a balance of colour and white space across your site design, easy-to-read fonts, tone and language that fits your user’s vocabulary, metadata, and alt text to help optimise accessibility, and a flattened site structure (or making all pages just a click away from your home page). 

How Do I Identify Black Hat SEO Tactics and Techniques to Avoid?

Black Hat SEO tactics can sometimes be hard to spot (especially when deployed by savvy Black Hat sites). To help you recognize and avoid these practices, be aware of the following:

  • Over-reporting your competition’s content in Google Search Essential tools.
  • Using automated content instead of original content.
  • Creating too many doorway pages. (Doorway pages are web pages that manipulate search engine indexes by inserting results for one phrase and sending visitors to a completely different page.) 
  • Hiding hidden interlinks within website elements that redirect visitors unknowingly to other pages.
  • Overly stuffing keywords on web pages (known as spamdexing)
  • Using cloaking tactics, or redirecting page visitors to web pages without their knowledge.
  • Using link schemes, or manipulating search engines by using links that are paid for (or acquired through a trade of some kind).
  • Article spinner content which makes no sense
  • Using snippet markup for reviews, when you don’t offer reviews on your site. This is misleading and considered a scam. 
  • Sending automated queries (this is sometimes done unknowingly through malware or spamware on your devices).
  • Publishing duplicated or plagiarised content on your website.
  • Creating malicious pages, or cyber fraud like phishing, viruses, ransomware, trojans, and malware.

How Do I Report Someone Using Black Hat SEO?

There are two major reasons why you may want to report Black Hat SEO users. 

  1. Your website has been attacked by a malicious hack or virus; or 
  2. You’re being targeted by a negative SEO campaign that uses spammy hyperlinks. (Sometimes users experience spammy search results on a competitive keyword that their site is ranking on which can get very frustrating.)

If you happen to find yourself in either of these situations, you can document a webspam report through Google Search Essential tools. 

But, use this tool with caution: Falsely reporting net spam might be considered a Black Hat SEO practice too, and you could be penalised.

If your website has been attacked through a malicious hack, ransomware, virus, or malware, you can also request a malware evaluation—but, only after you’ve eliminated the malicious code threat.

If your website is under siege by an army of spammy hyperlinks that you suspect might be initiated by your competition, you can use the disavow links tool in the Google Search Essentials suite. This tool only works when you contact webmasters staff and explain your website situation, they will then advise you on what hyperlinks you should remove from your site.

What Are The Main Differences Between White and Black Hat SEO?

Let’s take a look at the most notable and impactful differences between White Hat and Black Hat SEO. Understanding how to recognize positive SEO practices, and avoid shady ones, can help you and your business grow and find long-lasting success.

White Hat SEO:

  • Follows SEO Guidelines: White Hat SEO never strays from Google’s Search Essentials guidelines. It is defined as following the rules and using proper practices to optimise a website. White Hat SEO focuses on “moral” search engine optimization methods, to help ensure a top-notch reader experience, free from manipulation. 
  • Specialises in targeting real human audiences: White Hat SEO involves making changes that are beneficial to your website’s visitors, like providing entertaining content that also brings value to readers. The simplest SEO techniques involve taking steps that improve the website experience for your visitors. Using high-quality, original content; building content on pillar pages; and improving your page load times, can all improve the customer experience. Bottom line: Focus on delivering convenience, easy navigation, and a good value to your website visitors.
  • Yields long-term, legitimate gains: It can be a challenge to use techniques that comply with Google’s tips and still create a great experience. However, SEO is all about managing competition and using positive marketing techniques to bring legitimate value to users. This can work in your favour, and bring beneficial, long-lasting results, too.

Black Hat SEO:

  • Violates most search engine guidelines: Black Hat techniques break several of Google’s rules, leading to penalties to your business and long-lasting harm to your website.
  • Based on manipulation: Black Hat practices are rooted in manipulating Google’s algorithm to improve ratings. The content does not contribute any value to readers, and instead tricks the algorithm into assuming that the website provides a greater value to users. If it is misleading, it’s Black Hat SEO.
  • Works only in the short term: Google regularly updates its algorithm and Black Hat SEO tries to tap into exploiting loopholes in Google’s algorithm updates. Sometimes the enhancements may work or fail. There are no guarantees—and definitely no long-term gains.

Final Takeaways

SEO is all about dedication and hard work. But online competition is global and more cutthroat than ever. In order for your business to find success and ride off happily into the sunset— grab that white hat and be sure to practise positive SEO rules. You’ll be better equipped to maintain and grow a healthier and more successful business.