White Hat vs Black Hat SEO: What’s the Difference?

In SEO by Kaomi Team

What’s the difference between white hat and black hat SEO (search engine optimisation)? We dive into Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to find out.

White Hat, Grey Hat and Black Hat SEO Explained

To simplify things, there are three types of hackers who perform online activity across varying degrees of legality. Here’s a quick overview of the three:

  • Black hat: These individuals willingly break the law in order to gain access to digital information, including consumer data (banking details, IDs and login details), corporate and government files, and other valuable information that can bring in a profit. 
  • White hat: These hackers will use their digital skills to assist businesses and individuals by following the regulatory guidelines. White hat hackers are the best way to both protect and actively promote your business online. 
  • Grey hat: Walking the line between black and white, the grey hat hackers will carefully skirt the law, often using methods that are ethically questionable, if not completely illegal. The world of data hacking can often be complex, so much so that the line between right and wrong is blurred. That’s where you find the grey hats. 

White Hat SEO

SEO (search engine optimisation) is an effective strategy for enhancing a website’s traffic by boosting the visibility of the page in a search engine. In white hat SEO, developers are able to optimise a website following all necessary laws. This strategy involves:

  • Adhering to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines: The search engine has detailed a comprehensive list of guidelines that can be followed to ethically optimise a website. 
  • Avoiding rank manipulation: White hats will not seek to deceive Google’s algorithms in order to manipulate page ranking. 
  • Focus on the visitors: White hats are looking to reach people, not play the system. 
  • In it for the long-run: The white hat approach will not necessarily generate immediate page interest, but this dedicated strategy will see page visits increase over time while lowering the bounce rate. 

White Hat SEO Techniques

The SEO techniques approved by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines have been touched on, but here’s a more in-depth look at techniques that are white hat-approved. If you’re looking for a sustainable career in SEO this is the hat to wear.

1. Create Web Pages For An Audience

Rather than manipulating Google’s algorithms, white hats will actively try to improve the user experience by creating quality content and enhancing site usability. This means: 

  • No tricks to improve search engine rankings. 
  • Making the website unique and engaging. 
  • Continue enhancing the value of the website for users over time.

2. Improve Usability 

White hats will ensure that the on-page content is high quality and helpful, while also decreasing page load time and developing for mobile. Some other organic techniques to elevate usability include:

  • Incorporating images and video
  • Metadata
  • Website architecture
  • Website performance

3. Content Building

Quality content is a vital white hat SEO technique, and it will generally follow a definitive set of guidelines. The content will:

  • Follow all grammatical rules
  • Provide value to the audience
  • Be original
  • Provide necessary source information
  • Be relevant to the industry

4. Keyword Use and Analysis

Strategic keyword use is a common white hat SEO technique that yields real results. Unlike keyword stuffing in black hat methodology, keyword placement must be organic so as not to diminish the quality of the content for the user. A developer will perform a thorough keyword analysis to determine which are the prominent keywords, as well as constantly updating these. The inclusion of keywords in titles and sub-heading is also a valuable SEO strategy. 

5. Link Building and Backlinks

Link building is a legitimate SEO technique that directs audiences on other websites back to your site. This increases referral traffic as search engines will note your website quality through this backlinking. White hats can also share web links across social media platforms as these social signals will indicate the usefulness of the website content. 

6. Guest Blogging

A completely valid white hat SEO technique is the inclusion of guest posts on a website. However, too many guest posts will undermine the SEO as they appear to be unethically sourced. It’s a delicate balancing act. 

Grey Hat SEO

This is where hackers will use technically legal promotional methods to improve site rankings, but ethically, they’re in the grey. In many instances, these ‘generally accepted’ methods will eventually be outlawed over time. 

Grey Hat SEO Techniques

To give you a clear picture of these ethically-dubious SEO methods, here are a few examples to consider: 

Social Media for Animals

It’s strange but true. A grey hat SEO technique is to create a social media account for a cute, furry creature (like Grumpy Cat) and then use this platform to advertise products with backlinks to a website. Not breaking Google’s rules, but possibly infringing on social media rules. 

Website Redesign

Instead of creating unique and fresh copy in the form of white hat SEO, you simply re-design a website, tricking the search engine into thinking it is new content. 

Guilt Linking

You can select some charities, contribute nominal amounts, then write a review with a link to their donation page. As a show of generosity, you then ask them to link back to your website – underhanded but it works. 

Subtle Plagiarism

A grey hat won’t necessarily copy and paste content, but rather change a few words to fool search engines into thinking it is new content. 

Dubious Review Writing

Reviews are a great way to increase page rankings as they’re believed to be organic. One grey hat SEO technique is to simply pay people to write reviews – legal but it’s obviously misleading the audience. Another technique is to write negative reviews about products or services as these tend to get more reads. 

Black Hat SEO Techniques

These SEO techniques completely ignore Google’s Website Directory, or actively go against it, by boosting a website’s rankings using illegal and unethical methods. Google is quite explicit in what constitutes black hat SEO. Basically, these techniques will: 

  • Directly violate the search engine’s guidelines
  • Manipulate the search engine’s algorithms and the website audience
  • Focus on the short-term of higher ranking rather than the long-term website usability and organic rankings

Here’s a look at the more common black hat SEO techniques in operation:

  • Cloaking: This is a doorway page strategy often used in spam sites to prevent being identified as such. In cloaking, web users will be shown a piece of content that is different from that showing up in the search engine crawler. This is not to say that content can’t be customised for users (mobile devices, targeted advertising or geographical location), but the primary content mustn’t be manipulated. 
  • Keyword stuffing: As opposed to the white hat strategy of creating quality content, keyword stuffing simply adds nonsensical keywords to content to manipulate page rankings. 
  • Web or data scraping: In addition to keyword stuffing, black hat SEO could include irrelevant content or content that has simply been lifted from another website. Alternatively, content might be switched out once the ranking has been established. 
  • Invisible keywords: By using text colour that matches the background colour, black hats can include invisible keywords for elevated ranking. 
  • Re-directs: When the user clicks on a URL (Uniform Resource Locator), they are directed to another website altogether. Re-directs used by white hats will be when a domain has been changed.
  • Tampering with schema: Black hat SEO will change how the content is structured on the page within a search engine, differentiating it from the competitors. 
  • Blog comment spam: This is where a website link is shared in a blog comment, although it happens less frequently now. 

White Hat vs Black Hat Backlinks

As previously discussed, backlinks are links between websites. In white hat SEO, backlinks will enhance a website’s ranking as it’s deemed to have quality content. They’re essentially putting a stamp of approval on website content. 

Black hat backlinks will manipulate the system to generate illegal backlinks and elevate the web page rankings on SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). This can be done in a few ways:

  • Link farms: A black hat technique whereby single or multiple websites are created for the sole purpose of link building. These link farms will consist of low-quality content that is packed with links. Through link farms, the number of backlinks to a site is falsely elevated. 
  • Paid links: Search engines do not allow web designers to buy or sell any web links in order to manipulate the page rankings. This policy also prohibits the sending of free products in exchange for links. 

There are many SEO techniques you can incorporate to boost your web page, but grey hat and black hat SEO strategies must be avoided. They’re not only potentially illegal, but also work as a short-term solution. Your best bet is to work with an online authority who can propose an effective marketing strategy using white hat SEO techniques that fall within the search engine guidelines. Through dedicated web support, your site will be continually upgraded to maintain the organic traffic. And by creating quality content that people actually want to read, you’re more likely to succeed over time.