- White Hat;
- Black Hat;
- Grey Hat; and
- Negative SEO.
The main differences have to do with speed to market, cost, and risk.
Black hat SEO will get you where you want to go faster. It is usually less costly because you are taking shortcuts to the top by going against published Google Webmaster Guidelines. In fact, many black hat SEO tactics are specifically spelled out in the guidelines as things you should NOT do. As such, they carry the risk that your website and/or content will be banned from search results or demoted the next time Google updates its ranking algorithm. That’s no small concern. Google updates it’s ranking algorithm roughly 500-600 times a year.
White hat SEO techniques, on the other hand, adhere to Google Webmaster Guidelines. White hat SEO usually takes longer and costs more as a result. On the upside, white hat SEO carries far less risk and tends to deliver lasting and compounding value over time. You’ll find most of the respected SEO and content marketing companies and publications like Moz, Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Roundtable, the SEM Post, Stone Temple, GSQI, and Philadelphia-area Seer Interactive and SEMRush all use and prescribe white hat SEO tools and techniques.
Grey hat SEO falls somewhere in the middle of the two because these tactics are not specifically called out in Google’s Guidelines. You should be cautious about taking this path though. It is not safe to assume that just because a specific technique isn’t labeled or mentioned as being deceptive and one that will get you into trouble, that it will not interfere negatively with your rankings. In fact, Google says:
Webmasters who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking than those who spend their time looking for loopholes they can exploit.
A summary of each of the different types of SEO, including examples, is provided below.
|White Hat SEO||White hat SEO practices strictly adhere to search engine guidelines. They are future-proof, meaning algorithm changes designed to offset questionable (black and grey hat) practices will not impact your search engine performance because you are “playing by the rules”. Results take longer because you are avoiding cheats and shortcuts.||Examples of white hat SEO include writing relevant, useful content that helps your search audience do what they need to do, promoting your content on social media so it earns exposure and links, and soliciting the use of data aggregators to acquire local business citations.|
|Black Hat SEO||Black hat SEO employs practices that do not adhere to search engine guidelines and therefore carry the risk that your website and/or content will be demoted or banned from search results. Future algorithm updates have the potential to negate or destroy any short-term advantage you may have gained by employing black hat practices but you tend to rise faster because you are less constrained by the “rules”.||Examples of black hat SEO include keyword stuffing or hiding, plagiarism, paid backlinks, cloaking (where different content is shown to human and search engine visitors), thin content (less than 300 words per page or post), and private blog networks (where a set of sites under the control of the SEO service provider is used to acquire backlinks). For a more extensive list see 44 Black Hat SEO Techniques That Will Tank Your Site from Cognitive SEO.|
|Grey Hat SEO||Grey hat SEO falls somewhere in the middle. These practices aren’t specifically called out in the guidelines but should still be considered risky.||Examples include clickbait (content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page and not deliver value), spun (slightly altered) content, link exchanges, and paying for reviews.|
|Negative SEO||Negative SEO is the practice of implementing black or grey hat SEO techniques on someone else’s website with the intent of causing harm. Harming your competitors makes room for you to move up in search results.||These practices often focus on building unnatural or undesirable links to a competitor’s website, stealing their content, posting negative reviews, or hacking the site and modifying its content.|
So What’s With The Hats?
According to Wikipedia, in the 1920s and 1940s, western films made in the United States featured characters wearing white hats (often worn by heroes) and black hats (by villains). It was meant to symbolize the contrast in good versus evil.It’s the same with SEO. The white hat designation implies “good” SEO service providers and tactics; black hat, the opposite. In real life, there is a lot more grey, but that is how the labels originated.
If you are shopping for SEO services, listen when providers are explaining their services to you. If you hear mention of the example black and grey hat SEO tactics above, you’d be wise to continue your search.
This article originally appeared on the B-SeenOnTop Blog and has been republished with permission.