When you stick to the guidelines

White Hat SEO is a name given to the techniques used by SEOs that do not contravene search engine guidelines, the most well known of which are Google’s webmaster guidelines. White Hat SEO is based upon increasing search rankings through the most organic methods possible, which inevitably means focussing on providing value for the user rather than techniques which are only used as a method of manipulating the search engine algorithms. As a result, genuine White Hat SEO should not incur search engine penalties for spam. Some argue that most White Hat SEOs actually operate in a ‘Grey hat’ method, bending the rules to get quicker results whilst retaining a relatively low risk of penalties. An example of this would be link building which due to it being a proactive technique could be considered to be inorganic. However, if the link building campaign is based upon quality and provides value for the user then it is more akin to PR than so called Grey Hat SEO.

It has become a buzzword used by agencies in the industry to reinforce their quality, but is also used by those that promise one thing and then do the other! As such, we have included some questions below that can help you analyse the strategy of your SEO agency in order to determine whether it is White Hat SEO or the dreaded Black Hat:

Note that these questions can be applied across pretty much every aspect of SEO and require very little knowledge of search engine optimisation techniques.

Would someone find this useful?

If you have read other pages in our SEO glossary or on our blog you will have no doubt read the phrase ‘value for the user’. In fact we have already mentioned it twice on this page! This is core to any sustainable or future proof SEO campaign. If no one would find the content that you are creating or a backlink from another site useful then it is likely to be spam and therefore Black Hat SEO. If everything that you are doing is of value to the user and would be genuinely helpful to them then it should be considered White Hat.

Is this for a real person or a search engine?

Search engines are focussed upon user experience. They need to provide the most relevant and highest quality result to the user for their given search query in order to keep them using the platform. As a result, they want websites to focus on the user rather than attempting to con their algorithms into thinking that real people like what they do. This is a clear distinction. If what you are doing is primarily for the user and as a byproduct helpful for search engines then it can be considered White Hat. If what you are doing is purely for the search engines and is of no use or will never be seen by a real person then it is likely to be Black Hat.

Would this happen organically?

Many would argue that by its very nature SEO is not organic. However, there is a difference between proactively contacting a website to solicit great content to them (which they can accept or decline) and writing thousands of keywords in the same colour as your background so that the user cannot see them (cloaking). The real differentiating question is “if I knew nothing about SEO, would I still be doing this?”. In this scenario you could legitimately be trying to gain exposure through high quality content on other sites, whereas it is unlikely that you would be keyword cloaking because the user cannot even see it!