An overview of SEO ‘hats’

By Simon Ensor
SEO 08.11.2019

If there is any topic that’s going to put fire in the bellies of SEOs far and wide, it’s Black Hat Vs. White Hat SEO. Whether you’re a seasoned SEO or just starting, the importance of understanding the implications and techniques of either approach cannot be overstated. We’re going to take a look at the differences between White Hat and Black Hat SEO, the techniques you’ll want to adopt and the ones you’ll want to drop like a hot potato. With the additional help of our handy blog and glossary, you’ll be soaring to the dizzying heights of the SERPs ethically and efficiently in no time.

White Hat SEO

What is White Hat SEO?

White Hat SEO is SEO that abides by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. White Hat SEO’s ultimate goal is to increase organic search rankings according to best practices laid out by both the search engine and industry leaders. True White Hat SEO should not fall victim to a Google penalty or Manual Action as it does not violate any search engine guidelines and does not use underhanded tactics in order to garner rankings or links through manipulative means. It’s only interested in providing relevance and value for its users, both principles are imperative to a sustainable and successful long-term SEO strategy.

What Hat Techniques

The point cannot be iterated enough that White Hat techniques should revolve around the user, relevance and value. Always come at SEO with a “user first, search engines second” mindset. To this end, the White Hat approach to SEO includes:

– Take a “mobile-first” approach to your website
– Make UX a priority
– Utilising schema (Google approved)
– Attracting backlinks from reputable sites by offering something of value
– Writing relevant content that addresses your user’s actual need

Black Hat SEO

What is Black Hat SEO?

Black Hat SEO is the term used for SEO techniques that infringe upon Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Black Hat SEO approaches can have a negative impact on the quality of Google’s search results, which is why they’ve released a multitude of updates to combat an assortment of Black Hat SEO techniques. Updates such as Panda, Penguin, Florida and others have been developed to penalise the websites belonging to SEOs who adopt spammy tactics.

Such penalties can come in the form of a reduction of search visibility, or even complete removal from Google’s index, also known as deindexation. So why do some SEOs risk so much? The answer is simple – in the pursuit of hard and fast results. Whilst such results may come quickly, the penalties will come just as quickly, however the recovery from such penalties will be anything but swift.

Black Hat Techniques

There are a couple of points to note straight away.

Firstly, Google has become very adept at identifying spammy SEO and either devaluing it or penalising it. Ten years ago there was an argument that Black Hat SEO would result in much faster rankings but over the years this has become less and less true. Ultimately the effectiveness of Black Hat SEO has decreased significantly.

Whilst Google’s war against spam has significantly reduced the number of Black Hats out there, you still need to be aware of potential pitfalls. When looking to either hire an SEO in-house, an Agency or even employ some SEO tactics yourself, make sure that you steer clear of:

– Content scraping (Taking content from another website and placing it on your website)
– Keyword stuffing
Duplicate content
Thin content
– Link spam
– Cloaking
– Hidden text
– Content / Link farming

These are all examples of manipulative techniques that offer little to no value for the user. They are being employed for the sole purpose of ‘gaming the system’.

Although the benefits of your White Hat SEO efforts may take longer to come to fruition than that of a Black Hat SEO, the foundation upon which you have built your SEO will be far more likely to stand the test of time. Why? Because White Hat SEO is far less likely to find itself on the business end of a Google Penalty.

Where does Grey Hat SEO fit in?

Now, there is an argument to be made that very few sites that secure themselves the top no.1 spot on google are wholly White Hat. This is where the Grey Hats come in. There is no single industry opinion on Grey Hats, it varies from agency to agency.

Some agencies believe that Grey Hat is just an excuse for Black Hat, legitimising the use of Black Hat techniques, without identifying as such. Others, however believe that Grey Hat is a perfectly acceptable use of Black Hat SEO, in a less spammy way. To be clear, as an SEO agency, Yellowball err on the side of the former. Some Grey Hats will take a White Hat activity, and contravene Google’s webmaster guidelines in order to see results from the activity more quickly – automatically crossing the line into Black Hat. They justify it as ‘well, it’s not Black Hat, it’s just bending the rules’.

Take link earning for example. Creating valuable content that other sites voluntarily link to because of the value of the source and its relevance to its users, is not at all Black or Grey Hat. Paying other sites to link to your website in order to gain link juice? Certainly Black Hat and *definitely* Grey Hat to say the least. Why? It contravenes Google’s Webmaster Guidelines entirely and will therefore be penalised. Possibly the best example of Grey Hat SEO was in the mid teens when spammy guest blogging became popular. It was always spammy, just not quite as overtly spammy as link directories.

So, what’s the takeaway here? Whilst results might be quickly realised, Black Hat SEO is likely to be short lived. Google is very adept at identifying spammy work and penalising it – a position that is not easy to get yourself out of, and can take months at a time to recover from. White Hat SEO may take a little bit longer to show the fruits of your work, and no one’s going to try to tell you with a straight face that White Hat SEO doesn’t take a lot of time. There’s no doubt that in the long run, the results that you see from using White Hat SEO will be longer lasting and more resilient to future  updates.

We won’t lie, it can be incredibly frustrating when you’ve worked long and hard on your SEO and suddenly a spammy website appears above you! As we’ve already mentioned, Google are actually very good at spotting spam. However, websites do slip through the cracks. We’ve seen it countless times and in almost every circumstance, it has been temporary. It’s not a matter of if Google catches these websites, but when they catch them. Don’t panic. Trust in the process.

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