Whether you’re relatively new to the world of website development or are a grizzled veteran, you’ll likely have come across the terms white hat and black hat. These are terms used to describe the type of approach one takes to something like SEO. White hat often describes the honest way to do something while black hat often relies on abusing various systems in order to gain an upper hand.
In this article, we’re going to be explaining some of the differences between white and black hat SEO, why it’s important to distinguish them both and why some areas of SEO that are usually taken advantage of are often considered morally gray.
Understanding how search engines work
In order to understand why there’s a divide between black hat and white hat SEO, we first need to understand how a search engine works. Search engines have two main functions; crawling and indexing. Crawling refers to the process of generally visiting every website possible, going from one website to the next while collecting up all the links and checking them one by one. This is a process done by computers and isn’t something that a human is required to do. The next function is indexing, which is essentially building up a list of sites that have been visited so that they can be accessed quickly at another date.
Google ranks websites based on a number of different factors. These factors are not revealed to the public and they are constantly shifting in order to protect the algorithm from being abused. However, the fact that it’s done by a computer and not a real person means that it can still be taken advantage of. After all, computers are not designed to think based on the context of what input they’re given. Rather, they act according to whoever programmed them.
Essentially, this means that if you understand how search engines work, you can still abuse them regardless of how tight-lipped Google are regarding how their algorithm works. However, Google does still offer SEO guidelines which can help users get started with their search rankings. These guidelines are what Google considers to be the optimal method of achieving a higher search ranking. In other words, it’s how Google intended for their search engine to be used and these guidelines reflect their ideology but doesn’t necessarily show how their search engine actually works.
The differences between white hat SEO and black hat SEO
This split between what Google wants website owners to do and how Google’s algorithms actually work gave birth to the terms white hat SEO and black hat SEO.
White hat SEO refers to strategies that are designed to grow your website SEO organically. It’s all about creating quality content that will be shared by your visitors, it’s about using effective keywords that will attract wider but also more specific audiences that have a chance to convert from leads into sales, and it also focuses on relevant backlinks from trustworthy websites.
On the other hand, black hat SEO is about abusing what we know about how Google’s search engine works. For instance, backlinks from other websites used to help websites rank very high. This resulted in many websites being turned into “link farms” which abused features like hidden text that would be stuffed with keywords and backlinks to appear like noteworthy websites to Google. By abusing this, certain websites were able to propel themselves high up the search rankings despite not offering any relevant content, products or services to what the user wants.
As you can see, black hat SEO is a far more aggressive approach that can actually negatively affect your website’s credibility. If Google realizes that your website has been taking advantage of black hat SEO methods, then it could end up blacklisting your website and preventing it from ever appearing on Google’s search results. This ban could spell disaster for your business and is one of the many reasons why black hat SEO isn’t a good idea. Although you can be unbanned by Google, it’s a long and arduous process to do so.
Black hat SEO strategies
Let’s start by explaining a couple of common black hat SEO strategies so that you know if you’re unintentionally using some methods that could lead to a Google ban.
- Your keywords having nothing to do with the content on your website – Keyword relevancy is important, but if your website utilises a lot of keywords that have nothing to do with your content then it raises a red flag for Google and is considered a black hat SEO strategy. For instance, randomly inserting your product names in relation to current trends is a way to trick search engines, but is considered a black hat SEO strategy and is frowned upon by Google.
- Overloading your content with keywords to a point it’s spammy – Content should use keywords in order to help users find your content. Unfortunately, black hat SEO methods treat keywords with a different mentality. They use keywords solely for the sake of bringing people to their website in order to get exposure for their products and services, but they do it to a point where every sentence will contain a string of keywords that they want to rank for. Overloading your website with keywords is counterintuitive and ultimately causes more issues than it solves for your business.
- Using underhanded methods to improve backlinking and keyword relevancy – There are several underhanded methods that can help improve your keyword relevancy and backlinks. For instance, there are websites that are willing to link your website and copy content from your page just to help you rank higher. However, these websites are typically very low on the metric known as Domain Authority. This is essentially a metric that was created for the sake of SEO and determines the quality of a backlink. For instance, backlinks on websites with a high domain authority such as Facebook and Twitter are worth more than backlinks from a website with low domain authority, meaning it’s far more advantageous to have your website linked to on trusted sites as opposed to random and unknown sites.
- Automatically generating poor content just to fill pages – There are a number of tools available on the internet that are geared towards automatically rewriting or generating content that can be used on your website. Some of these even include services such as posting to social media, but many of these auto content generators are worthless because the content produced is very low in quality and often doesn’t make much sense, meaning it will be flagged by Google and potentially could get your site removed.
Black hat SEO strategies are both risky and poorly received. While they can be low-cost methods to gradually boost your SEO, they put your website at risk of being blacklisted by Google which will ultimately ruin your digital presence.
Why white hat SEO is superior and how to take advantage of it
On the other hand, white hat SEO methods are more focused on organic long-term growth. It’s a way to provide users with excellent content that they will keep coming back to and also be more inclined to share with friends and family members. It also poses no risk of blacklisting you and is Google’s preferred method of optimization that they endorse.
One of the simplest ways to ensure that you follow white hat SEO methods and to boost your website ranking is to seek an SEO consultant such as SEOExplode. Although it may seem expensive, it’s important to realize that white hat SEO is not an easy thing to take advantage of. While there are plenty of strategies to ensure that you can improve your search engine optimization with legitimate and honest methods, it does take a lot longer to nurture your online presence.
White hat SEO relies a lot on effective keyword research. When used correctly, keywords can provide immense value to both you and your audience. The correct way to approach this is to consider the intent behind the keywords that your audience are searching for. For example, if someone searches “plumber” then they might be looking for a plumber in their area. This is where you can take advantage of location-based searches and attempt to rank for keywords that relate to plumbing in your local area.
White hat SEO is also focused on providing long-term value to your audience. By creating quality evergreen content that will continue to be useful throughout the lifetime of your business and its industry, you’ll have a solid piece of content that will stay with your business and can be shared across social media and other online communities.
In short, white hat SEO is superior to black hat SEO and you should always be aware of the strategies that you are focusing on so that you aren’t flagged by Google’s algorithm as abusing their system. This puts you at risk of being blacklisted and doesn’t provide your website with long-term growth options that can drastically improve your business’s digital presence.