Key Points, Key Differences, and Everything In-between.
The big 2 questions everyone is talking about: What is the difference between White Hat SEO & Black Hat SEO? And what is best for you and your business? Well, before we get into that, we first must understand one thing; what exactly is SEO?
What is SEO?
The answer to this question is a pretty simple explanation. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the practice of manipulating the search results of various search engines (such as Google and Bing) to improve your website’s search engine rankings. Google being the most used/well-known search engine, displays links in search results that it considers to be relevant, interesting, and authoritive. What these search engines look for, is high quality websites that have good content, design, and are easy to use. Which we go over more in depth in our article about what SEO actually is. Pretty simple though, right? Well, there’s a bit more to it than that. As we know, there’s a reason for this article and there is much debate on it. Due to the many various practices of SEO, and how large of an industry it has become, it’s split off into two main categories: White Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO. Which brings us to our next points:
What is White Hat SEO and What is Black Hat SEO?
White Hat SEO:
White Hat SEO is basically the more passive SEO strategies, practices, and techniques used. A key one of those being gaining organic traffic using content that combines engaging and reader friendly articles with the right key words people use when searching for information in the various search engines. In other words, ensuring that everything on the website(s) are optimized for ultimate searchability, aka, on page optimization. From images, to blog posts, to the theme and design, and most importantly the content. Redundant, we know.
White Hat search optimization also puts rigorous focus on the audience and engaging with them while following the strict ethics, guidelines, and rules laid out by the search engines. And it puts focus on the search performance. In the end, it all leads to the enhancement and credibility in the rankings for search results. Hence why it is also called ethical SEO. A few other key tactics that come into White Hat SEO practices are as follows:
- Key Word Research and Analysis – Understanding the search intent of key words and how they’re used by your audience.
- Meta Titles – A title given to specific pages on your website within the meta tags.
- Meta descriptions – An approximately 160-character brief description of your meta title. What you see as the description of the page when seeing your search results in a search engine.
- Heading Tags (H1 – H6) – part of the HTML coding for a Web page defining the most important heading on the page to the lowest-level heading.
- Schema – form of microdata that creates an enhanced description that appears in search results, aka a rich snippet.
- Internal Linking – linking to other pages on your website from your website.
- Various Tools (such as data visualizers, microformats, Google Analytics, Google Search Console, etc.) and More!
While the tools aren’t as important as the content and on-page optimization, they still play a significant role in White Hat SEO for better analysis of organic signals. Although, now that we’ve gone over a bit about White Hat SEO, this brings us to our next topic:
Black Hat SEO:
Unlike White Hat SEO, Black Hat search engine optimization tends to take a more aggressive approach in their strategies, techniques, and tactics. It tends to center more on the search engines themselves and not so much their human audiences. Not only that, but, they usually don’t follow and obey the search engines’ strict guidelines and rules. Making the SEO practices used a huge risk to your website and your business. We all know those websites with tons of ads and pop-up ads that are not so easy to “surf” or navigate through. Normally, those types of websites wouldn’t show up first for searches conducted in the search engines, right? Well, if they are, it’s a result of Black Hat SEO practices. Which poses a couple of questions in and of itself. How do they surpass those little “crawlers” that all search engines use to gather information on the content and quality of the websites? And how do they pass through the algorithms meant to catch this type of thing once the information is brought back from these “crawlers”? Well, my friend, that also has to do with the practices that Black Hat SEO entails. While every SEO has their own secret way of doing things, here are a few generalized, basic ones that explain this phenomenon:
- Aggressive link building, back linking, and paid links – while not all link building is technically bad, if done aggressively (a lot of times those pesky ads) it is considered to be Black Hat.
- Keyword Stuffing – overloading a webpage with keywords even if they are not relevant and in a way that causes the content or articles to make no sense. This also happens in the meta tags.
- Cloaking – presenting the content to the crawlers in a different way than is presented to the user’s browser.
- Spam Comments – comments put into a post or blog that are irrelevant to the actual content and typically link back to an unrelated website. This is typically not done by the persons who manage the website or page (also a part of aggressive link building when done as such).
- Duplicate Content – matches or extremely similar content across domains (different websites).
- Doorway Pages – a web page created that inserts particular phrases with the purpose of sending visitors to a different page. Kind of like those redirect pages that you see pop up or when you go to FaceBook to read an article that a page you follow shared and it takes you to something completely different and unrelated.
- Invisible Text – textual content that the visitor cannot see but the search engines can still read.
- Various Tools and More!
I know what you’re about to say, “Isn’t link building a White Hat SEO practice too? How else would you get the word out?” Well, that is a whole different controversial topic on its own. And I promise we’ll go over that at a different time. Which next brings us to our main topic at hand and purpose of this article:
The Key Differences Between White Hat and Black Hat SEO.
And What It Means for You and Your Business:
As read above, the main key difference between White Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO is the strategies, techniques, tactics, and practices used. But, let’s take this a little more in depth. I promise this is not some biased article telling you, “Black Hat is Bad! Stay away from it!”, because that’s definitely not the case. All types of SEO, whether it be Black Hat, White Hat, or Grey Hat have their own benefits. Did I throw you for a loop there? Yes, they are each beneficial in their own way and yes, there is a happy little medium between White Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO called Grey Hat SEO. So, before I get back to the topic at hand of those key differences and what they mean for you the consumer, let me explain to you a little bit what Grey Hat SEO is. Although, it’s a pretty simple concept as well really, Grey Hat SEO takes some of White Hat SEO tactics, dips their paint brush in it, and blends it with a bit of Black Hat SEO tactics. Some examples of practices unique to Grey Hat SEO would be:
- SEO Squatting – Also known as domain squatting. Purchasing expired domains that are relevant to your keywords that you re-work the site to have the content bring visitors to you.
- Redesign of website(s) after routine intervals – by redesign of the website after intervals it invites Google to test the page again pushing the rankings higher. Can be risky if done when ranking 2 or higher in search rankings. This does not include website maintenance, updates to the website, or adding new posts. So, if the code and text changes, even if the content doesn’t change, Google will think it’s fresh content.
- Use of and Excessively Placed Sharing and Like Buttons – Placing the – add google, +facebook like, and tweet buttons anywhere and everywhere you can on the website, then clicking on them a few times yourself.
- Article Spinning – Re-Writing an existing article to create something “new” that isn’t so new. It’s kind of like plagiarism for lack of a better explanation. Basically, the content is sourced from one article only with a few words changed here and there.
- And More!
Now, back to the key differences, and what they can mean for you, the consumer, and your business. Say, you walk into a high stakes poker match, there’s going to be 3 main types of gamblers. The card counter, the strategist, and the one who outright cheats the entire system. Can you guess which gambler type is which color hat in comparison to SEO? Well, the card counter would be Grey Hat, strategist White Hat, and the one cheating the entire system… Black Hat. The risk involved is another key difference between them all. Especially with search engines like Google really cracking down on their rules with each new update. And as we all know, there is always some type of risk when gambling is involved. So naturally, with all this new information we now know, so does SEO. No matter what color hat is worn.
Let’s break it down a bit further, starting with the level of risk you’ll be dealing with. With White Hat (the goody-two-shoes strategist), you’re going to have little to no risk because well… White Hat SEO is the boy scout that follows the rules. Whereas with Gray Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO, there is always going to be more risk involved. And the darker you go, the higher the risk. Say for example on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest risk and 10 being the highest amount of risk; White Hat would be a 1, Gray Hat a 5, and Black Hat a 10.
So, what exactly are these risks you ask? Well, let’s use a perfect example from some semi-recent (within the past 6 years or so) events. Did you hear about what happened to J.C. Penney? With online business exponentially growing, it also means less people are physically going into stores to shop and more are doing their shopping online. This even means for clothing, furniture, and food. Not only that, but having an online search presence is highly important to ensure your customers can find you and preferably instead of your competitors. For online businesses and those that have one or more actual physical locations, as well as for major corporations and small business alike. With brick and mortar department stores, tons of them are having to close down stores already, as their online competition like Amazon and others like it are kind of getting all the business.
Now, Google has ever changing and updating algorithms, and crawlers to bring information to the algorithms (as we mentioned before), that are meant to catch SEO (Black Hat and sometimes Grey Hat) practices and techniques that they severely frown on. And whether knowingly or unbeknowingly to J.C. Penney’s Corp., their SEO company felt the heat of J.C. Penney’s online competition and went full on Black Hat with their practices. One day, Google caught on, and instead of ranking #1 for many relevant keywords to their business like they were, suddenly, they kind of went “poof” and dropped severely down in the rankings. So, their online presence took a major hit. As a result, J.C. Penney lost tons of business. Which, just like other stores like them, they could not and cannot afford when trying to compete against their online competition. Google had no mercy towards a major corporation. Imagine if that happened to a small business? With today’s day and age, they would be destroyed.
While it can take a couple of months for search engines to catch on, Black Hat SEO tactics put your online presence at risk of being demolished. And with Google’s ever changing algorithms, Grey Hat SEO practices have the same risk. Even if it is significantly lower of a risk compared to Black Hat SEO, and while it may be safe for now, a new change in the algorithms can change all that. Even some White Hat SEO tactics have that potential risk as well, but for now they are the safest.
But what about those benefits of the different hats of SEO mentioned you ask? In short, we’ll go back to the high stakes poker analogy mentioned earlier. In poker, the system cheater tends to gain the most in the short term, the card counter has some risk of losing hands but will be able to get away with it for as long as possible and is less obvious with a decent gain as well with a bit of a longer time to make those gains, and the strategist will take longer to get gain but will have the potential to win the most in the long term over time. In turn, SEO and their high stakes poker counterparts are pretty similar.
While Black Hat SEO, the system cheater, has the highest risk in the long run; they have a higher payout in the short term. So, if all your goals are, is to make a lot of money really quickly and all you need is it to work short term like say for example technology related sales, Black Hat is best for you. With Grey Hat, the card counter, there’s medium risk. You get to rank a little slower than in comparison to Black Hat, but faster than White Hat. And it’s a similar concept to Black Hat and White Hat alike, quicker high payout with the risk of having to start all over but, if you play your cards right, it can turn into something long term. And your chances of losing it all are extremely lower. Then lastly, there’s White Hat. While it can take longer to rank up and start making money right away, you’re more likely to increase your online presence and hold it. Plus, it can turn into a long-term deal type of thing where you will earn more in the long run and have virtually no risk of losing it all. Unless, Google makes some interesting changes in the future of course.
So Which Color Hat is Best for You and Your Business?
In conclusion, what type of SEO strategies used for your business, is completely up to you. Knowing your end goals for it and what type of business you have will play a significant role in this as well. Just make sure the SEO you hire is 100% upfront with you on what they are doing. A good SEO, no matter the color hat worn, will work with you and make suggestions. And just like with any other type of relationship, whether it be personal or business, communication is key. Another trait of a good SEO is they will communicate with you and not move forward or proceed with any step without ensuring it is OK-d by you, their client. Same with any other business practice. In short, you don’t want to be blind to what is going on and wind up in a situation you don’t like or least of all expected.