White Hat SEO vs Black Hat SEO: What’s the Difference?

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white hat vs black hat

It sounds like something out of an old fairy tale: white hat vs black hat.

But this isn’t a fairy tale, it’s your website and your marketing strategy. It’s what will make or break your position in the SERPs.

If you’re new to SEO, though, you may not know what qualifies as a black hat or white hat SEO technique. Keep reading to find out what white hat and black hat SEO are, a few common techniques for each type, and what type of SEO you should be using for your website.

What is White Hat SEO?

First, we should address the basics: what is white hat SEO?

The term white hat SEO refers to a group of optimization strategies and techniques which focus on the human audience. It earns its name from the old cliche of good guys in white hats and bad guys in black hats.

White Hat SEO Techniques

With that in mind, let’s talk about a few common white hat SEO techniques you might encounter.

Remember that white hat SEO tactics are always focused around one basic principle: using search engine optimization as a tool to reach a real human audience. This means that any content you produce will be targeted towards a human reader, rather than a search engine’s web crawlers.

Quality Content

One of the central tenets of white hat SEO is building high-quality content for your human readers.

This is typically long-form content that is both share-worthy and link-worthy. It’s content that is designed to do what search engines look for (answer a question in the best, most comprehensive way possible) while also addressing a real human reader.

This type of content is original, relevant for your website’s niche, and is free of grammar and spelling errors. It should be well-researched and well-articulated, told from your website’s unique perspective.

It should also contain excellent linking practices–relevant, high-quality backlinks to other sites and internal links to your own site.

Basically, it’s content that will make Google drool.

Link Building and Earning Relevant Backlinks

Link building is another golden rule of white hat SEO.

There are two kinds of links: internal links and external links/backlinks.

Newbie webmasters often neglect internal links in favor of backlinks. That’s a shame because internal links are both highly actionable and essential to how your site is indexed (hint: that changes how your site ranks).

They’re also easier than backlinks since internal links are links to other pages within your own site.

Backlinks are SEO gold because they’re a stamp of authority within your niche. They also take a while to get and demand a consistent diet of high-quality content.

Making Your Site Easy to Navigate

Who knew that making your site more navigable was good for your SEO score?

White hat SEO practitioners have known it for a long time.

It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. For one thing, a site that’s easy to navigate makes it more attractive to your potential customers. It also makes it easier for web crawlers to index your site.

What makes a site easy to navigate? Basically, it should be so intuitive, a drunk monkey could do it. Simplicity and tidiness are the rules of the game.

Keyword Research

You can argue until you’re blue in the face about whether keywords are dead, but the fact is that keywords are one of the easiest ways for a web crawler (and thus, a human) to find your website.

So, what separates the good, the bad, and the ugly?

Above all, keywords should be relevant to your niche. If you sell lawn supplies, your keywords should be related to lawn supplies and lawn care.

They should also be natural. If your reader knows you’ve shoehorned a keyword into a sentence, search engines will know too.

Speed up Your Page Load Times

Finally, white hat SEO pays attention to page load times.

This loops back to the central focus on user experience.

For inpatient users, waiting even half a second too long for a page to load is enough to drive them away. If that weren’t bad enough, Google now considers page speed as a critical ranking factor.

Both search engines and human viewers look at lagging page speed the same way: a sign that the site isn’t well-designed, or at the very least, not designed with users in mind.

As such, white hat SEO focuses on bringing page speed up to par.

What Is Black Hat SEO?

Now you know what white hat SEO is. Let’s talk about its darker cousin, black hat SEO.

The term black hat SEO refers to aggressive optimization tactics, techniques, and strategies designed to trick a search engine into thinking that the site is optimized according to webmaster guidelines.

Unlike white hat SEO, black hat SEO is not concerned with a human audience, but rather with a search engine’s web crawlers, which index a site and help the algorithm figure out how to rank the site.

Black Hat SEO Techniques

If black hat SEO sounds murky, that’s because it is. Usually, black hat SEO isn’t meant to legitimately boost a website’s ranking, but rather to provide a quick fix for SEO needs.

Black hat SEO techniques are banned by search engine webmaster guidelines. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few black hat SEO techniques you should avoid.

Unrelated Keywords and Keyword Stuffing

Once upon a time, keyword stuffing used to be the best way to rank a site highly on Google.

These days, it’s the bane of all white hats.

Back when Google’s algorithm wasn’t as clever, you could use keyword stuffing to manipulate SERPs into ranking you higher. Google’s algorithm is much smarter and will assume you’re using keyword stuffing to mask lackluster content.

So, they’ll treat your stuffed pages like your email treats Nigerian prince emails: spam.

The same principle applies to unrelated keywords. If you’re doing SEO the right way, you should only rank for keywords connected to your business. If you sell cat food, it doesn’t make sense for your site to rank for fine art.

Cloaking

Cloaking is another underhanded technique used by black hats to trick search engines into higher rankings.

Basically, cloaking is when a website presents two different versions of itself: one for human readers to see and one for a search engine to see. It does this by redirecting human users to a site other than the one they were expecting when they clicked the link.

As you can probably guess, search engines do not like cloaking, as it undermines the customer experience they’re trying to provide. If a site is caught cloaking, it will face serious penalties and could even get removed from the search engine index altogether.

Buying or Selling Links

Links are a huge component of how search engines operate. It makes sense, then that they take linking very seriously.

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines are crystal clear on the subject of buying and selling links: any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking on Google’s SERPs is considered a link scheme and is in violation of Webmaster Guidelines.

This includes:

  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank
  • Exchanging money for links or posts that contain links
  • Sending a “free” product in exchange for a link
  • Partnerships for the exclusive purpose of cross-linking
  • Using automated programs to generate links
  • Requiring links as part of a contractual arrangement

The message is simple. Backlinks are SEO gold, but if you buy them instead of earning them, you’re doing black hat SEO as part of your content marketing strategy and the search engine could ban your site altogether.

Over-Optimizing

In case you haven’t caught onto a trend yet, black hat SEO usually consists of practices that could be considered spam.

While it might be tempting to optimize your site as much as humanly possible, excessive optimization usually leads a search engine to believe that you’re trying to trick them.

It’s basically the used car salesman effect. If you spend all your time constantly trying to convince someone they’re getting the best thing since sliced bread, you’re only going to convince them that they’re being scammed.

So, while some optimization is healthy, overoptimization falls under the category of black hat SEO.

White Hat vs Black Hat SEO

So, knowing all that about black hat and white hat SEO, what’s the difference?

The biggest difference is the overall goal of the SEO.

If your SEO is meant as a long-term strategy to market your blog or website, in order to build your site’s authority and provide genuinely informative content to your visitors, then you’re working with white hat SEO.

If, on the other hand, your goal is to quickly climb up the SERPs and get fast financial gain, then you’re working with black hat SEO.

White hat SEO is sanctioned by search engines as legitimate, while black hat works directly against the rules of search engine optimization set by the search engines.

What Hat Do You Wear?

So, what hat do you wear? Take a look at your SEO. What are you trying to achieve?

Search engines are customer service businesses above all. They want to provide their visitors with the best experience possible so they’ll continue to use the site.

As such, they reward sites that provide a good experience to their users by answering their questions in the best possible manner.

What kind of experience do you offer to your site visitors?

What’s Your Focus?

It essentially boils down to what your focus is.

Black hat SEO is designed to trick search engines. It’s an SEO shortcut that eliminates months of hard work to get you to the end goal in a week or a few days.

Sure, it gets you the end result fast. But it’s going to cost you big when search engines figure it out.

White hat SEO is designed to build your site from the ground up. It’s a framework to create a website that’s rock solid in terms of structure and content, a site that users want to share and return to time and time again.

What Hat Should You Wear?

This brings us to our final question: what hat should you wear?

If you’ve been paying attention at all, the answer is pretty obvious.

In the end, black hat SEO is good for getting you banned from search engines and that’s about it. It doesn’t help your website, your customers, or the search engine. It might get you a bit of money at first, but only until search engines figure it out (hint: they’re good at figuring it out).

Don’t waste your time with the quick fix. Go for white hat SEO and play the long game. It will always reward you more than black hat techniques.

Mastering Your Content Marketing

Now that you know the difference in white hat vs black hat SEO, it’s time to apply what you know to your own website.

Of course, SEO is a tricky process. It’s a long undertaking that requires dedication and a bit of know-how.

If you need help figuring out your SEO, you’ve come to the right place.

Check out our blog for more tips and tricks to help you master your SEO and content marketing, like this post on whether Google reviews are good for your business.

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