White Hat, Black Hat, & Gray Hat SEO – What Is The Difference?

white hat and black hatIf you have a business with an online presence, then you have likely received a solicitation promising everything from the #1 rank on Google to doubling your online sales! Most people with business savvy can recognize that something is too good to be true, but when do you know when something good comes along? There are several reputable online marketing companies that have a solid history of results. Learn to recognize the difference between good (White Hat), and bad (Black Hat) marketing companies and learn what it means to be in the middle (Gray Hat).

White hat SEO is generally ethical in practice. White hat SEO utilizes techniques that are beneficial for business owners and search engines. The goal of white hat SEO is to improve search engine visibility using methods that the search engine deems “good”, with no deceptive mechanisms in play. The issue that people come across when they discuss white hat SEO is that it is a long process. When doing proper SEO, it can sometimes take months for you to see any kind of result, and for most business owners it is hard to realize the benefit of these tactics early on. If you can see past the fact that it will be an ongoing process, you will start to see the great benefit of well done SEO; more people viewing your content, sharing your content, and contacting you for information.

Think of white hat SEO like this: You are walking behind someone and you see them drop their wallet. You pick up their wallet and run after them to give it back to them. They may give you a small reward for returning the wallet, but it was the right thing to do.

Example of some White Hat techniques:

  • Researching and determining good keywords with a high level of variance, including short tail and long tail phrases.
  • Include targeted keywords organically in relevant spots on the page (page titles, headers, anchor text, etc).
  • Adding new content to the site on a regular basis.
  • Using clean HTML, no cloaking, no hidden elements, no obfuscated text, etc.
  • Properly generate a site map that is readable by users and search engines.
  • Obtain backlinks naturally by providing valuable content to users. Possibly through link exchanges, social media, or relevant directories.

Black Hat SEO is on the other end of the spectrum. It utilizes techniques that search engines actively determine are unacceptable. These techniques are intended to trick search engines into increasing your position in the results, and generally have no long term benefit to the site itself. Often times black hat techniques will end with your site being penalized or even worse, totally removed from the rankings. Black hat will do whatever it takes to get to the top in order to market their lucrative product.

If white hat is you returning the man’s wallet, black hat would be taking the wallet and running away with it. You know it is wrong but you do it anyway.

Examples of some Black Hat techniques:

  • Keyword stuffing and overuse in anchor text, meta data, content, etc.
  • Using hidden text to display the keyword more frequently (like this: if you highlight this text you can see it, but normally you cannot!)
  • Cloaking content (displaying different content to search engines than they do to users).
  • Link farming – submitting your link to hundreds of similar “link farms” online that only exist to harbor more links and provide very little if any value.
  • Spam! Spamming forums, contact forms, and other social media sites with links.

Grey hat SEO falls somewhere in between the two; it’s not good, but its not necessarily bad either. White hat SEO observes the line and will stop before you get there. Black hat SEO just ignores the line all together. Gray hat SEO observes the line, but will tempt it often by just stepping over it.

When utilizing gray hat techniques you would do things that the search engines may not specifically disapprove of, but obviously aren’t “good” practices. In the wallet example the gray hat SEO would pick up the wallet and take some of the money before returning it to the owner.

Some Gray Hat techniques:

  • Higher keyword density in content. Not necessarily keyword stuffing, but still enough to make it look unnatural to the user.
  • Using the same content to publish on multiple sites through spinning.
  • Building low authority links with directory farms and other “relevant” but low authority pages.
  • Purchasing links from a third party.

So what does this mean for you? Well, if a company emails you and says they can help with your online visibility *without* making outrageous claims like they will double your sales or get you on the first page, maybe you should call them back. I don’t know about you though, but if someone walks up to me asking for $100 and tells me I will get $1000 tomorrow, I would have a hard time pulling my wallet out!

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Author: Larry Lembcke

Larry has 10 years of internet marketing experience and specializes in inbound marketing. Over the years, he has had the opportunity to do nearly everything in the internet marketing space, including paid and organic search marketing, web design, graphic design, strategy, and management. Larry fills a diverse role at LocalDirective and goes wherever, whenever, to get the job done!