White Hat Vs. Black Hat: The Marketer's SEO Guide for 2019
Black hat and white hat SEO techniques aren't always so cut-and-dry, but search engines like Google take the distinction pretty seriously. Here's what you'll need to know to stay on the right side of Google's "law" in 2019.
As a business owner, you probably wear a lot of proverbial hats. You might act as general manager, accountant, head of human resources, decorator, janitor, plumber, cheerleader, and everything in between to ensure your operations run smoothly. In some cases, you might even put on your digital marketing thinking cap in an attempt to boost your traffic and revenue. But if you’re venturing into the realm of search engine optimization, there are a couple more hats you’ll need to be aware of: white hat and black hat. Whether or not you realize it, your choice in SEO chapeau can have a big effect on your business.
Symbolically, we tend to associate white with good and black with evil. That may be oversimplifying things a bit with SEO, especially considering that there’s a gray area you might need to wrestle with in some cases. But at the core, white hat SEO denotes tactics that are recommended or allowed by Google, while black hat SEO refers to techniques that are seen as manipulative and unauthorized by Google. When you practice white hat SEO, your website may be rewarded with better rankings, increased traffic, and overall success. But when you rely on black hat SEO to get results, you’ll eventually get caught and punished.
Knowing which tactics fall under which category is key for business owners (especially those who are dabbling in SEO themselves). If you don’t know the difference, you could end up wasting a lot of time at best and hurting your business at worst. To keep you on track and to ensure you choose the right hat every time, here’s what you need to know about white vs. black hat SEO in 2019.
Understanding White Hat SEO
White hat SEO is the “good kind” of SEO, but what exactly does that mean? Essentially, it means that all parties involved benefit from these practices. Google’s number one priority is providing web users with a great experience. That means it wants to show people relevant and interesting results when they type in a search query. If you’re able to assist Google in that goal in a way that also helps your business grow, chances are that you’ll be doing something right.
That said, Google hasn’t always been crystal clear about which SEO practices are considered kosher. There are certain techniques, however, that are recommended by the Powers That Be and that align with the average person’s moral code. Commonly used white hat SEO tactics include:
- Keyword-rich, descriptive meta tags
- High-quality content (including long-form content)
- Relevant link building and guest posting
- Organic and strategic keyword usage
- Backlinking and internal linking
- Clear website organization and navigation
Using these techniques, you will be able to improve the user experience, provide excellent information to web visitors, increase your domain authority, and impress Google’s bots enough to potentially boost your search ranking and overall traffic. Best of all, you’ll be able to do so in a way that helps others -- and that ethical component is really what white hat SEO is all about.
Understanding Black Hat SEO
If white hat SEO represents the good guys who work hard and follow their conscience, black hat SEO is aligned with the crooks who want to get ahead by any means necessary. That doesn’t mean that black hat SEO tactics necessarily break the law (though it can involve illegal activities, like using stolen content or even hacking). But these methods do go against Google’s guidelines. And that may as well be breaking the law on the internet. If you try to get around those rules, you could risk having your website penalized or even removed from the search rankings altogether.
There certainly are some “in between” areas here (which strict white hat SEO experts will typically stay away from anyway). But black hat SEO approaches are pretty definitive. They might include:
- Keyword stuffing or irrelevant keyword usage
- Web cloaking or doorway pages
- Auto-generated or scraped content
- Malicious or spammy content
- Invisible (hidden) text or links
- Paid links and link farms
- Negative SEO campaigns
It’s important to note that utilizing these methods can result in positive results -- at first. You might be encouraged by the idea of guaranteed results or convincing testimony that black hat is really the only way to get ahead. Unfortunately, taking these shortcuts can be disastrous. Whatever gains you might experience initially will come to an end. And you could end up paying a very steep price because you didn’t play by the rules. Google penalties are bad enough, but if you get banned from search results, you won’t be able to attract new customers or any web traffic at all. Unless you’re willing to risk the future of your entire business, you should steer clear of black hat SEO techniques at all times.
The truth is that SEO is always changing. That’s the nature of the internet. Tactics that might have worked a few years ago may now be seen as deceptive and even ineffective. It’s essential to stay on top of the latest trends and the latest recommendations released by Google to ensure you’re compliant and engaging in the industry’s best practices. And if you feel as if a technique goes against your own ethics, think twice about the kind of hat you want to wear. In this case, good guys won’t finish last; they’ll actually stay in the race, while others become disqualified.