Like all popular practices SEO has a perceived good side and bad side:
- Star Wars has the Jedi and the Sith
- Harry Potter has the Order Of The Phoenix and the Deatheaters
- Matt LeBlanc has being Joey on Friends and whatever he did afterwards
- White Hat SEO
- Grey Hat SEO
- Black Hat SEO
These refer to SEO practices and how they fit into Google’s webmaster guidelines.
As you practice SEO you’ll hear these terms come up a lot.
You may even be asked to pick a side if you spend time on Facebook Groups and forums.
So it’s good to know what these terms mean and what you’re dealing with.
I’ll be honest with you: I don’t agree with any of these labels.
They are restrictive, pointless and misunderstood.
But I’ll explain more about that later in this section.
For now, let’s dig into these terms and what they mean.
What Will I Learn?
What Is White Hat SEO?
White Hat SEOs consider themselves to be the “good guys” of the SEO industry.
They are known for referring to their own practices as “Ethical SEO”. White hat SEOs use tactics that they feel are in accordance with Google’s webmaster guidelines.
Their strategies are normally more long-term focused and are unlikely to get penalised.
It would be difficult for Google to easily identify that their site was manipulated by SEO.
You may not see a big boost in rankings in the short term.
BUT: White Hat SEOs are confident their results will hold out for the long term.
They believe it will be hard to shake them from the top spot once they achieve it.
An example White Hat SEO technique would be Guest Blogging. You obtain links back to your site by creating content for relevant blogs in your niche.
You’ll find lots of pure White Hat SEOs on the White Hat SEO forum, The Moz Community.
What Is Black Hat SEO?
Black Hat SEOs use aggressive tactics to get a quick high rank for a search term.
They are usually intentionally in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines .
They have a short-term view of SEO.
Normally they’re aware that a site will eventually be penalised.
And if not penalised, receive a drop in rankings in the future.
Not all Black Hat techniques are obvious and can easily be found out, though.
For example, paying for backlinks is considered one of their techniques
BUT: It would be hard for Google to prove that money had changed hands.
However techniques like keyword stuffing (where you add too many keywords to a page to increase its perceived relevance) are much easier to notice.
You’ll find lots of Black Hat SEO hang out on the Black Hat SEO forum, Blackhatworld.
What Is Grey Hat SEO?
Grey Hat SEOs draw on techniques from both sides of the SEO coin.
That means they use long-term SEO techniques that White Hats would use.
BUT: They will also use Black Hat techniques.
INSERT GRAPHIC – GREY HAT SEO TACTICS
They could be described as the “morally ambiguous” character in a film!
Using both techniques means they can boost their results to quickly climb the rankings AND use the best White Hat methods for long term rankings
An example of a grey hat technique would be creating a Personal Blog Network (PBN). This is basically bunch of sites that you own and create links between all of them.
So as you can see it’s not just White Hat vs Black Hat SEO.
Why Labelling Things Is Stupid…
That was my (hopefully) unbiased look at what these labels mean.
But, like I said these labels are stupid and unproductive.
Arguing about whether someone is black hat, grey hat or white hat is stupid.
Because the main focus for almost all SEOs is link building.
Which is in direct violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines.
Whether you think it’s white hat or black hat or a darn purple hat is irrelevant.
So rather than putting labels on things, I prefer to look at SEO this way:
There is one single ranking algorithm that is looking for specific metrics.
All you have to do as an SEO is feed the algorithm with the metrics it wants.
It’s that simple.
It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that
(and I don’t know why people insist on making it more complicated).
What the algorithm really wants is…
“Backlinks from relevant authorities with high-quality content pointing back to your site with relevant high-quality content.”
There’s also another problem with the white hat vs black hat argument.
It infers if you’re wearing one hat, you aren’t wearing the other.
If you’re a super black hat fanboy, you close yourself off to anything white hat.
And vise versa.
If you’re white hat to the bone you’re “too good” for anything black hat.
(It’s the SEO version of being a vegan crossfitter).
Because by choosing a side they are inherently ignorant of the other.
So, if you learn one thing from this section…
Please let it be that choosing a side is pointless.
All you need to remember is the simple concept I mentioned earlier.
Feed the algorithm with the metrics it wants. Keep the quality high. You can’t go wrong!
Each of these “hats” comes with some major drawbacks when you focus only on them.
Let’s see why…
The Costs And Risks Of White Hat SEO
Using only White Hat techniques can be a slow and arduous process.
It reduces the influence you have over your own results.
Let’s say you went completely white hat and stopped doing link building.
You’d have to wait (and hope) for other people to naturally build links to your site.
You would have no say in…
- Which sites they were
- How many links would be built
- The quality of the content that’s linked to you
Do you really want to give up that much control?
White Hat techniques won’t get your penalised and ensure your site will be Google friendly.
But on their own, they won’t get you the results you or your clients need.
The Costs And Risks Of Black Hat SEO
Using only Black Hat techniques is really tempting fate.
Once an algorithm update comes along you could receive a heavy penalty.
It only takes one small change in the algorithm to bring your entire site crashing down.
Your clients (or your own business) will take a huge hit.
Not only in website traffic but in overall income.
If you can play the game well enough, you can make this work.
But do you really think you’re the right person to do that?
Why White Hat SEOs Are Stupid
White Hat SEOs don’t consider the short term.
This means they can’t meet the needs of a business that only works in the short term.
If you’re running an affiliate site that caters to accessories for new mobile phones…
…lets say the iPhone X – you’re in a market that moves pretty quickly.
Here are the problems you will face:
- You don’t have a lot of time to create long form, high quality content
- You don’t have enough time to create a large social media following
- You’ll need to act fast to get rankings that will generate the right amount of income
- The iPhone X will only be around until the next update
Plus diving into a black hat bag of tricks can help you get a small push up in the rankings.
You can do this without the worry of incurring a penalty because of using it.
If you do get one, it won’t be as big of a deal as if your site was based purely on that.
Let’s take a look at some other reasons why White Hat SEO’s are stupid:
So to recap – Don’t pick a side!
Why Black Hat SEOs Are Stupid
Black Hat SEOs often take risks that they’re not completely accountable for.
Oftentimes with someone else’s business and hard-earned marketing budget.
Plus they goad the world’s biggest search engine…
…By only using techniques that you know will eventually get your site penalised.
A pretty dumb move if you ask me!
The majority of businesses and websites aren’t like the one in the example above.
Short term rankings would still be great but being able to use Google without having to spend lots of money to recover from a penalty is probably more ideal.
Whilst we all want instant gratification, SEO probably isn’t the right place to get it.
Wrapping This All Up…
I hope this section of the guide wasn’t too much of a rant for you.
But you should’ve learnt that the white hat and black hat SEO argument is a waste of time.
You should focus on the core principle I mentioned earlier:
- Feed the algorithm the metrics it wants
- Back it up with high quality relevant links and content
You will put yourself in a much better position to succeed as an SEO.
(And get the rankings you or your clients need.)
Right, now we are going to move onto a new part of my guide… Keywords.
The next section will be answering the question ‘What Are Keywords?’
To learn what keywords are and why they are so important click here.