White Hat SEO vs. Black Hat SEO Illustration

White Hat SEO vs. Black Hat SEO

The ranking of a website for a given search phrase has a significant impact on the amount of traffic any given website will receive. If the website is engaged in online sales, then increased traffic typically means increased online sales. Even if online transactions are not possible, higher search engine rankings are generally preferred in order to give the company or organization increased exposure on the Internet.

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”) is the expression used to describe a complicated series of steps engaged for purposes of increasing a website’s ranking in search engine results.

SEO activities fall into one of two categories: on-site and off-site activities.

On-site SEO activities are tasks performed directly on a website and typically involve crafting page content, links, headings, meta data (and more) to promote the website’s rankings for specific search terms. On-site optimizations make the website and its content clearly understood by search engines.

To understand off-site activities, it is important to note that search engines account for links among websites for purposes of determining the purpose, meaning and relative importance of a website. Off-site activities typically involve creating or somehow acquiring links from external websites to the website being optimized. These are called backlinks.

When Google ranks your website, it considers the links to your website from other websites. Google does not consider all such backlinks equally important. For example, a backlink from a very credible and well-established website will be considered as more important than a backlink from a less credible or less established website.

White Hat SEO

White Hat SEO is the expression used to describe SEO activities performed in accordance with the recommended guidelines established by Google and other powerful search engines. White Hat SEO activities are well-documented and if performed consistently, result in websites ranking according to their actual merits.

White Hat SEO activities are typically expected to have only long-lasting and positive effects on a website’s rankings.

Black Hat SEO

Black Hat SEO is the expression used to describe SEO activities designed to cheat or “game” the search engines, resulting in a website having artificially improved rankings beyond what the actual merits of the website would otherwise determine.

A classic example of a Black Hat SEO technique is the creation of or participation in link farms. A link farm is a set of websites created specifically for purposes of creating a high number of backlinks to a given website. This was in the days before search engines considered the quality of a link, and instead counted all links as equally important. Link farms succeeded because they increased the number of backlinks to a targeted website. Link farms a recognized as a Black Hat SEO technique because they artifically increased the rankings of a site well beyond the inherent merits of the website.

Because Black Hat SEO techniques might result in websites ranking higher than they should, Google and other search engines frequently undertake steps to thwart such techniques. Today, search engines are quite good at minimizing the effects of Black Hat SEO techniques.

The entire Black Hat SEO industry was effectively decimated many years ago when Google implemented a series of algorithm improvements designed to render Black Hat SEO techniques ineffective.

Implications for Business Owners

At a minimum, any website should be crafted to implement the fundamental on-site SEO optimizations that help search engines to accurately understand the information presented in the website. Any competent SEO expert can advise on the fundamentals and usually perform the tasks in a relatively short period for a nominal fee.

Business owners should be very cautious however, when engaging self-proclaimed SEO experts. It is our observation over a period of many years that most are incompetent and fail to understand effective SEO, or simply don’t care that the techniques they advocate are Black Hat SEO techniques. 

There may be a temptation on the part of business owners to agree to Black Hat SEO techniques because of the promise of improved rankings. However, there are two major problems with this thinking that are well beyond the ethics concerns. The big risk is the time and money wasted on Black Hat SEO techniques. All the popular Black Hat SEO techniques are well-known and almost universally thwarted by Google. Any money paid to unscrupulous SEO “experts” is expected to be a complete waste. In historically bad scenarios where the Black Hat SEO techniques actually succeeded in driving up a website’s rankings significantly, Google has been known to significantly penalize the websites.

You can Google this search phrase for examples and external validation of these points: “google penalized black hat seo.”


Cover Image Illustration Credit: vecteezy.com