Black Hat vs. White Hat Optimization

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As with any production as large as SEO, you’ll acquire many different opinions about the most efficient ways to address site optimization.

Though many of those tactics can work, and the idea of “which is the best” is primarily individual, there’s one particular thing you need to be aware of: white hat vs. black hat SEO.

While some SEOs might paint these as two separate schools of thought, they’re not so many alike categorizations as a right and a wrong way to do SEO.

So on this page, we’ll get into the distinctions between white hat and black hat SEO and the procedures involved in each with a few white hat SEO examples.

We’ll also consider a less common middle category and answer the question, “what is grey hat SEO?”

White hats and black hats were used back in the 1920s in Western movies. They were a simple way for the public to tell the distinction between the villain and the hero.

The villain wore a black hat.

The hero wore a white hat.

The terminology has been used in various activities through the years, especially security.

Black hats and white hats are a kind of a way of reporting malicious and moral hackers.

The SEO sphere has adopted the same phrasing about SEO activity.

  • Black hat SEO.
  • White hat SEO.

Table of Contents:

White Hat SEO?

White hat SEO means following the “rules”; you use only ethical tactics and follow search engine steps.

The most widely-accepted interpretation of white hat SEO is that it follows Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

These are the practices that Google has laid out to determine the proper way to optimize a website.

And while they go into details about what an “ethical” SEO policy looks like, they can be summed up with a straightforward idea: don’t be manipulative.

The thing is that, in general, if you’re not trying to manipulate rankings or otherwise deceive Google’s algorithm, you’re likely following their guidelines and using white hat SEO.

Black Hat SEO?

Black hat SEO means using dangerous practices. You use tactics that can run. Until they do not. These range from using tactics that go upon guidelines from search engines to further critical projects. 

But, says who?

This is not a legitimate issue. Not following Google’s rules is not illegal. If you get caught doing some nasty SEO tactics, you could face some legal issues.

There is no regulatory body that defines what lies within ethical SEO work.

It is purely an agreement among SEO experts based on the guidelines given by the most private organizations we have as a governing body.

Those are the search engines.

What Is Good & Bad Practice in SEO?

The only laws we have to go on in SEO are the ones given to us by the one and foremost search engines.

It is their platform.

Search engines get to determine what conditions must be met to start on it.

The algorithms used by the main search engines have been produced to combat the evident and unhelpful way of the search outcomes.

They are there to catch sites that have the quality of the ranking systems.

The search engines decide what is fair play and what is wrong behavior.

Google’s Guidelines

Google is known for having quite distinct webmaster guidelines that SEO experts use to recognize what could land a site in hot water if caught.

Google calls our awareness to the “Quality Guidelines,” those that mean “the most popular forms of false or manipulative behavior.”

The Difference Between Black Hat & White Hat

The core distinction between white hat and black hat SEO is whether you are working in the sense of the search engines’ guidelines.

There may be differences to the guidelines you find unclear, but are you working to satisfy the guidelines or get around?

Why Do These Definitions Matter?

The use of white and black terminology is optional. Black hat procedures, ones that intentionally go against the search engine guidelines, carry dangers.

As such, sites that go against the guidelines could be punished by an outright or partial ban from the search engine.

That is very dangerous if the site is not your own. You may cause a business to waste its largest income source if it can no longer be seen through its first organic source.

In the lack of a governing body, clients of SEO pros do not have much to go off.


What are some actions you could place in the white and black hat sections?

White Hat

Creating content of value to users to teach, inform, or entertain them.

It just so happens that the content is so great that other websites want to link to it as a source.

Black Hat

Private blog networks, adding your site link to any blog comment you can, and paying for the links.

These all go against Google and Bing’s webmaster guidelines.

Content Quality

White Hat

Content is written to aid user exploration, answer questions, and delight the user.

It ranks well because it is essential and helpful, optimized to help the right readers find it in the search engines.

The content is written with the reader’s needs first in mind.

Black Hat

Content is a doorway page, irritated from other sites without adding extra value, or includes keyword spamming. The copy is there for the search engines.


Performing black or white hat techniques all lead to risks.

Black hat techniques have a risk of standard actions. If you are caught going upon the search engine guidelines, you may be punished by some or all of your site content being excluded from the search criteria. White hat techniques have the risk of not working.

The website might be a better place if the search engines’ rules play every site, but they do not.

 If your company is in a very ambitious industry, you might not be able to rank against opposition that is using black hat techniques.

PBNs and other link schemes can be highly efficient. If you decided to play by the rules, you might lose the high rankings in some cases.

If the project you are carrying out is questionable against the guidelines, you do not know when the search engine might stretch the algorithms to the crackdown.


Black hat techniques might be practical in the short-term.

But if they are identified immediately by the search engines, then the results might be short-lived.

Spending time and money on building a private blog network created and the links demoted might be a loss.

White hat techniques have a higher chance of standing the test of time.

Search engine guidelines are in place to help improve quality on the internet. It is unlikely that the definition of quality would change substantially enough for something that was once considered in-line with the guidelines to be outside of them suddenly.

Case Studies

Your methodology is crucial if you use your current work to help win new customers or secure subsequent development.

Talking about your PBN system is not going to win you your following search grant.

It is also likely to make risk-averse customers very worried.

If they know much about SEO, most businesses will be unwilling to take a risk on someone who brags candidly about their progress with content farms.

White hat SEO techniques, used intensely, show superb skill.

Playing by the search engine rulebooks can be a more moderate, more frustrating process than black hat SEO.

If you are strong without cutting corners, then it is something to shout about.

Although they balance the white hat/black hat divide due to the plan to manipulate the search results, they pay cuts and are no clear-cut violations of the webmaster guidelines.

People reading this article will likely have different opinions on what activity is a white or black hat.

As such, this activity is not illegal. Innovative link-building campaigns win awards.

Presenting a strategic content plan intended to get your category pages ranking higher will be noble in an interview.

Determine the Risks.

Black hat SEO carries real risks.

If the site you are working on is not your own, and the owner does not recognize the risks, it is never fair to expose the site to those dangers.

White hat SEO might seem the simple way to go if you want to know that you are beyond reproach.

Is it going to make you determined enough, though?

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