What Are the Differences Between White Hat, Black Hat and Gray Hat SEO?
For more than two decades, search engine optimization has been a mainstay of digital marketers’ arsenals. Being able to generate organic, passive traffic via search engine results pages ultimately provides websites with an invaluable, low-cost source of traffic. Given its relatively passive nature, it also leaves brands with more time to focus on other marketing efforts without sacrificing visitors, subscribers and traffic overall.
As time has progressed, what is acceptable in terms of SEO tactics has changed. Search engines continue to refine their algorithms, and therefore what is allowed (and what can land you in hot water) is always in flux.
To guide you more effectively, let’s take a look at the differences between white hat, black hat and gray hat SEO – so that you know which strategies to embrace and which ones to avoid.
White Hat SEO
The simplest way of looking at the term “white hat SEO” is to envision it as the dream of search engines. When pursuing various SEO strategies and endeavors, following a white hat approach ensures that all actions and procedures are in line with Google, Bing and any other search engine’s preferred procedures. This means that no SEO actions are taken that could risk the viability of a website in SERPs over the medium-to-long-term, and explicitly conform to procedures outlined by the search engines themselves.
Most white hat SEO strategies revolve around creating high-quality content, focusing on improving navigational elements of a website, pinging to Google and others a variety of tags and descriptions, and improving page loading speeds.
Black Hat SEO
Black hat SEO strategies essentially involve the opposite of white hat strategies. They involve engaging in behaviors that can increase traffic and visibility in search engines, but that are nevertheless in conflict with search engines’ rules and regulations regarding SEO. There are many examples of black hat SEO tactics, including spinning articles, stuffing keywords, various link schemes and hidden text.
Search engines have become increasingly good at identifying these tactics over the years, which means the use of these kinds of tactics inevitably backfire. While they can still produce short-term benefits for some brands and websites, the gains are often lost entirely and the websites blacklisted as a result of black hat behavior.
Gray Hat SEO
Many see gray hat SEO as a work-around of sorts between studiously following the rules set forth by search engines and engaging in outright banned behavior. Most forms of gray hat SEO revolve around the use of tactics that while not necessarily banned by search engines, may still result in various ethical boundaries being crossed. Additionally, these tactics may very well become black hat in the future due to the potential for abuse.
Some common examples of gray hat SEO tactics may include constant website redesigns in order to trick search engines to indexing it more frequently, utilizing guest post and link deals to spam links via websites that are otherwise not relevant to the content, negative SEO to harm competitors and pinging to Google various redirects that open new pages.
While each set of tactics can provide benefits in terms of SEO, some are riskier than others. For strong,stable SEO strategies, sticking with white hat tactics is the only way to go. Black hat and gray hat tactics – while delivering short-term benefits – can and often do backfire over time. With this information in mind, you can more thoroughly choose a comprehensive SEO framework that safeguards your progress and continues to deliver on behalf of your brand.