If you’re at all aware of what it takes to run a business in the digital age, you probably have at least a basic understanding of what search engine optimization entails and why having an SEO strategy is so essential. But even with all we know about SEO, there’s still quite a bit of mystery involved. We have a clearer picture about what Google wants to see and what tactics actually improve search rankings — but for some, those two factors may not always line up well enough for their liking. This is typically where we see a divergence between white hat SEO and black hat SEO.
The goal of both black hat and white hat SEO is to make certain adjustments that will end up being favorable for a website’s visibility on the internet. But the way these strategies are executed can make all the difference.
Why White Hat SEO Wins the Day
The two types of SEO are aptly named; their hue tells you everything you need to know about which side is which in the battle of good versus evil.
Following Google’s guidelines should result in better rankings and increased traffic. This ethical approach is what white hat SEO is based on. It’s a more organic strategy that focuses on providing the best possible experience for internet users. The idea here is that if you follow the rules, you’ll likely be rewarded in the end.
With white hat SEO, you’ll generally see the use of relevant keywords and descriptive meta-tags. The keywords used in web copy, blog posts, and backend development should be versatile and targeted without seeming spammy or unnatural. Most of all, they should be used to tell both Google and website visitors about your business in a way that’s easy to understand and that doesn’t seem off-putting.
White hat SEO also involves the creation of original, helpful content. Your goal here should be to inform, to entertain, and to satisfy user needs. Generally speaking, long-form content (~1,200 words or longer) tends to perform better because it keeps users engaged and on the page. It also provides more opportunities to optimize and to entice others to share what you’ve created.
And speaking of sharing, white hat SEO has some hallmarks for that, too. The practice of guest posting — building relationships with other website owners by contributing content of value that benefits both parties — is common here. It’s an excellent way to diversify your backlink profile through referring domains in good standing with Google. The passing of link juice, which refers to a reputable website essentially giving an endorsement to your own, can play an important role in determining your site’s reputation.
All of these tactics are considered to be allowable by Google. Combined with a responsive web design that provides a consistently positive user experience for visitors, these white hat SEO techniques will ensure you’re thought of as one of the good guys.
With Black Hat SEO, You’ll Risk It All
Anything worth doing well takes a bit more time — and the use of white hat SEO will take a bit more time to show results. Unfortunately, there are some people out there who believe they’re entitled to all the glory… and they’re often willing to take enormous risks to get it.
Black hat SEO readily uses manipulative tactics and outlawed tricks in an attempt to rise to the top. Instead of creating useful content that’s totally original, black hat SEO might involve publishing auto-generated content that’s stuffed to the brim with keywords. The result is a lot of posts that make absolutely no sense to human readers. Another option is the use of duplicate content, meaning posts are published in multiple places on one site or are stolen from other sources without permission in an attempt to boost rankings.
Websites that use black hat SEO might also provide inconsistent user experiences that aim to fool both human and bot visitors. The use of doorway pages (sending visitors to pages other than what’s indexed by Google) and the practice of cloaking (presenting different content to humans and to bots) are dishonest and unethical techniques that Google won’t abide. Hidden text and links also fall under this category.
Reliance on spammy backlinks, irrelevant keywords or content, or negative SEO campaigns (e.g., using black hat strategies to sabotage a competitor) are all outlawed by Google, too. Essentially, anything that someone can do in an attempt to cut corners and boost their rankings in a way seen as being dishonest will probably be considered to be black hat SEO.
Don’t Do the Crime If You Can’t Do the Time
These SEO offenses will come at a hefty price. Those who use these techniques are caught, the consequences can be pretty dire. In exchange for blatantly flouting Google’s rules, sites may be penalized — meaning that your search ranking (and subsequent traffic share) will take a huge hit. In extreme cases, your site may be completely banned from search results altogether.
In the end, it’s simply not worth it to take a chance with black hat SEO. You might momentarily see a surge in traffic, but the price you’ll pay once you’re found out could be more than you can bear. You may put your entire business at risk simply because you refused to follow the rules — which were put into place for everyone’s benefit.
If your business is on the up-and-up, your SEO strategy should reflect those values. When it comes time to craft your SEO strategy for 2019, make sure that every technique being used follows Google’s guidelines and your own personal ethics. That’s really the only way to truly win.
Author bio: Brennen Bliss is the founder and director of the marketing agency, PixelCutLabs. From making websites and apps at age 13 for family and friends in his bedroom to partnering with organizations like the College Football Playoffs a few years later, Brennen has bootstrapped a company that is now recognized by UpCity as one of the top 10 SEO agencies in the United States, and one of the top SEO agencies in the USA by the global search awards.