The Binaries of SEO, White Hat vs Black Hat
An SEO strategy, like Morpheus’ blue pill and red pill, is at its core divided into two very distinct choices. Akin to the popular distinction between hackers, the people working in the industry dubs them the ‘white hat’ and the ‘black hat’ SEO. In layman’s terms, white hat refers to SEO agents that work within the guidelines established by their overlords, the search engine providers, while black hat refers to the agents who are doing the exact opposite, breaking those very same guidelines to push their pages as high as possible on a given SERP (search engine result pages) no matter the methods. The term SEO agents could refer to the businesses themselves but could also refer to freelancers and companies that deal in SEO services.
Unlike hackers however, whose distinction between black hat and white hat are for the most part self-evident, the distinction between black hat and white hat in SEOs aren’t as clearly defined. While there are definitely some techniques and methodologies that clearly belong in one of the two camps, there are others that somewhat blur the line, giving rise to the term ‘gray hat’ in SEO. While this by no means should serve as the definitive guide when it comes to these methods, given how very little we know when it comes to Google’s search engine algorithm, this should prove sufficient as more of a ground rule, expanding on Google’s very own general guidelines.
Black hat SEO
As mentioned before, black hat refers to the-end-justifies-the-means techniques and methodologies that SEO agents use that search engine providers have specifically instructed to avoid. Given the dubious nature of black hat, most companies that deal in SEO services generally shied away from these kinds of practices as it’s very much frowned upon within the industry and the possibility of getting reported by your own competitor means that credibility is very much at stake.
Black hat SEOs are the Lance Armstrong of digital marketing, these techniques yield some short-term benefits but using them is like cycling on a time bomb, except you don’t know when it’s going to actually explode. Sure, you could very much win 7 Tour de France before getting caught in the act but given how often Google updates its algorithm, it’s very unlikely that anyone could get away with pulling these tricks for an extended period of time. Thanks to this, a lot of established black hat techniques no longer work but that hasn’t stopped the public in coming up with other nefarious ways to get ahead in the SEO race.
- Keyword stuffing.
Repetition is indeed the key to mastery but it could also mean that you have absolutely no idea how to use a thesaurus. This generally refers to the practice of flooding your article with the same set of words over and over again to increase the relevance of a page.
- Article spinning.
This one could mean that you’re relying too much on a thesaurus. This refers to the practice of rewriting and/or repurposing a popular piece you already have to use at a later date and brand it as new.
- Gateway page.
A fake page set up to trick search engines that when visited redirects the user to another page. Basically, a red herring.
There are a number of other prevalent techniques that fall under this umbrella but if you’re unsure of whether a technique you’re using would fall under this, there’s a simple litmus test for that. Ask yourself this, would you be comfortable in telling your customer, a direct competitor or an actual Google engineer of said technique? If you are struggling with a yes, then you have your answer.
White hat SEO
White hat SEOs are an investment. Not fickle and questionable ones like Bitcoin or vastly overvalued like a Tesla stock, but a safe one with potentially big returns, like a Ferrari or an air-cooled Porsche. It could take a while for it to have a noticeable impact but as long as you’re doing it right, it will naturally yield results, and as SEOs grew overtime, it could potentially benefit you in ways you could never think of.
When it comes to companies that works in SEO services, we usually refer to consulting services that deal in white hat SEOs instead of dubious agencies using underhand tactics but if you’re using one of these services, it might be prudent to request a detailed explanation of their strategies just to be on the safe side.
Truth be told, there really isn’t much to being a white hat in SEO other than to not do anything that could be considered black hat and to actually be good at what you’re doing but there are definite ways to put yourself in Google’s good graces, so to speak.
- Quality content.
This is as basic as it gets. Quality drives business and it’s no different when it comes to SEO.
This refers to when a link to your page is active on another website. Technically, spam blog comments from Julia telling everyone how she could afford a Land Rover after earning $97 working from home and linking your site could be considered a backlink but in this instance I’m referring to an organic backlink, like one that occurs when whatever content you have is considered good enough for another website to link it as a citation and not because you pay them to.
- Properly designed websites.
This is two-fold. How fast it loads and how intuitive it is to use is definitely important but how it looks also matters. Depending on your market, it is possible to prioritize one over the other but you should never neglect either; otherwise, it would cause reasons why your website is not SEO friendly.
Now, as I’ve stated before, even though they’re dubbed black hat and white hat, things aren’t as necessarily as binary as that when it comes to practical matters. While organic backlinks are definitely something you’d want to achieve, there’s no actual set of rules that defines the line between organic and unnatural. Posting the links to your article on blog comments for example isn’t exactly what I’d call white hat, but if it’s personalized and actually coming from a human behind it, it’s not exactly black hat either.
The term quality content itself for example, is as dubious as iPhone X’s notch. There’s just no universal meaning behind that term as what constitutes quality might differ from person to person. Knowing your audience is still going to be key here. SEO techniques are all well and good, but it still needs to be driven by proper market research and analysis, there’s a reason why it’s called digital marketing.
There’s no silver bullet when it comes to SEOs, search engines are maintained by their own providers and most, if not every attempt at gaming them would only come back to bite you. It’s a matter of when, not if. Assuming you’re new to this, try to stay above board, if at any step you feel that what you’re doing is straddling the line, stop, if Google hasn’t caught on, they most likely will.
Read up on general guidelines, there are a lot across the internet or if you’re looking for something more thorough, get in touch with an SEO service provider that knows what they’re doing, you could learn from them while they’re laying the groundwork for your long term strategy.