Black hat and white hat SEO are two entirely different parts of search engine optimization, and both focus on completely different methods of boosting search engine rankings.

However, it is important to actually know what they are and why they are so distinct. While white hat SEO is perfectly allowed, black hat SEO can be a major risk, especially if you do not even realize you are getting involved in it.

But what do you need to know about black hat vs white hat SEO techniques, and what do they actually mean for your site?

What is White Hat SEO?

White hat SEO refers to anything that falls under Google’s guidelines, which are generally the standard guidelines for most search engines. This means anything that falls in line with what they expect search engines to be.

For example, these would be things that impact search engine rankings in a fair way and promote good content to the top of search engine results pages.

Most white-hat options rely on creating quality content and using it as a way to passively rank higher. Producing informative written content and receiving backlinks is a good example of white-hat SEO because this is how Google intends for users to gain more backlinks.

What is Black Hat SEO?

Black hat SEO is the exact opposite of white hat SEO – black hat SEO techniques break search engine rules and push for illegitimate success.

Black-hat techniques include things like keyword stuffing, buying massive amounts of links, content automation, “doorway pages,” and attempts to trick Google search engine spiders.

Basically, if it tries to bypass the restrictions that Google has set in its guidelines, then it is considered black hat SEO, as you can expect. Google (and most other search engines) frown on black hat SEO techniques.

What is Grey Hat SEO?

Grey hat SEO (or Gray hat SEO) is somewhere in the middle, using a combination of methods without sticking to one or the other. For example, you might write fantastic content but then buy backlinks for it.

Grey hat SEO is often seen as the “safer” version of black hat SEO, with the idea being that the SEO strategy looks like white hat SEO and is thus safe from penalties.

Grey hat tactics are a risk that site owners take on their own terms since they combine good and bad SEO practices with no guarantee that either will pay off.

Why is Black Hat SEO Techniques Bad?

Black hat SEO techniques go against Google’s guidelines, which is the core of the problem.

Google’s search engine guidelines exist not only as a way to regulate what site owners do but also to ensure that both the Google bot system and human users are being served relevant, quality content.

Google expects all SEO practices to be white hat since these methods focus on the things they actually want from high-ranking search results: proper effort, high-quality content, high relevancy, and long-term trust.

By using black hat SEO techniques, you are directly violating Google search engine guidelines to gain an unfair advantage. If search engine algorithms pick up on this, they will make sure that your site is punished for it.

What are the Consequences of Using Black Hat SEO Tactics?

Doing anything considered black hat SEO carries multiple risks: your links could be deindexed, your search rankings could be dropped considerably, and your site could be delisted from search results entirely.

Basically, if Google notices your black-hat SEO practices and decides that your SEO efforts are not in line with their expectations, then your site’s SEO will crumble under its penalties.

Many of these penalties are specifically meant to prevent things like keyword stuffing or buying a huge amount of low-quality links, ensuring that the tactics no longer work and removing your site’s unfairly-gained rankings.

How Long Do These Penalties Last?

If you are noticed performing black hat SEO techniques, and you receive a penalty, the severity often depends on the exact circumstances of what your site has done.

Simply having a lot of spam links will often land you with a short-term penalty since Google knows that those may have simply been pointed at your web page without you intentionally building them.

However, doing something like trying to mislead search engine spiders will see you slapped with much harsher penalties. In some cases, these may be functionally permanent since you would be better off simply creating a new site with a new domain.

Choosing White Hat Vs Black Hat

In general, it is always better to stick with white-hat SEO techniques if you can. While a white-hat SEO strategy takes more effort, it is also the intended way to approach SEO and focuses on the things that would naturally rank you higher anyway.

For example, improving the user experience is a white-hat technique. This ranks you higher but also provides long-term improvements to your site that will make a big difference to your audience.

With black hat methods, you are often trying to trick search engines. This means that you are using less efficient methods in general, with only a few exceptions, such as purchased links (which see a lot of use despite technically being black hat).

Using White Hat and Black Hat SEO Tactics

While the white hat vs black hat SEO distinction is clear, there are many people who attempt to use both. While combining white hat and black hat techniques can sometimes work, you have to remember that the risk of penalties is always there.

The biggest concern when using white-hat and black-hat SEO practices is making sure that you are not too biased towards black-hat SEO. For example, a huge amount of sites buy paid links, but only buying paid links and doing no actual search engine optimization on-site flags up as suspicious.

Taking the risk to use black hat tactics means having to still look legitimate to any search engine crawlers that find your site. if you are violating search engines’ terms, then you are at risk of being penalized, allowing other sites to rocket up the rankings past you.

Identifying White Hat vs Black Hat SEO Techniques

While it is eventually quite easy to tell which is which through common sense, sometimes it can be difficult to get your head around what separates a white hat SEO trick from a black hat SEO trick.

Before you put together an overall SEO strategy, you need to know the long-term risks associated with black-hat SEO and how you can identify black-hat SEO methods before you begin.

White Hat SEO Links

When it comes to links, anything earned organically is usually fair game. This means links that were earned through creating good content and having other sites naturally link back to it.

Effective link building through organic methods will give you huge SEO boosts and, more importantly, not put you at risk of any penalties in the long term.

Black Hat SEO Links

Buying links is a black-hat method, as are things like link farms. Anything that focuses on either purchasing links or getting them without any legitimate backing is considered to be black-hat.

This becomes much more obvious if many of the links are unrelated to your site or were all earned in a short span of time with no obvious reason why (such as new content that went viral).

Basically, if you are doing anything other than earning the links through hard work and patience, it is probably black hat.

White Hat SEO On-Page

White-hat on-page techniques are anything that focuses on improving your site and properly optimizing it for search engines. This includes improving the user experience, compressing images, or improving your meta tags.

Black Hat SEO On-Page

Black-hat on-page SEO uses things like hidden text to try and hide links away in other parts of the site or even turns the entire site into a load of keywords that are purely meant to gain traffic.

Unlike white-hat SEO techniques, this does not usually mean making the user experience any better. Keyword stuffing might make you rank higher in the short term, but it also makes your actual site far less high-quality in the eyes of the users.

Once again, if it is going against Google’s intentions of SEO being based around quality and relevancy, then it is probably black-hat.

Other White Hat Techniques

There are a lot of white hat SEO details that could be covered, but most of them are common sense. If Google allows it, then it falls under the white hat category.

Knowing which methods are considered black hat means that you basically already know most white hat techniques. After all, black-hats are basically just using existing white-hat techniques in less-fair ways, such as buying links instead of earning them.

Other Disallowed Techniques

From hidden text and “doorway pages” (which send human users and indexing bots to separate main pages) to setting up an entire website network to feed links back to your own, there are a lot of techniques that search engines are not willing to accept.

Within digital marketing and SEO, it is easy to get caught up in the idea that search rankings are your end goal. While this is true, you need to also produce a web page and website worthy of the search engine results page you are appearing on.

There are also techniques that do not even impact your own site, like using negative SEO link building to point bad links at competitors and get them penalized. Again, this is a direct misuse of Google’s system and something they will not approve of.

How to Stick to White-Hat SEO

If you want to avoid any potential problems that black-hats run into, then white-hat SEO is the way to go. However, people without much experience optimizing for search engines may struggle to know if they are doing the right thing.

There are three key things to consider when performing SEO if you want to avoid any unapproved methods:

Is This In Search Engine’s Guidelines?

Doing anything that search engines have explicitly banned is obviously a terrible idea if you want to focus on white-hat methods. This would give search engines the perfect opportunity to have your site penalized, even if the rest of your site is perfectly clean.

Would a Google Employee Allow This?

Sometimes, there are techniques that search engines have not openly banned that are still not approved. For example, copying content wholesale from another site is not technically a banned practice, but it is one that will still tank your SEO results if it gets noticed.

Is This Fair For My Competitors?

Google and most other search platforms want to be fair. To them, the top search results should be the ones that are the most relevant and well-respected, not the ones that have spent the most on purchased links or under-the-table deals to spam their competitors with terrible backlinks.

If you are looking into SEO, then it is important to remember that not all methods are actually allowed. While you can sometimes get away with black-hatting your site to a new tier of success, it only takes so long before a crawler will notice – and that is your risk to take.