Among many things that first-comers do, searching for hefty tips and tricks to speed up the process has to be at the top of the list. So, while searching for the fastest workarounds internet has to offer, they’ll most likely stumble upon the most common do’s and the don’ts in the industry –  black hat and white hat techniques. But where do you draw the line? With all the information available, things tend to get a bit confusing, so it’s best to clear all the doubts from the start. Let’s start from scratch, shall we?

White Hat SEO

Refers to the most ethical practices that can be done to increase search engine rankings. It means playing by the rules and following (in the case of Google) Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Black Hat SEO

Refers to both risky and highly unethical practices that use various exploits to manipulate search engine rankings. The worst part about them? They actually work. Until they don’t, or in other words until they’re patched out by the latest algorithm update. So, although black hat SEO can bring in results faster, it will eventually lead to a severe penalty. Among many black hat SEO tactics, some of the most popular are doorway pages, link schemes, hidden text or links, and cloaking.

White Hat vs Black Hat

In a nutshell, one plays in the favor of the guidelines, and the other manipulates them. One’s the hero and one’s the villain. While one follows a long-term approach, the other one aims for quick wins. Where one relies more on providing value to the audience, the other one tries to deceive it. But that’s not all there is to it. In the SEO world, not everything is necessarily just black or white. There is a space in between that’s worth mentioning as well.

Gray Hat SEO: The space in between

Refers to a combination of white and black hat techniques, or simply tactics that are currently neither white hat nor black hat but might be one in the future. It’s not necessarily something you’d get penalized for, but it isn’t something you’d gladly tell anyone about either. It can be something that switches from white hat to black hat, or a mix of both. It can be a good practice, with a bad intention, or a bad practice with a good intention. It’s a thin line, but a very blurry one.

Why does it matter?

Knowing the difference helps decrease unnecessary risks that could become fatal for the business you’re doing it for. Especially if SEO is a strong source of income for that particular business. This helps you stay in check with what works very well, but shouldn’t be done at all. Confused? Let’s shed some light on that.

A few examples

What if I told you that there are certain tactics that basically fall into all three categories, depending on how they’re executed? You’d be shocked right? Well, it’s true, and a great example of that is link building. By definition, link building is a black hat strategy, but it’s marketed as white hat because there are certain tricks SEOs can do to make it fall into the gray hat category. So, in the example of link building:

  • White Hat SEO: Creating valuable content that attracts links on its own because it’s a prominent source of information.
  • Black Hat SEO: Private Blogging Networks (PBNs), spamming blog comments and paying for links in any form or shape
  • Gray Hat SEO: Creating content specifically for the purpose of attracting links by providing more value and information than the competitors

Key takeaways

As a beginner, make sure that you’ve got the right information in front of you before you engage in “boosting” your SEO. Webmaster guidelines are a good place to start. Don’t experiment with black hat techniques. They might work but are not worth it. Always remember that something that sounds too good to be true almost always is. But doesn’t necessarily have to be. If you’re confident enough, check for any gray areas that might be worth your time. If you’re not, tell us what’s up and we’ll step in to help you out.