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SEO: White Hat vs. Black Hat

White Hat & Black Hat SEO

In the search-engine optimisation field there are three core practices; white hat, black hat and something else entirely different (gray hat). But what exactly do these colours mean? Is it good versus evil? How can you determine whether strategies and techniques are black, white or gray? These are just a few of the questions we will be attempting to answer in this article.

Matt Cutts (Head of Google Webspam Team) recently noted that Google does not consider search-engine optimisation to be spam. To Google, search-engine optimisation only becomes spam when it goes against quality guidelines (heading into practices such as hidden text, keyword spam or sneaky redirects). Matt noted that the white hat strategies and techniques employed by search-engine optimisation professionals encouraged useful content and good website architecture.

 

White Hat SEO

A purely white hat search-engine optimisation professional can be seen as the Dudley Do Right of the field: ethical, honest and compliant. White hat search-engine optimisation techniques present benefits to both the website visitors and the search-engines. The strategies and techniques employed by white hat professionals can strengthen a website or page’s ranking in accordance with Google search-engine rankings. White hat search engine optimisation is ultimately a more beneficial practice, yielding greater long-term results and overall ranking stability.

White hat search engine optimisation focuses on the production of quality, engaging content that maintains keyword ‘themes’. White hat techniques maintain a strong data-driven approach, with heavy usage of analytical tools. Taking a responsive approach to traffic patterns, white hat professionals look to optimise websites through page structure, landing page optimisation and drop-off identification.

White hat search-engine optimisation strategies address the quality of coding; usually HTML & CSS. Sitemaps are usually utilised to provide additional transparency and structure within the website. It is evident that while white hat search-engine optimisation is the most beneficial, it is often the most difficult to achieve.

 

Black Hat SEO

Black hat search engine optimisation professionals can be considered the Charles Montgomery Burns’ of their field; manipulative, shallow and somewhat devious. The results of black hat search engine optimisation are usually short-lived. Websites that utilise black hat practices can usually be characterised by their volatile search-engine rankings, low content substance, and overall lacking value. Black hat techniques are usually aggressive, geared towards search-engines rather than a human audience.

Black hat techniques are usually targeted at manipulating or deceiving Google’s search-engine; providing a benefit to ranking alone (rather than the user, the website or the search-engine). While black hat search-engine optimisation techniques are usually easier to carry out, however the long term benefits are minimal. Black hat techniques usually break search-engine rules and regulations, lower the user experience or unethically present content to search-engine spiders and users.

The existence of black hat search-engine techniques must be acknowledged for a number of different reasons. It is important to be familiar with the various black hat techniques to know what to avoid, or to understand why competitors may be surpassing your rankings. Interestingly many black hat techniques were once considered white hat; however after significant abuse and over usage their value changed. It is clear the temptation of black hat search-engine optimisation lies in its significant results in such a short time frame. Black hat search-engine optimisation is a high risk strategy that can see your website rankings destroyed at the drop of a hat.

 

Gray Hat SEO

So what distinguishes gray hat search-engine optimisation from its white or black counterparts? As John Andrews (SEO Consultant) noted ‘gray hat search-engine optimisation is not something in between black and and white hat; but rather the practice of tactics and techniques which remain ill-defined by Google’s guidelines’. Gray hat techniques will usually provide a benefit to your search-engine rankings, yet put your online reputation at risk. The strategy is significantly safer than black hat search-engine techniques, yet remains ethically questionable.

While the gray hat strategy is ethically questionable; it does not violate any search-engine quality rules or guidelines. Gray hat search-engine optimisation can be understood as more beneficial that white hat tactics, yet somewhat riskier. So by now you may be asking, what are some gray hat strategies? Well, the most common and debatable gray hat technique refers to syndication. Duplicate content on the web is a black hat reality that many website publishers have to be aware of; syndication however remains on the gray side. Written some new content? Throw it on your website, and then submit it to various other article directories, microblogs or social networks. This method works particularly well for media releases and public relations updates.

A common gray hat rule of thumb is to do as your competitor does, plus one. Evaluate who is linking to your competitors, discover why, and determine whether you could score some links too. The purchasing of links is one of the most c prevalent gray hat strategies, which is still a highly debated practice. Gray hat search-engine optimisation may bend the rules, but it does not break them; it essentially involves somewhat faster ranking improvements without putting the client in jeopardy.

 

Which SEO Is Best?

With Google updating their search-engine algorithm daily, the instability of a black hat strategy could be putting your business rankings at risk. Google currently maintains roughly ninety-five percent of the Australian search market, so perhaps following their guidelines with white hat strategies isn’t such a bad idea? Don’t play catch up with Google’s algorithm changes; ensure pages effectively meet Google’s recommended guidelines, maintain an appropriate page structure and produce fresh and valuable content consistently.
Whether the hat you choose is white, black or gray, maintain a search-engine optimisation strategy that is right for your website. For example, if you have a new website; perhaps a black hat link building strategy would be more beneficial. If you had an older, established website, perhaps a white hat strategy involving fresh and consistent content would be more appropriate.

Would you prefer to obtain the top three search result listings with ethically questionable techniques, or the page thirteen white hat listings that never get seen? My point is that there is no right answer; your search-engine optimisation strategy should change just as the needs of your business do. So how about you, what type of search-engine optimisation strategy is your business running?

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