White Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO
While doing SEO, you will come across many optimization techniques for your website.
It is essential to know the right strategies, but it is equally important to know what to avoid.
These tactics can be broadly divided into White hat SEO and Black hat SEO.
White hat SEO is the ethical way of ranking for organic results, while Black hat SEO includes violation of Google’s policies for ranking.
There’s also a third term, “Grey Hat SEO,” a mix of both (White Hat and Black Hat SEO).
Before further discussing any difference between White Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO–
let me tell you what is white hat, black hat and grey hat SEO individually.
What is White Hat SEO?
White Hat SEO refers to the ethical practices that go with Google’s webmaster guidelines.
These are the long-term strategies that are safe from any algorithm update by Google.
Let us better know the white hat SEO techniques:
Using the right keywords:
- Find out ‘seed’ keywords:
For example: if you are doing SEO like me, your seed keywords can be:
SEO vs. PPC
SEO vs. SEM
Types of SEO
- Do the competition analysis:
Now you have a list of seed keywords with you. Hit them on Google and see which pages are ranking.
You can also do it the other way around. Make a list of sites that usually rank in your industry. Type them in Semrush, and it will show you “top organic keywords” that those sites rank for.
Here’s a list of keywords for Neil Patel’s website:
- Using tools:
Tools are always a smart way to find keywords. You can discover new keywords that your competitors missed.
Go to Semrush and search for your seed keyword. It will give you many ideas around it:
- Study your niche:
There are chances that you can miss essential keywords after all these tactics too.
You can go one step ahead by visiting forums, groups, sites like Quora for searching FAQs, etc.
Finding the right keywords is just not enough.
You have to produce quality content around them.
For example, being in SEO, I have created content on topics like:
Here are some quick tips to plan your content:
Plan your page title, introduction, subheadings and sub subheadings.
Use your main keyword in the page title which is also your H1.
Mention how users will be benefited from the article in the introduction.
Here’s an introduction from a blog on “content marketing tips” on my site:
Refer to original studies and data.
For instance, writing for SEO, I gather a lot of information from Google Search Central Blog.
Plan what images, videos or graphs you want to put.
You can make your own graphs in Google sheet or free tools like, Canva.
Try including more actionable tips in your content.
Include your experiential examples to make it more real.
Once done writing, you can check the grammar errors in tools like Grammarly.
The tool also gives the percent of plagiarism in your content.
Captivating Meta Tags:
Meta tags include the title of your page and description.
It should describe what your page is about in a descriptive but concise way.
Keep the length between 50 – 60 characters.
Your title tag should include the target keyword, otherwise it will get truncated.
It should be unique for each page on your website.
The second is the meta description. Though it doesn’t affect your page’s ranking, it creates a significant impact on users.
A meta description gives a summary of your page before users click on it.
It should introduce the topic, its features, and how readers can benefit from your content.
It should not be more than 160 characters, otherwise it will get truncated.
Heading tags are the html tags that you see as the title on the webpage.
They represent the overall content on the page.
Heading tags give a structure to the entire content.
Are they same as the title tag?
Though both represent the main topic of your content, the main difference is in their placements:
A title tag is present on the search results page and the browser tab at the top.
A heading tag is the ‘title’ that is visible directly at the top of the web page itself.
You can use 6 heading tags, from H1 to H6.
H1 = Heading tag 1 (most important)
H2 = Heading tag 2 and so on…
H1 = Yoga
H2 = Benefits of Yoga
H3 = Reduces diseases
H3 = Relaxed mind
H3 = Improves digestion
H3 = Better skin
you can analyze them in the Headline Analyzer tool:
As mentioned by Ahrefs, backlinks comes in the top 3 ranking factors.
You need to grab backlinks too. These are the links (mentions) that you get from other websites to your site.
Keep the following factors in mind while acquiring backlinks:
- Domain authority: It can also be called the authority of your site. Try getting links from highly authoritative websites.
- Page authority: Each page on a site has its authority score. Higher authority means they will pass more link value to your page.
- Links from relevant sites: Make sure you have a link from your fellows!
For instance, if, being an SEO website, I get a backlink from Peter Rojas (writes on gaming and techy stuff), it would make little sense.But if I get a backlink from Rand Fishkin, it would be a milestone for me!
- Contextual links: These are the links present in the main body of the page. A link in the sidebar or footer will have fewer chances to be clicked than a link in the introduction.
The structure of a website decides how a web page is linked to another.
A well-structured website is easy to navigate.
Thus, increasing their stay time on your site.
A simplified structure also has higher chances of being quickly crawled and indexed.
Here’s a hierarchical structure:
Parent page > Category pages > Product pages.
With so much content available, you can’t make users stay on a slow-loading website.
Portent says that 0-2 seconds is the ideal page load time.
To check your page speed, you can use the free PageSpeed Insights tool.
Enter your site URL and click ‘Analyze.’ It will give you the speed for both desktop and mobile devices.
The tool will also let you know your areas of improvement.
Using Proper Codes And Images:
Heavy codes are one common reason for slow-loading websites.
If your codes are not clean and have significant gaps between the lines, it will directly impact your site speed.
Compressing images is another common thing that people skip.
Make sure to compress images without deteriorating their quality.
You can use tools like Sqoosh to compress your images.
Choose the correct format for images. Usually, I prefer a PNG format as it is lossless.
What is Black Hat SEO?
Black Hat SEO refers to the optimization practices to rank higher in SERP against the search engine’s guidelines.
You must be thinking is black hat SEO illegal?
Well yes, it is.
Black hat SEO may get you results quicker, but they are not long lasting.
These practices don’t help the users as they are not practically feasible.
All search engines stand strictly against such practices.
Using such tactics can lead to your site getting penalized.
Consequently, Google will lower down your ranking and traffic will decline.
In extreme cases, your site can also get permanently removed.
So, whenever you feel confused if you are indulging in black hat SEO, ask yourself these two questions-
Do I need to hide it from Google?
Would my users be benefited by it?
Here are some common black hat SEO techniques you should strictly avoid and be aware of:
Keyword stuffing is when there is excessive keyword repetition in your content without them making any sense.
Here are a few cases as per Google Search Central:
To check if your site has any penalties against it, you can go to Google Search Console.
Go to: Security and Manual Actions
I checked it for my website too:
Hidden texts or links:
If you hide any text or link, it’s a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
These can include various tactics like:
- Merging text in white font with a white background.
- Hiding text behind an image on-page.
- Using the font size at 0.
- Using a minimal anchor text for a link, for example, a dot, hyphen, or comma.
Using bad link schemes:
Any link practice that you hide from Google is a spammy activity.
Unlike white hat backlinks, these include:
- Getting links to your site by paying (paid links). Paid guest blogging is one of the most common black hat SEO examples.
- Exchanging goods or some services for getting a link. For example: if I offer a free SEO audit to a website in return for a link, it is not genuine.
- Using automated programs or services that will create links on your site.
- Irrelevant links unrelated to their content, like, a skincare website link to a yoga mat seller.
You must have heard of this term in SEO, right? These are the pages that you create to rank for specific keywords or similar queries.
As the name suggests, it acts as a ‘doorway’ that leads to the actual content.
For example, a redirect on a page that quickly changes to another page containing what you searched for or creating many copies of the same page.
The pages will have the same content, but the keywords will change.
Cloaking means showing different content or URLs to users and search engines.
It is a violation of search engines’ guidelines.
Cloaking is done to show search engines that YES! your content is good enough to be ranked, but when a user visits your page, he sees something else.
It can include:
- Showing a page of HTML text to search engines while displaying an image file to the users.
- Showing keyword-optimized content when the search engine crawls the content but not when users read it.
Redirecting is taking users to a different page than the one initially requested by them.
Sometimes when a page is dead, users are diverted to another page that serves the same content. However, it is not the actual page they requested but serves the same purpose.
Here’s one 404 error page:
But redirects can be wrongly used too!
Many website owners create false redirects that mislead visitors to totally irrelevant pages.
Users are taken to a redirected page other than what is crawled and indexed by Google.
Much like cloaking, isn’t it?
Spamming the comment section:
Earlier, people used to leave links to their websites in the comment section of another website.
It was one of the most practiced ways to get backlinks to your site.
Due to this, more and more people started providing comments to get backlinks from those websites.
Later on, Google controlled this with its Panda and Penguin update that such links were considered irrelevant, wherein the link juice passed by such websites would be significantly less.
The Difference between White Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO
As I explained before –
The significant difference is White Hat SEO follows search engine guidelines and enhances user experience, whereas Black Hat SEO violates search engine guidelines and has no regard for users.
Better user experience:
When you follow the correct practices, it naturally abides by the search engine’s policies.
As we know, search engines aim at delivering the best user experience possible, and the correct practices will always lead to that.
All the points that we discussed in white hat SEO will help in achieving it. It will generate more traffic for your website that will increase your reach.
Boosting your ranking:
The more you align with the search engines, the more people will like your site.
It keeps you from the danger of being caught as you are doing everything transparently.
It majorly includes coming up with excellent content, getting high-quality backlinks, making your site work faster, etc.
Fear no updates:
Google is constantly improving its functions and can come with a big update out of nowhere.
If you have designed your website for a great user experience, don’t worry!
But, if you are indulging in loose practices, then you might get in big trouble.
You need not be afraid about penalties as you are following all the rules of Google’s algorithm.
Good for pocket:
When you follow the rules, there are no shortcuts. But one thing that is guaranteed is results. In black hat SEO, you may get results sooner, but these benefits are short-lived.
On the other hand, white hat SEO can take longer to meet the targets, but they are sustained results.
Though money is a little more, you need to put in extra hard work and have patience as the process takes time.
If you’re delivering content that’s serving the audience, you are connecting with people.
They will mark your site and revisit it.
If you can maintain this user experience, they will soon type their query + your brand name in the search bar on Google.
This way, the visitors turn into prospects that further turn into customers and finally promoters.
Improves your reputation:
Your reputation is always clean and safe when you don’t go against the rules.
Make sure you stay in the good books of Google or any other search engine where you publish your content, or else you get penalized, and this can also get you permanently blocked from that platform.
On the other hand, if you provide a good user experience, people will visit your site often, increasing traffic.
When Google sees people liking a page, it will automatically boost up its ranking.
Doing it with consistency can turn your business into a brand.
After discussing all the black and white areas, let’s discuss the middle ground. Yes! That’s where Grey Hat SEO comes into the picture.
What is Grey Hat SEO?
As clear from the name, it falls somewhere in the middle of white hat and black hat SEO. It is a combination of the two of them.
Gray hat SEO includes tricks and tactics that are all fine to be used in the present but are potential black hat tactics for the future.
Using these tactics is not entirely safe as the site might end up in trouble as and when a new update snowballs at them.
A few standard practices under Gray hat SEO are:
Buying a domain:
When you buy a domain to improve the SEO for your website, it is known as domain grabbing.
You can also buy expired domains. It will support you with link building as the domain was already working before you. So, it has an already established authority.
Depending on their backlink profile, you can choose which domain you want to buy.
A few considerations before buying an expired link:
- No fake linking practices
- Domain authority
- Authority of backlinks
- Number of domains that refer to it
- Don’t forget to add redirection to your website
Adding more content:
You can always add more content to the post you’ve created and update it. This way, you can:
- Easily get backlinks
- Encourage more people to share it on social media
- Invite more traffic to your website
- Increase the stay time on your website
Google declares link building as one of the top three ranking factors.
But, it’s also one of the toughest jobs.
That’s why people started looking for shortcuts. One such tactic used is building PBNs (Private Blog Networks).
It’s a network of websites that link to one common website and influence its ranking.
It can include buying old domains and linking them to your own site, like in the image above.
Submit your site to web directories:
Web directory submission is when you submit your website on various directories providing all the needed information like business name, the current address of work, contact details, etc.
Standard directories include Justdial, Sulekha, etc. These submissions will increase your website visibility and backlinks.
Increasing the social media reach:
If you get famous on social media organically, then it is a white hat SEO practice. But if it happens by creating multiple dummy accounts and buying likes, then it is a gray hat SEO tactic.
But it is not recommended for a long-lasting image for your business. Sooner or later, people discover that it’s done from a fake id and immediately unfollow you.
Black Hat SEO and Grey Hat SEO
No matter even if it’s Grey Hat SEO – using any tactics with the intent of manipulating Google’s algorithm may have two possible consequences:
Your site’s rankings could get demoted when Google updates its algorithm.
Your site could get a manual penalty for violating Google’s search engines terms. And manual penalty could be as bad as getting your site banned.
White Hat SEO improves user experience, helps create amazing content, makes your site faster, suitable for both users and search engines. As a result, your site can become very popular, translating into more sites linking to your site.
On the contrary, Black Hat SEO does precisely the opposite of it.
Hence, it leaves you with no better option than White Hat SEO.