If you’re just starting out in digital marketing, chances are you’ve heard of “white hat SEO” and “black hat SEO.”
But what are they, and what’s the deal with the hats?
These terms refer to two types of search engine optimization (SEO), and are named after the heroes and villains of old western movies. In these classic films, the heroes generally wore white hats while the villains wore black ones.
Thus, in SEO terms, white hat refers to good, lawful SEO practices while black hat describes the opposite.
What makes some SEO “good” and others “bad”?
Search engines like Google and Bing have webmaster guidelines that define how they index and rank websites. These guidelines also warn against using bad or deceptive behavior, even going so far as explicitly describing what counts as such—techniques known as black hat SEO.
In the eyes of Google, black hat SEO practices are deceitful and unethical, and consequently, subject to search engine penalties. White hat SEO, on the other hand, encompasses practices that abide by webmaster guidelines and are rewarded favorably as a result.
Examples of White Hat SEO Strategies
So what exactly counts as white hat SEO?
Simply put, these strategies include:
- Creating original, quality content based on keyword research
- Improving your site’s user experience through clear navigation and fast loading times
- Writing clearly to solve users’ search queries
- Earning backlinks to other websites naturally, i.e., not through paid exchanges
- Using clear and accurate meta tags to describe your content
Above all, white hat SEO is focused on making your website for humans, not search engines. Though results take time to come to fruition, investing in these strategies and paying close attention to Google’s ranking factors will ultimately help your website perform better on search engine page results (SERP).
Why choose white hat SEO?
White hat SEO strategies take time and effort—and even then, there’s no guarantee that a website that uses them will rank well. So why use them as opposed to black hat SEO techniques?
Here are three major reasons why.
1. White hat SEO gets safe and sustainable results
Using white hat SEO essentially means playing by Google’s rules and being a law-abiding citizen in the SEO world.
By opting for these techniques, you won’t have to worry about the risk of incurring a search engine penalty. Your content is safe, and thus free from the possibility of getting banned by any search engine.
That doesn’t mean your site will automatically rank well on SERPs, though. Make no mistake: you’ll still need to roll up your sleeves and invest resources into making your content good. However, since you never have to worry about a search engine penalty and starting over from scratch, white hat SEO’s results can be considered sustainable.
2. It’s a better investment
Sure, maybe spending on black hat SEO techniques will lead to faster results—but you’ll also more than likely face a search engine penalty. And then you’ll have to start from square one again.
On top of running the risk for search engine penalties, certain black hat SEO tactics, like private blog networks (PBNs), require a lot of capital to get started. In fact, some black hat marketers charge as much as $20,000 per month for their services.
Now, can you imagine paying several thousand for a few months of decent traffic—and then seeing it all disappear?
A search engine penalty would effectively require that you start over again, and then what? Shell out more money for black hat SEO that’ll get the same outcome?
Although effective white hat SEO strategies don’t come free of charge, they offer better ROI in the long run since you won’t have to press “restart” and invest new resources again.
3. Black hat SEO hurts your brand’s reputation
Although the average user doesn’t know the technical differences between white hat and black hat SEO, they’re generally able to see the difference between a good website and a bad one.
And websites that use black hat SEO—they generally look bad.
To begin with, black hat techniques like keyword stuffing and spun articles look spammy because content is often garbled or nonsensical. Other practices like cloaking and rich snippet spam don’t leave a good impression either, as they deliberately trick and mislead readers. When users see these on a website, there’s little chance they’ll think of returning.
Unlike black hat SEO, white hat SEO takes a more user-centric approach to creating content, one that emphasizes helping users and solving their search queries. Done well, these strategies help paint your site in a positive light—as one that’s helpful and informative, rather than duplicitous and spammy.
In a way, white hat SEO is a test of patience and delayed gratification. It may not be the easier route—what with creating unique content and trying to get social media traction—but it reaps longer lasting rewards than its black hat counterpart.
Watch out for those that try to convince you otherwise. For any brand looking for positive, long-term website results, your best bet is always using white hat SEO.
Still a skeptic of white hat SEO? Or, if you’ve already taken to using these techniques, what are your biggest struggles?