Hat Tricks: The difference between black and white hat SEO strategies

White hat vs. Black hat SEO

We’ve all watched on the news as big businesses, athletes, and even educators have been exposed for cheating scandals, and the coverage of these events–and their consequences–is telling.

The pressure to succeed spares no one, especially if they are in the spotlight. Who hasn’t felt the tug of advertisements ripe with promise to get rich (or thin, famous, educated, etc.) quick with minimal effort? Most of us have learned by now to think critically of pitches that play upon our emotions and desires, but in an industry as complex as search engine optimization (SEO), it can be difficult for businesses to separate the empty promises from the legitimate ones.

White hat SEO and Black hat SEO are two means to the same end: increased online visibility. However, in this case, the means matter. Whereas one generates traffic to websites by meeting search engine (and thus user friendly) standards, the other skirts the rules, risking penalties and even banishment from the search engine results altogether.

Black Hat SEO

Simply put, black hat SEO is designed not for humans, but for search engines. More specifically, it’s designed to cheat them. These tactics often provide websites with a satisfying boost in rankings–until suddenly they don’t.

Examples of Black Hat SEO include:

  • Link farms/mass link building schemes
  • Article spinning
  • Keyword Stuffing
  • Spammy blog/directory networks
  • Hidden unrelated text
  • Doorway pages
  • Scraper sites
  • Attacking competitors’ websites with negative SEO

Google penalizes these strategies, and for good reason: they’re unhelpful to Google’s users and they clutter up the internet with useless, irrelevant material.

It’s worth noting that Dr. Peter Meyers, cognitive psychologist and resident Marketing Scientist at Moz, distinguishes between Black and White Hat SEO as having either low or high value results, rather than by ethical standards. Black hat SEO isn’t always illegal or even unethical, according to Meyers, but the bottom line is that the results are minimal at best and very harmful at worst.

White Hat SEO

Rather than manipulating the search engines, white hat SEO adheres to their recommended guidelines for improving a site’s ranking. White hat SEO enhances sites so that search engines find them to be relevant and informative for users-because they actually are relevant and informative for users.

Examples of white hat SEO include:

  • Research and strategic use of keywords
  • Clean website and URL structure that is easily crawlable for search engine spiders
  • Clear hierarchy and static text links for every page
  • Natural link building
  • Establishing a clear, consistent voice through high value content
  • On-site and Off-site SEO strategy
  • ….And more!*

*Cliched phrasing aside, SEO is a constantly evolving technology, so there is no formal list of good SEO vs. bad SEO! A solid SEO plan involves looking to the future for changes in the way people search and the way search engines operate.

Our Search Engine Optimization company doesn’t engage in black hat tactics for short term results. We believe in benefiting our clients over the long term, even after the reporting procedure is over.


Search engines like Google represent an ever-changing landscape for both the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys.  The same black hat link building scheme that might get your competitor a high page rank one week will inevitably send it crashing down to the bottom of the results, or even banned from Google’s search results, the next week. White hat SEO may have more hurdles to clear and steps to take, but the progress is long lasting.

This is why it is so important to work with an SEO firm that knows what they are doing. As Kristen Peters pointed out in her blog, what you may initially save in time or money with black hat/low-value SEO will eventually be dwarfed by what you spend trying to clean up the damage it can do.

Just what does that damage look like, exactly? Stay tuned…



Meyers, Peter J. (2013) “Black Hat or White Hat SEO? It’s Time to Ask Better Questions”  http://moz.com/blog/black-hat-or-white-hat-seo-ask-better-questions

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