White Hat vs Black Hat SEO: Identifying Good & Bad

Getting Started

You may have heard the terms “black hat SEO” and “white hat SEO”. But what do these mean? Essentially, there are a lot of people claiming to be SEO experts. Some SEOs are very professional, knowledgeable, and will not take advantage of business owners that do not understand the practice very well. However, there are some that may offer services that do not meet the standards of your brand. In addition, they will not help you in the long run for the success of your business.

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These two categories of practice have been labeled within the industry.  There are the white hat SEOs, who follow best practices, keep your customers in mind, and will not be penalized by Google. There are also the black hat SEOs who follow poor practices and promise quick results that disappear as quickly as they do once the contract ends. 

Black Hat SEO Methods

Look out for these black hat SEO techniques.

Black hat SEO techniques often fall into two categories: link schemes and keyword stuffing.

Link schemes or the method of buying large numbers of links from other websites to your own that have little to no relevance. Strategies that include spammy links include the following:

  • Negative SEO campaigns are a tactic of buying spammy backlinks on behalf of a competitor to hurt their rankings.
  • Building doorway pages and private blog networks are the technique of building pages and blogs under other domains with the sole purpose of linking back to your website.
  • Cloaking and sneaky redirects involve sending search engine bots to a different page than what a human would see.
  • Rich-snippet markup spam is creating snippets to be displayed on other websites, that lead to an irrelevant page on your own website.

Keyword stuffing is the overuse and manipulation of keywords and content with the intention of deceiving search engines into believing a page has good quality content. Strategies involving keyword stuffing include the following:

  • The creation of hidden text and content invisible to a human visitor, but scannable by search engines.
  • Creating duplicate content with a simple switching out of a keyword for the purpose of ranking in multiple keywords.
  • Scraping content from other websites and placing on their own to flesh out a website.
  • Programming automated queries to Google for a keyword to manipulate website impressions.

There is also a category of grey hat SEO but that is a topic for another article. You do not want to fall for the selling strategies of black hat SEOs. Therefore, I created this list of 3 red flags to look for when hiring an SEO professional.

Black Hat SEOs Promise Results in a Short Time

Twenty years ago, search engine rankings were much less competitive than they are today. Google was still a highly-gifted newborn and search engines were far less sophisticated. There were no criteria for ranking. A page could rank well just by having a keyword in the title and description and on a page as many times as possible. In other words, “keyword stuffing”. There were also colluding organizations that sold or gave links to websites to increase authority. There did not need to be any relevance between the website giving the back-link and the recipient. These are just two of the earliest black hat SEO techniques that are still used today. They can still have a quick positive impact on rankings for businesses with very little online competition. 

Among others, these techniques are undoubtedly a part of a very quick increase in page rank. According to a case study conducted by Ahrefs, the average page that ranks in the top 10 listings is 3 years old or more. While there are exceptions, this study found that only 5.7% of webpages are lucky enough to rank for at least one keyword within the first year. 

To sum up, do not expect a website to rank quickly. It may appear to be the more affordable route, but blackhat SEO tactics do not last long.  Additionally, any fortuitous placement in rank through these tactics will likely not give you the business results you need.  

Instead, trust an SEO who will offer a more realistic timeline. The more competitive your industry and the keywords you want to rank for, the longer you can expect to wait. Although this costs more money and time in the long run, a white hat SEO will be spending that time building and updating content to the highest quality, fixing technical issues, creating a better user experience and growing your authority. As a result, you will not only rank higher over time, your trustworthiness as a business also grows.

White hat SEO techniques can lead to something beautiful.

Black Hat SEOs Do Not Ask About Your Customers

Every business has something unique to offer. Even within the same industry. This is why an SEO strategy that works for one business will not necessarily work for another. It is the tiny nuances of your business that can make a huge difference in how you rank. With this in mind, if an SEO begins work without asking anything about your business, performing a thorough audit that includes an assessment of your high-value customers, and outlining connections between the two, there is a good chance black hat SEO practices are taking place.

Knowing who your best customers are is good for many reasons. However, for SEO, it is the most important factor, including keywords. Your target audience comes with key information like marketing preferences, interests, and behaviors. This is all information SEOs can use to edit your website and create content that attracts those customers.

If an SEO jumps into action without addressing the audience at some point, expect strangely worded copy and overused keywords on your website. I have already covered why this is poor practice, however, I cannot emphasize why this is a bad idea. 

Alternatively, a white hat SEO understands the importance of this information. Your target customer’s behavior matters every step of the way and is half of what guides an SEO strategy. 

However, what guides the other half comes with its own problems…

Black Hat SEOs Do Not Ask About Goals

Good web content has a specific position in the customer journey. The purpose of each position in the journey is to direct the customer into the next one. In doing so, the customer moves closer and closer to a goal. This goal is a sale, a quote request or a phone call. In other words, your conversions. Black hat SEO tactics focus solely on getting a visitor to your website without concern about what happens next. 

Black hat SEO blocks out anything beyond the search engine listings.

The step of the journey a customer should reflect the goal of the customer. This is very useful for putting the correct content in front of the customer at the right time. In other words, matching the content with search intent. Search intent is a very important signal to a marketer for correctly using keywords, external links, and content formats.  Is the potential customer ready to commit to a purchase? Make sure your product page has an “add to cart” button and is optimized for the name of the product. Is the customer just looking for information? Optimize a page that highlights the features of a product with keywords surrounding those features. However, do not trust an SEO tactic that attempts it all at once.

Best practice for both SEO and user experience is to have one page per topic Additionally, each page should fit into a specific search intent.  This leads to a clear navigation and the structure of a website and simplifies sending a customer from the search engine to the correct page. Additionally, a clear site structure increases crawl-ability, which is also important for SEO. White hat SEOs follow these practices.

Make Wise SEO Investments

In summary, you should know what you are getting into before you hire an SEO expert. Ask the right questions and remember these signals:

  1. A promise of a quick turnaround
  2. No questions about your customers
  3. No questions about your website goals

With these in mind, a decision to focus on quality SEO over cost and speed could save you a lot of both in the long run.