As you can probably deduce from the category names, there are two different strategies SEO specialists can use, White Hat & Black Hat. White Hat SEO practices are favored because of practical approaches that focus on the user’s experience on a site as well as how the search engine views the site. Whereas, Black Hat SEO features practices solely focused on how the search engine perceives the site with the goal to only move higher on the rankings.
Black Hat SEO is a way of using shady SEO tactics in order to move quickly on the rankings, but will almost always hurt your SEO in the long run.
Common Black Hat techniques include:
- Hiding text on a website – whether it is hiding it within the code (or in spammy structured markup), or just making it the same color as your background so it’s ‘invisible’ to the naked eye.
- Link farms and Paid Links – Typically automated, a link farms is a group of sites that all link within each other, which may or may not have anything to do with each other. Paid links are exactly that – links that are purchased to achieve a higher ranking and gain link-popularity.
- Keyword Stuffing – Adding keywords into the content, meta, titles, and tags, to the point where it doesn’t sound natural.
- Scraping – Copying of content from a site or topic, just to have currently popular and ranking content available.
While Black Hat SEOs may see a quick ROI when they first implement these practices, it almost always catches up with them. When search engines find these techniques being used, the sites are promptly penalized and face a very hard uphill battle to earn that trust again.
White Hat SEOs typically have the longest turnaround times to get noticed by search engines and attain higher rankings, but there is also no risk involved, unlike Black Hat strategies.
Common White Hat techniques include:
- Guest Blogging – Guest blogging is when a person separate from the site, writes and posts a blog for you. This is a win/win for everyone involved. The guest blogger receives a link to their own site, and you will receive links to the blog from the blogger promoting their work.
- Quality Content – Content is key. With White Hat practices, the strategy isn’t just to get noticed and rewarded by the search engines, but also your users. It’s important that when visitors come to your site that they are finding the information that they want and need, and it’s written in a way that is understandable and easy to read.
- Linking – Both internal and external linking is a big part of White Hat SEO strategies.
- Internal linking helps to show the search engine a functional way to navigate and crawl the site, as well as helps the user experience find what they need. Nothing is more irritating than landing on a webpage, and having no idea how to find the next bit of information. Linking helps to ease that process.
- External linking not only provides additional resources to your user, and backs up your claims, but it also shows the search engine that you’re an equal player in the online world. Just like you may ask for people to link to your site, you’re spreading the wealth and giving other reputable sites quality links, too.
- On-Site Optimization – By far one of the biggest cornerstones in the SEO world is optimizing your site. Whether it’s updating content to reflect new changes in the industry or reworking your menu navigation to make more sense for the user, on-site optimization is what will help your site and hopefully keep people browsing for longer.
As with most things in life, nothing is ever just black and white. Even in SEO, there are also Gray Hat SEO practices. Less risky than Black Hat, but without the wait for updated rankings with White Hat, Gray Hat techniques still should be avoided, as they are still not in line with Google’s algorithms.
Common Gray Hat techniques include:
- Three way link exchange – Different from a link farm, where all the sites link to each other, a three way link exchange is more of a link “chain”. For example, Site A will only link to B, Site B will only link to C, and Site C will only link to A.
- Article Spinning – Article spinning is a technique where instead of directly plagiarizing a relevant article, it’s slightly tweaked or “spun” to avoid a penalty. Its far better to write a new article, than to tweak an existing one, to guard yourself from potential copyright infringement.
Just like you wouldn’t take your car to a shifty mechanic because you can’t fully trust what they are doing, you shouldn’t leave your website in the hands of Black Hat SEO tactics.
And if you’re a more visual learner, or just looking for a TL;DR, here’s a helpful infographic from CognitiveSEO.