This week I received an inquiry focused on White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO from a college student in MIS. This inquiry was part of an e-business class assignment he received, in which he was to write a report on what White Hat SEO is.
Having taken the time to respond thoughtfully, I believe it is useful to share my quick-hit answer about what they are and how they impact SEO success. I’d very much like to hear any feedback you or your favorite SEO may have, so please share the post freely and comment at will!
His specific questions:
- What do you think the most challenging aspect of white hat seo?
- Is SEO really ethical? I mean. white hat/black hat…..It´s all about gaming the search engine to get better placements. Don’t you agree that SEO practices are in constant change as the Internet evolves?
- Who is responsible to drawing the line between white hat SEO and black hat SEO?
Let me just respond to the three questions in aggregate.
First, there is a huge divide between white hat and black hat SEO techniques. Black Hat involves using any method possible to game the system, not following SEO best practices as outlined by Google, and most often, using shady means to leap ahead of other reputable sites in the SERPS.
The whole Google Panda update was to draw a line between white and black hat (i.e. spammers in most cases) practitioners, and they actually did a decent job of doing so. That said, they overshot their target and ended up hurting some fully ethical, white hat sites. This was mostly collateral damage or by association, since part of Panda is to compare your site, content, etc. with “like” websites on similar topic areas.
White Hat SEO is not rocket science. It is about building reputable websites without an ounce of deception involved. It is about generating high quality, share-able content that readers will want to read and spread to their network. And it is about truly adding value with that content.
Black Hat SEO is easy to identify. It might include keyword stuffed, hard to read material. It might have bad grammar or punctuation. It might thinly mention the topic of what it wants to rank for, sticking the keyword in all the right “on page” areas, but really just thinly veiling a pitch for some spammy/scammy product. Most of all, if you search for a term and get to their site, a reasonably intelligent consumer would quickly want to bounce away from it or even be offended at the bait and switch. And they often acquire backlinks through paid or other mistrusted means (in Google’s Eyes).
The hardest part of White Hat SEO is two-fold:
- Being disciplined and focused enough to stick to your guns with standards, and to execute on a well-thought out and constructed content and linking pursuit strategy.
- Convincing other stakeholders in your company or organization to avoid using questionable techniques.
#1 is a ton of work and requires a lot of focus. #2 is political in most cases.
How would you describe White Hat SEO, or answer these questions if posed to you? I typed this out in a matter of minutes, so it is my natural, quick response. Anything I missed?