Black Hat vs. White Hat vs. Grey Hat SEO – What’s the difference?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a key component to any online strategy and can mean the difference between a successful or unsuccessful campaign. In order to maximize visibility and ultimately conversions, SEO Specialists must compete for the same real estate in the most valued areas of search engine result pages (SERPs) (typically the top of the page). Competition is fierce! Thus, some specialists may explore more creative tactics that don’t necessarily align with search engine terms and conditions. This is where the colored hats start to come in.
But before we delve into assessing the differences between white, grey, and black hat SEO, I believe it is important to first understand a bit about search engines and how they work. If you’re already educated on the subject, you can skip ahead.
Understanding Search Engine Result Pages – A Brief Overview
SERPs typically contain two types of search results: paid and organic. As the name suggests, paid results are listings that website owners pay for to have their web page show up for specific search queries. Organic search results are web pages that most relevantly match the user’s search queries based.
Ranking high for organic search results is what SEO is all about!
So how exactly do you get your website to rank higher organically?
Search engines use a number of different ranking signals and search algorithms to determine what web pages are most relevant for search queries. For example, Google’s algorithm features over 200 different factors, and while no one outside of Google truly knows what they are, it is believed that some features carry more weight than others. Sticking with Google as our example, in the past, the number of external links pointing towards your site significantly boosted your web page ranking. But don’t go running and try to get as many backlinks as possible, Google launched the Penguin Update in 2012 to better catch sites deemed to be spamming search results by buying links or obtaining them through link networks designed primarily to increase rankings.
You can learn more about search engines and how their ranking algorithms work here.
So now that we know a bit about how web pages organically rank within search engines, we can delve into the meaning behind the colored hats.
The SEO Hats – What’s with the colors?
Put simply, the hats and their color are an analogy used to more easily explain the type of SEO tactic being used to those outside of the industry. The color is determined by how pure the tactic aligns with search engine terms and conditions – that’s it.
Hats are a tactic and the color is their purity.
Quality Content: As the saying goes, Content is King and SEO is Queen. Having rich, high quality content on your site will make it more appealing to both humans, search engines, and other webmasters. You will be more likely to receive a high quality link with quality content.
Link Baiting: This technique aligns with creating high quality content that encourages others to link to your page. Types of content vary, but some would include: highly informative articles, controversial topics, news stories, etc…
Techniques used by SEO specialists that intentionally trick search engines for the purposes of boosting ranking are called Black Hat SEO. You’re going 80 mph in a 45. Black Hat techniques can provide a quick (but temporary) boost in ranking. These techniques run a high risk of receiving a penalty on the homesite from search engines. Some Black Hat SEO Techniques include (I wouldn’t recommend using these):
Hidden Text: This technique involves placing text on a webpage that cannot be seen by humans but is still readable by search engines. This may have worked in the past, but all major search engines can identify hidden text. This is marked as spam.
Keyword Stuffing: This is a pretty common Black Hat SEO technique found with amateur specialists. This technique occurs when a web page is ‘stuffed’ with targeted keywords the user wants to rank for in the content, meta description, alt tags, meta keywords, etc….
As you might assume, Grey Hat SEO is a blend between both Black and White hat SEO. While this can be the case sometimes, John Andrews provides a better definition:
“Grey Hat as the practice of tactics/techniques which remain ill-defined by all that published material coming out of Google, and for which reasonable people could disagree on how the tactics support or contrast with the ‘spirit’ of Google’s published guidelines”
Grey Hat SEO is not necessarily frowned upon by Google, but it is more so the ‘grey’ (pun intended) area…the unknown.
A good inforgraphic providing techniques for all Black, White, and Grey Hat SEO can be found here
So, which technique should you use?
Well, you don’t gain much by being on Google’s bad side. If you’re willing to take the gamble or have an ‘out of the box’ idea, maybe you could try a Grey Hat SEO technique.
The specialists here at Image in a Box strictly follow White Hat SEO techniques.We believe that through White Hat techniques we can provide a better user experience and provide slow and steady organic growth with long lasting high rankings.