Black Hat vs Gray Hat vs White Hat SEO

The world of search engine optimization is an extremely competitive one. Depending on the industry in question, higher rankings can be worth thousands of dollars a month – maybe more.

Although there are many ways to earn better rankings, they fall into three main approaches to achieving search results supremacy. The one you decide to utilize will have a huge effect on your company’s future, so it’s important you understand what they entail.


The 3 Types of SEO: White Hat, Black Hat, and Gray Hat

Even if you outsource your company’s SEO needs to a third party, you should know what the three different approaches involve. As you’re about to see, you could be paying big bucks for potentially bigger problems.

1. White Hat SEO

“White hat” SEO techniques are tactics Google and other search engines approve of.

You could show your entire search engine optimization strategy to their search quality teams and they wouldn’t bat an eye. They might even be grateful.

In other words, you’re playing by their rules. While you’re using common SEO techniques to improve the rate and quality of your traffic, your main priority is providing a high-quality experience to search engines’ users.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • Keyword Research – You look for keywords that are relevant to your site and use them naturally in your content.
  • Backlinks – You earn backlinks from high-quality sites because you produce truly helpful content. You may even reach out to other websites to let them know that your site has information they may want to link to (but not in a spammy way).
  • Site Performance – You invest in ensuring your site is responsive, mobile-friendly, and loads quickly.
  • Social Media – You build up a social media following of real people, which helps show search engines that your company is a legitimate one.

Again, just ask yourself, “What would Google think if they knew what I was doing?”

Otherwise, you might find out the hard way when Google shows you by dropping your website’s ranking.

2. Black Hat SEO

On the other end of the SEO spectrum are black hat techniques. These are things that Google 100% does not want you to do.

A common example is packing your content with keywords in an effort to trick Google into thinking your website is perfect for people who are looking for those terms. Of course, Google has been onto that strategy for so long that even the most desperate generally ignore it.

A far better example is paying for backlinks. Many black hat SEO advocates build PBNs (Private Blogging Networks). These are hundreds or even thousands of blogs that all link to one another. They’re usually packed with low-quality content that features an acceptable amount of keywords.

The idea is that all this interlinking builds up their perceived legitimacy, which is sometimes true. Therefore, when someone pays them for a backlink, this legitimacy is passed on to the customer whose site gets a boost in Google’s ranking.

Google has already been successful numerous times at shutting down entire PBNs. Their campaign to recognize and support websites with greater readability will further decimate what many black hat SEO artists have spent years building.  Therefore, if you rely on PBNs for traffic, it’s only a matter of time before that investment comes back to haunt you in a big way.

3. Gray Hat SEO

Somewhere in the middle lies gray hat SEO. This usually refers to 90% white hat SEO tactics (good site design, helpful information, etc.). However, the marketer still spends money on buying backlinks. These are generally a challenge to earn organically, so the temptation is too much to resist.

That said, the marketer is careful to only buy links from higher quality PBNs that muddy the waters so much that Google has a hard time noticing. The grammar on these sites is impeccable and many of the links they’re selling come from sites that appear 100% legitimate and may even have earned links from top sites and .edu domains.

Still, Google is catching on, which means the days of gray hat SEO success are limited.

The Bottom Line When It Comes to SEO

Black hat techniques are obviously bad ideas. The marketers who employ them usually know that their results are temporary and, when Google notices them, the punishment is devastating: The site disappears from ranking altogether.

Gray hat techniques are far more tempting. Many of those who sell their gray hat services are extremely SEO savvy, too. This can make them very convincing. Rest assured, though, that Google is always going to catch up and, when they do, gray hat techniques will receive the same treatment as black hat ones.

The only long-term safe bet is to do what Google wants. Sure, it means more work, but it should also give you peace of mind. At the end of the day, do right by Google’s users and Google will do right by you.

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