What is the difference between White Hat and Black Hat SEO?

The short answer is white hat SEO complies with Google’s recommended practices, also known as Webmaster Guidelines, while black hat infringes upon them. As you can see in the document, the guidelines are extensive, so some webmasters may actually find themselves falling afoul of Google without even knowing it. While the aim of all SEO is to improve the search engine rankings and visibility of a given website, white hat and black hat uses different methods to achieve this.

The following provides a quick summary of the main differences between white hat and black hat SEO.

 

White Hat SEOBlack Hat SEO
Focused on providing a quality user experienceFocused on search engines rather than users
Well-written on-page contentPoorly written content that is keyword stuffed
Strengthens website credibility and authorityDiminishes user trust, resulting in lower conversions
Carries no risk of Google penalisationHigh risk of Google penalties
Concerned with quantity over qualityFocused on quality over quantity
Complies with Webmaster GuidelinesInfringes upon Webmaster Guidelines

What are examples of white hat SEO?

White hat SEO is all about creating value for users and such practices include:

  • Ensuring all written content throughout a given site is of a high standard
  • All on-page content is optimised according to Google’s best practices
  • Using internal links that provide clear meaning to users
  • Obtaining backlinks naturally; that is, by writing unique and compelling content that users will want to link back to
  • Ensuring all pages on your site are mobile friendly, free from broken links, and optimised for maximum speed to ensure the best possible PageSpeed results

What are examples of black hat SEO?

Black hat SEO practices are aimed at increasing a website’s rankings and visibility without any regard for the user experience. This is by no means an exhaustive list and there are countless examples of black hat SEO practices in use today, but some of the more common ones include:

Keyword stuffing

Of all the black hat tactics featured in this list, keyword stuffing is the one that is most likely to be used accidentally, by those who aren’t familiar with Google’s stance on such practices. For those new to SEO, the importance of keywords is one of the first things they’re likely to come across. Naturally, many will assume that placing keywords heavily throughout their content is going to guarantee a better result

Duplicate articles

This is one of the laziest methods of backlink creation. A user will create a single article with links pointing back to their target website (backlinks) and publish the article on numerous different sites across the web. At best, this content will be identified by Google and devalued or rendered completely worthless, but in a worst-case scenario, it may result in Google penalising your site

Low quality article sites

There are a large number of article sites still in existence today that allow poor quality content to be submitted and published on their sites. Submitting poor quality articles to these sites with the express purpose of generating backlinks, is another common black hat strategy

Message forum profile links

Many forums allow users to specify their home page URL and advertise it on their forum profile. This has become a quick way for black hat SEO practitioners to generate countless backlinks for a target website. While still in use today, such profile links now almost always include the rel=”nofollow” tag, rendering them useless for SEO purposes, where rankings are concerned

Spammy blog comments

This is another tactic that, while still in use today, has largely become ineffective for SEO due to the inclusion of the rel=”nofollow” tag. Essentially, users would leave comments on blog posts, and either adding a link to their desired URL from within the body text of their reply, or by specifying a URL in their user name

Link farms

Also known as link schemes, this involves multiple sites linking to each other, all for the purpose of strengthening each site’s rankings. The sites will often be totally unrelated to each other and contain poor quality content. One of the simplest forms of a link farm can be a reciprocal link. This is where two websites link to each other. Similar to link farms, reciprocal links are once again a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines

False job listings

When you create a job listing on an employment site, they will typically give you the opportunity to post a link to your website. This has naturally given rise to people using (false) job listings as a means of obtaining potentially lucrative backlinks from high authority employment websites. Users simply create a job listing for a non-existent employment position, indicate their web URL and hey presto! A free backlink. Similar to forum profile links and spammy blog comments however, many employment sites now include the rel=”nofollow” tag, ensuring that users cannot exploit the backlinks for their own personal gain

Cloaking

This involves displaying different content to users and the search engine bots that crawl the pages. There are several different types of cloaking, including user-agent, IP-based, JavaScript cloaking and more

Doorway pages

Also known by various other names including portal pages, gateway pages and so on, doorway pages are web pages designed to manipulate search engine indexes. When a user clicks on a doorway page in search results, they will often be redirected to a page that is completely unrelated to their search query and unrelated to what they were expecting to find when they clicked on the page in search results. These naturally creating an undesirable user experience are violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines

Plagiarism

Writing content is very time consuming. You have to perform research, create a draft, revise everything and finalise all changes before publishing it. On the other hand, users know that they can churn out content for their landing pages or articles in a fraction of the time by copying and pasting bits and pieces of high quality content that others have already written elsewhere. Needless to say, plagiarism is not only unethical and unfair to those who took the time and made the effort to write the original content, it also goes against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines

Can black hat SEO harm your website?

Google’s algorithm is constantly evolving and any websites discovered to have employed black hat SEO tactics, put themselves at a far greater risk of being subjected to a manual or algorithmic penalty. Such penalties are extremely damaging to a website’s rankings, search engine visibility and by extension, enormously harmful to a business’ earnings. Once a website has been penalised, it can take many months before it is finally removed and by then the harm will most likely already be catastrophic.