White, Grey, and Black: Three Types of SEO You Need to Know About

White Hat vs Black Hat SEO

Whether your audiences come from across the world or are localized in Austin, search engine optimization (SEO) is an essential part of your digital marketing strategy. Ranking highly on search engines—especially Google, which hosts more than 87% of all web traffic worldwide—will get you more exposure than almost anything else. There are countless SEO techniques out there. Some are more effective than others. Some are more ethical than others. If you want to make Google happy and build long-term website success, you need an organic SEO company that will stick with what the pros call “white hat” SEO—and avoid the dreaded black and grey hat techniques.

White Hat SEO

Back in the 1920s and 30s, filmmakers used to use white and black hats to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. Heroes wore white hats; villains wore black hats. A century later, those conventions still refer to people who follow the rules versus people who don’t. Today, we’ll discuss them in the context of search engine optimization. The term “white hat” refers to SEO practices that are honest, ethical, and user-focused. To be white hat, an SEO strategy must:

  • Focus on providing value to users
  • Aim to earn its way to the top, rather than getting quick (often questionable) results
  • Align with Google’s guidelines for webmasters

What Does Google Recommend?

Google guidelines encourage honesty and service to web visitors. They center on three basic practices:

  • ‌Creating content for human beings, not search engine algorithms
  • Striving for quality, not getting clicks
  • ‌Avoiding deception of users or search engine algorithms

‌Deceptive practices are black hat SEO. They don’t raise the quality of the site or help the user find what they need. White hat practices help the user first and earn a high ranking from there. They’re the most ethical and effective strategies for getting clicks and views. 

What Does White Hat SEO Look Like?

Examples of white hat SEO include:

  • ‌Creating original, up-to-date, & relevant content that provides readers with beneficial information
  • ‌Focusing on keywords that match real user searches & intent 
  • ‌Structuring a site using headings and readable paragraphs so it’s easy for users and crawlers to navigate, I.e improvising user experience 

‌These highly effective techniques show Google that a site is high-quality and user-focused. Even though they’re the best way to build rankings, it can take time to see results. Since patience in the business world is limited, people tend to turn to black hat strategies. 

The Dark Side: Black Hat SEO

Black hat SEO actively goes against Google’s recommended practices. In fact, many black hat SEO techniques appear on Google’s webmaster guidelines as practices to avoid. Yet they still tempt site owners and developers—not because they’re forbidden fruit, but because they get quick results (with big risks). Black hat techniques deceive a search engine algorithm. They try to make a site look authoritative and well-respected, but they have no substance. If anything, they make the site less valuable to users while only appealing to the algorithm that helps rank them.

Some widely used black hat SEO techniques include:

  • Keyword stuffing: Excessive use of terms that the site is trying to rank for, with no regard for whether the text sounds natural or is distracting to the reader
  • Auto-generated content: Text that a machine creates to manipulate search engine rankings, not to help the reader
  • Cloaking: Showing different content to human users versus search engines
  • Link schemes: Buying inbound links or exchanging links for the purpose of boosting rankings, not to help users

‌Techniques like these can work for a while, but they’re unethical and likely to backfire. 

Search engine algorithms pick up on deceptive practices and can result in manual actions, which means Google will rank a site lower or even omit it from search results. 

The only way to remove a manual action is to eliminate the black hat technique. These manual reviews can take several months – severely hurting a sites online presence and lead generation The lesson: you might as well use white hat strategies from the beginning, as the risks of black hat SEO far outweigh the long term benefits. 

What about Grey Hat?

Some SEO strategies fall somewhere between white hat and black hat. This could mean:

  • ‌Mixing white and black hat tactics
  • ‌Using tactics that focus more on manipulating rankings rather than boosting site quality, even if those tactics aren’t expressly forbidden

For example, a site may:

  • Create quality original content, but keyword-stuff its web pages
  • Rewrite old content, so it’s technically not a duplicate but doesn’t create any value
  • Give content creators free gifts in exchange for backlinks

If you’re not sure whether something is grey hat, ask yourself whether it could become black hat given a minor algorithmic change. Keyword stuffing, for example, was distinctly grey hat before Google flagged it as deceptive.

Some digital marketers argue the benefits of grey hat techniques, but don’t be deceived. Anything not white hat comes with it’s risk. Whether to implement some grey hat techniques into the mix is up to the agency & campaign requirements. Just remember, most things are OK in moderation.

The Takeaway: Stick with White Hat

If your SEO agency has suggested tactics that don’t focus on user value, it’s time to find one that will. Motoza is an Austin SEO services provider that focuses exclusively on user-focused, and quality techniques the offer stable long term resultsz .

Because Motoza is an enterprise SEO company, they provide complete SEO services and search engine marketing for businesses of all kinds. Request a consultation to find out what Motoza can do for you.


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