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An Introduction to White Hat, Grey Hat & Black Hat SEO

White hat, SEO, Google

White Hat SEO

SEO can be a pretty complicated subject; after all there are at least 200 “major” factors that Google considers when ranking websites. Each of these factors then comes with their own set of rules that a webmaster or business owner needs to learn in order to achieve search engine success.  This reality has spawned a whole industry of SEO professionals, dedicated to learning these rules and using their knowledge to help businesses and website owners reach the top spot.

One of the ways that we can break down different SEO strategies simply is by the different methodologies used. These are often described as white hat, grey hat and black hat SEO.

White hat ‘follows the rules’

White hat essentially covers any SEO techniques that strictly follow the rules set out by search engines like Google. White hat SEO is seen as the most ethical. White hat sometimes can seem much slower than grey or black hat SEO for achieving results. In the long run however, white hat is just what Google wants to reward. Google, through their algorithm updates over the last two plus years, is making the effort to see that white hat methods are being compensated with higher rankings.

Black hat ‘bends the rules’

Black hat SEO often “bends the rules” by finding flaws in Google’s search algorithm to help make quick gains. This type of SEO generally makes use of automated tools to help website owners rank in the top spot for multiple keywords and phrases, which can be seen as a significant unfair advantage to others.

Examples of black hat techniques include: Bulk backlinks, link cloaking, link wheels and article spinning. In the eyes of Google, black hat SEO is unethical and against their terms of use. Over the past couple of years the algorithm updates ‘Penguin’ and ‘Panda’ have made progress in eradicating the search results of many of these websites, or dropping their rankings.

Grey hat is a bit of both

Grey hat sits in between black and white hat SEO. It is perhaps not against Google terms, but not entirely ethical either. Generally grey hat SEO involves using tools to make the enormous task of SEO easier. Grey hat might be tools to help find back linking opportunities or tools to help build your social following.

Another common grey hat technique is explicitly searching for websites and blog opportunities to gain backlinks from. It’s a common technique, but what Google really wants to see is site owners gaining these links naturally, as opposed to placing them there themselves.

The line between white hat and grey hat SEO is a little blurry.  To some extent, everyone uses a bit of grey hat SEO in one way or another. With grey hat SEO though, there is always a possibility that Google may decide to update their rules or decide that you have circumvented their search results for unfair gain. As some websites have found out, Google can be harsh in punishing sites they feel are trying to game the system. But if you’re sensible about it, most grey hat SEO goes unnoticed, especially compared with the thousands of automated links and articles generated by black hat tools.

Could 2015 spell the end of black hat SEO?

In the past year the SEO landscape has been filled with suggestions that 2015 will “mark the end” of black hat SEO, as Google gets even more serious about banning those websites that use such techniques.

SEO is a long-term strategy and not an “overnight fix”

The advantages of SEO are that in the long-run it can generate significant organic search traffic, with little or no ongoing costs, compared with pay per click advertising which costs each time someone clicks on your ad. SEO is not an overnight answer for generating traffic to a website, and shouldn’t be treated as such. If you need quick sales, then PPC may be your answer. But continue with your organic SEO efforts. It is a low cost strategy that helps you reach highly targeted end-users time and time again.

Overall you can’t go wrong with white hat SEO

With white hat SEO, as long as you keep to the rules you can’t go wrong. It may take a little longer to get the results you want, but in the end you will gain from it. You might notice that for many search terms, the websites at the top of the page are the ones following these very principles. They have a strong brand and they focus on that. It can seem like an impossible task when some organizations have teams of full-time SEO experts, but there are plenty of ways to get your slice of the pie.


An Introduction to White Hat, Grey Hat & Black Hat SEO
Article Name
An Introduction to White Hat, Grey Hat & Black Hat SEO
Google algorithm changes have punished websites that may have used "black hat" SEO techniques. Learn about white hat, grey hat and black hat SEO techniques. Why in the long run, it's best to stay white hat.

4 thoughts on “An Introduction to White Hat, Grey Hat & Black Hat SEO”

  1. informative tips about seo, trying to learn everything I can about seo, doing alot of work myself. My question is submission software is it white or black hat seo. because Big companies have to use some kind of softwares for their customers, I know they are not doing it manually? is it safe?

    1. If you mean directory submission, it’s not the worst thing that you could do. Google’s more keen on seeing natural submission over time, so creating a small number of links from time to time. Not simply going from none to 100 directory submissions.

      Where it becomes a problem is if you start submitting your website to “unrelated” directories: directories in other countries, other niches etc..

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