White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO: Which Hat Should You Wear?

black hat vs white hat seo tips guidesNot knowing the difference between white hat vs black hat SEO can backfire all the search engine optimization work you’ve been doing for so long.

If someone asked, what’s white hat vs black hat, what would come to your mind?

Is Olivia Pope running around in a white hat during an episode of Scandal? Some evil cowboy wearing a black hat? Both would be wrong. It actually refers to SEO.

One way can get you penalized for short-term gain. The other one plays within the rules of search engines.

So, what’s the difference between white hat vs black hat SEO?

Read on to find out.

The Evolving History of SEO Tactics

You’re probably aware that there is a ton of money to be made if you’re in the top search engine results. Most of the clicks will go to the top listings. This would make some businesses and SEO experts figure out ways to get around Google’s algorithm and get to the top of search results.

At the beginning of SEO, people would figure out ways to game the system to get to the top of page one.

For example, they would have awkward keywords like “real estate agent FL” appear in various places on a web page. They may have it appear in the bottom of a web page in a color to blend in with the rest of the site. Search engines would pick it up, but users couldn’t tell. Tactics like these are now considered black hat SEO.

Each time people would find a way to game the system, search engines would roll out updates. After all, they’re not interested in these sites. They’re interested in giving users the most relevant search results.

It’s an equation that comes down to money. Happy Users = More Eyeballs = More Ad Revenue.

Google makes most of its money from ad revenue. The company is committed to giving its users the best results possible. It will even penalize and remove sites that don’t play along. When you’re doing SEO on your site, you have to ask yourself if you’re optimizing your site or gaming the system. That’s the big difference between white hat vs black hat SEO.

White hat SEO focuses on optimizing your site to let search engines know what your site is about while giving users a great experience. Black hat SEO is about tricks that can boost your rankings, offering little to no value to actual end users. Black hat runs the risk of manual penalties from Google.

What Does Black Hat SEO Look Like?

Now that you know what the terms black hat and white hat SEO mean, how can you tell which one is being used? The difference lies in the methods. Here are some of the methods that are used often in black hat SEO.

Keyword Stuffing

This is an old way of doing SEO and it used to work. Before 2012, you could have your keyword appear as many times as possible and rank on the first page of searches.

Once Google rolled out its Panda algorithm update, all bets were off. Sites would get hit with penalties because they were trying to stuff a keyword in the text as many times as possible.


Some folks will deliberately mislead searchers to click on a link. They may set up a web page so it ranks for “the best keto bombs”. When you click on a link, you actually go to a site that is for something unrelated, like supplements.

Hiring an Agency that Guarantees Results

Even the most informed and seasoned SEO experts don’t know what factors makeup Google’s algorithm. They know that there are over 200 ranking factors and there are best practices for maintaining your online presence.

Anyone who says that they can guarantee your site position one rankings in a week, or any amount of time, is either lying or they’re using black hat methods.

White Hat SEO Tips

White hat SEO is all about staying within the rules of search engines. Google and other search engines have guidelines to follow if you want to stay out of trouble.

Even if you’re using white hat techniques, there are things that you can optimize and you need to understand what to avoid in SEO. You can still get great results by sticking to white hat tactics.

It’s All About Users

Your job is to give Google’s users a great experience when they click through to your site. You want to have a fast site that’s easy to use and navigate. You want to provide quality content that addresses the questions your customers ask.

Manage Directory Listings

Google’s bots crawl the web and put information from various sites to create a profile of your web presence. You need to make sure that the presence is accurate and complete.

Check directory listings online to make sure the name, address, and phone numbers are accurate and are the same on your website.

You also want to have complete directory listings on Google My Business and Bing Places.

Read Quality Rater Guidelines

Google has thousands of contractors who search for websites and manually check them for quality. These people are known as quality raters. They provide the human factor of Google’s algorithm to make sure that the algorithm is giving users great results.

These quality raters are given guidelines to use and the document is publicly available. It’s a lengthy read, but it will give you a lot of valuable insight to make sure that your website and content are high-quality.

Get Better Results with White Hat vs Black Hat SEO

There is no real debate between white hat vs black hat SEO. Black hat SEO uses “old school” SEO methods outside of Google’s guidelines to rank higher in search engines. While this may work for a short time, you’re going to get caught sooner or later.

White hat SEO focuses on optimizing your site for quality performance, the best user experience, and quality content that answers your customer’s questions. This type of SEO is more sustainable over the long run. The more you understand what’s important to users and give them what they’re looking for, the better you’ll do.

Over time, these optimizations and continued work will snowball into higher numbers of impressions and better CTR.

Do you want more web development tips? Check our blog often to learn more about web development and SEO.

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