Black, Grey and White Hat: what if SEO was only a matter of shades…

In our article what is a PBN and why create one, we mentioned that PBNs were sometimes considered as a black hat SEO technique. But what does this mean? Black, grey or white hat, we will explain it all to you in this article!


White Hat SEO: State of the Art SEO

White hat SEO is a technique which consists in strictly conforming to the official guidelines of search engines (99% of the time it will be Google’s guidelines).


White Hat SEO, the teacher’s pet

Let’s begin with a simple analogy: using white hat SEO is akin to being the perfect student in a class. You learn your lessons, always do your homework, use your best handwriting and participate in class, making you one of the teacher’s favorite students (the teacher being Google here). 👩🏻‍🏫


In the same class, you will also find students who prefer techniques that could be assimilated to black hat SEO: they do not learn their lessons, cheat during tests, buy essays off the Internet or pay other classmates to write them for them. #ThugLife 😎. They manage however to obtain grades that are just as good or even better than those of the students who work hard. The difference is that they do it with less effort (though this is arguable). As long as they do not get caught red-handed, the teacher has no way to punish them for such behavior.


White Hat SEO = peace of mind

This analogy bears resemblance with what is happening in the field of organic ranking, with the white knights and the dark knights of SEO. White Hat SEO techniques require more work but will allow you to feel more relaxed when a new Google algorithm update comes. Indeed, Google is not trying to catch the good students, it wants to thwart ‘cheaters’.Granted, some cheaters might slip through multiple updates, but that is a risk to consider nonetheless.


However, SEO professionals who use white hat SEO exclusively are actually quite a rare species to be found. When neglecting to use‘darker’techniques, it is getting harder and harder to rise in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Especially since, as mentioned in this article, backlinks are so important in the current Google algorithm. Indeed, obtaining links pointing to your website requires a lot of time, effort and patience. That’s why you sometimes have to find some SEO tactics that are a bit more aggressive in order to accelerate the process and play in the same league as your competitors…


Some white hat SEO techniques:

– Optimizing your site’s structure in order to make it easier to read for Google’s crawlers
– Optimizing user experience
– Doing some guest blogging
– Creating interesting, high-quality content that will attract links. Think of evergreen content for example.
– Creating content with a long-term strategy in mind


Grey Hat SEO: the in-between

Grey hat SEO is basically a spicier version of white hat SEO used to quickly boost your SEO
without resorting to unorthodox methods or going against Google’s guidelines.


For example, with grey hat SEO you could ‘stimulate’ backlink building by directly contacting relevant sites in your niche to ask them to add a link towards your site, or you could go and post links to your site in the comment section of another relevant site. You could create a huge quantity of content but would still try and upkeep some kind of quality and substance, according to your SEO and editorial strategies. You would not use‘spuncontent’ which consists in reusing already-existing content and rephrase it slightly to make it your own while avoiding the‘duplicatecontent’ flag from Google.


A boost to your organic ranking

Grey hat SEO could be compared to that student in the class who would sometimes ask his neighbor for an answer during a test or copy an exercise just before class because he did not do it at home. If he does it in a discreet and clever way, the teacher will never notice.


Grey hat SEO is a way to speed things up when it comes to organic ranking. These techniques are not directly going against Google’s guidelines and terms of use. They are simply a way to help foster organic link building in order to go up in the SERPs. Using grey hat SEO techniques will allow you to keep your edge against your competitors as very few sites will limit themselves to only using white hat SEO.


Black Hat SEO: the dark side of the Force?

Black hat SEO consists in using techniques that are strictly prohibited by search engines. But does this mean that you should not use these techniques altogether?


Not exactly. Google has edited a document called webmaster guidelines listing all the techniques and contents that cannot be used to improve your ranking in their search engine. If you stick to this list and do not use any techniques that are on it, then you are technically not within the realm of black hat SEO and will stay under the radar. However, the slider to distinguish between the different colors of SEO is actually not all black or all white. The frontier between white, grey and black hat SEO is ever-moving and subjective. The color of a technique mostly depends on the way it is implemented.


However, if you want to be the cheating student and not get caught by the Google teacher, you will have to know what you are doing. Some updates to the Google algorithm such as Penguin are intended to penalize sites which do not conform to the webmaster guidelines.


Since black hat SEO encompasses techniques that are not approved by Google, the risk is that your site could be penalized, which means your ranking would be strongly affected and you would go down in SERPs, or worse yet, your site could be completely deindexed from search engines. While knowing the risks, you should remain careful and use these techniques cleverly and with subtlety.


Black hat SEO suffers from a bad reputation caused in part by the fact that most of the time these techniques are being used in an amateurish way and without method. You are far more likely to get caught by Google for using these techniques if you do it conspicuously for a site which does not have any SEO authority yet. Buying backlinks or resorting to spun content will, therefore, become much more visible, especially of the SEO strategy of a site stands mainly on black hat SEO techniques.


Infographics from Search Engine Watch


Believe what you will

In the world of SEO specialists, what can be considered black or white is often an object of debate. Opinions are numerous and based on subjective and objective experiences which feed many beliefs when it comes to classifying a technique into this or that taxonomy. For example, a lot of people think that when SEO is managed manually, it is automatically white hat. People tend to think and fear that when tasks are being automatized then it instantly falls under the black hat category.


However, automating tasks can simply be done to improve productivity and save time, without cutting on quality. This way, creating 10 analytics tags in one setting allows you to save some time compared to doing it with each new blog/site creation. Some tools also allow you to save some precious time and optimize 301 and 404 redirections, internal linking, etc. Can this really be considered as ‘cheating’ or is it just optimization? We will let you be the judge of that.


Best practice

In the end, the art of ranking consists in knowing how to mix the different types of SEO and use them appropriately. Black hat SEO, even if not approved by Google, can allow you to get faster results in terms of ranking while the results of white hat SEO will take longer to show but will be more durable. Therefore it is important to learn how to use these techniques according to one’s skill level. This is also very important if you entrust a professional with the task of ranking your site, you should know if he leans towards the dark side or is more like Gandalf the White… or Grey!


Are you more of a white hat or black hat SEO kind of person? Or do you use a bit of both? Do you think black hat SEO is sometimes too demonized?