White Hat SEO vs. Black Hat SEO: Rules That Help You Rank

White Hat SEO vs. Black Hat SEO: Rules That Help You Rank

If you’re just now learning about search engine optimization (SEO), you might have realized just how many ways there are for businesses to optimize their websites. There are plenty of actions you can take to improve your site’s ranking in the search engines, but not all of these actions are ethical. 

There’s a secret dark side to SEO: It’s called black hat SEO. If you’re new to the world of SEO, you might not realize which approaches are actually dangerous, against search engines’ terms of service, or just all-around spammy.

Before you invest in SEO, it’s important to know which practices qualify as black hat SEO so you can embrace its angelic cousin, white hat SEO. With white hat SEO practices, you find ways to promote your website within the confines of search engine best practices — without stooping to trickery. 

In this guide, we’ll break down the differences between white hat SEO and black hat SEO, as well as share five white hat SEO tips to boost your business’s presence on the search engine results pages (SERPs)

What Is White Hat SEO?

White hat SEO is a collection of SEO techniques that adhere to search engine guidelines. White hat SEO techniques play within the rules created by search engines. Instead of tricking the algorithm into ranking your site highly, you focus instead on creating an awesome user experience.

White hat SEO includes best practices like:

  • Creating high-quality content that includes keywords
  • Encouraging organic traffic over time by designing a frictionless experience for site visitors
  • Steadily increasing your search engine ranking over time through strategic content creation, backlinks, and on-page SEO

White hat SEO aligns with how search engine algorithms rank website content. It gives businesses a framework for creating great user experiences that search engine bots can then crawl and start indexing. Over time, search engine crawlers will take notice of your quality site and your web pages will start ranking. 

Keep in mind that, over time, search engine updates — and particularly Google search algorithm updates like Panda and Penguin — changed what it meant to do white hat SEO. Some practices that are now black hat used to be white hat 10 years ago, so white hat techniques are always changing. 

Examples of White Hat SEO

White hat SEO doesn’t tempt you with promises of overnight rankings or guaranteed results. It’s less sensational than black hat SEO, but it helps you do the job right.

Here are just a few examples of white hat SEO in action: 

  • Researching relevant, helpful keywords using SEO tools like Ahrefs and Semrush 
  • Creating a long-term SEO strategy that integrates with your content marketing and digital marketing campaigns
  • Making high-quality content and publishing it to a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, where you can easily add helpful alt text and meta descriptions
  • Earning links to your site by composing guest posts for other sites, or agreeing to podcast interviews
  • Installing heatmaps on your site to fix issues with the user experience
  • Adding relevant tags, headers, and other metadata to every page of your site
  • Boosting traffic to your site via social media like LinkedIn or Instagram

As you can see, there’s nothing particularly exciting about white hat SEO, and that’s why it works so well. It’s a collection of proven best practices that search engine experts know will boost your brand without running afoul of Google’s rules.

Comparing White Hat SEO, Gray Hat SEO, and Black Hat SEO Practices

That’s a lot of hats, huh?

Black hat SEO is the nemesis of white hat SEO. It violates search engine guidelines, but it’s also infamous for creating poor user experiences, too. Even so, some businesses invest in these negative SEO practices in a desperate bid to see short-term gains in their PageRank.

To be honest, black hat SEO is bad for everyone. Site visitors dislike it and search engines will penalize you when they realize what you’re doing.

You’ll likely receive a Google penalty if you’re caught using any of these techniques: 

  • Keyword stuffing: This is when you put as many keywords into your content as possible. Keyword stuffing is very obvious to human readers and search engines. After all, how many times will you organically say “Dentists in Dallas, Texas” in a blog? Search engines analyze copy for keyword density to check for stuffing. When in doubt, stick with a keyword density of 2%. Also, don’t paste a huge wall of keywords at the bottom of each page on your site. You need to integrate them into the copy of each page.
  • Hidden text: No, turning your text white on a white background won’t magically turn it invisible. Search engines know what you’re doing, so don’t do it. 
  • Plagiarism or article spinning: Search engines don’t like it when you rewrite other people’s content. Even if you put it through an AI content generator tool like ChatGPT, plagiarism is a no-no. Always create your own blog and web copy from scratch.
  • Link farming: This is when you try to artificially generate a ton of links to your site, without caring where they come from. Search engines care about link quality more than quantity, so link schemes like this will only hurt your website’s rankings.

Gray hat SEO techniques aren’t quite as bad as black hat SEO tactics, but they will definitely raise some eyebrows. Gray hat SEO doesn’t technically break the rules, but it’s still ill-advised.

For example, writing low-quality content just for clicks or buying web domains to build backlinks to your own site qualify as gray hat. It’s not technically against the rules, but it doesn't create a great user experience, either.

It’s easy to slip into black hat techniques if you’re going the gray route, so stay away from any questionable search engine techniques. If it doesn’t sound right, it’s too good to be true.

Black hat and gray hat SEO attempt to skirt around search engine rules to artificially generate better traffic and rankings in less time. Spoiler alert: search engines hate that. They’ll punish you if they catch you breaking the rules. You could lose everything overnight, which is why it’s so important to stay away from sketchy search engine techniques.

5 Best White Hat SEO Tactics

SEO is a long-term game and you can’t outsmart search engines. If you want to see real results, follow these white hat SEO practices to see long-term SEO success. 

1. Properly Integrate Keywords in Website Copy

Sure, keywords matter, but you can’t paste a huge list of irrelevant keywords on a webpage and say you’re doing white hat SEO. 

Proper keyword research is all about user intent. Why is someone searching for a particular phrase? What’s their pain point? What do they need to see from your website? 

Only use keywords within relevant content for each webpage. Include these terms naturally within the copy to answer your target audience’s biggest needs. 

2. Create Eye-Popping Content

This is the first rule of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines: “Create helpful, reliable, people-first content.” 

Every piece of content you create should answer a question or solve a problem. Follow Google’s EEAT guidelines and create original copy — no duplicate content allowed.

The more high-quality content you create, the more likely you are to rank in search. The downside is that it takes time to create great content, so if you don’t have 10 hours a week to devote to content production, let the experts at Growth Machine take the reins

3. Follow a Linking Strategy

With white hat SEO, you create an internal linking structure that funnels users through your website. Internally, link pages together using relevant anchor text. If visitors want to delve deeper into a certain topic, this should give them the information they need — and keep them on-site longer, which is a win for SEO. 

You can also create a link building strategy to earn high-quality backlinks to your site from other websites. Try to source mentions from websites with high domain authority. Sharing amazingly detailed content is a great way to earn links, but guest blogs and podcast interviews can also help you earn backlinks.

4. Add Metadata to Your Site

Metadata is an easy SEO win that makes your site more indexable and accessible to people who use screen readers. With this white hat SEO technique, you work either with a webmaster or your CMS to optimize these back-end components of each webpage: 

  • Page titles
  • Meta tags
  • Image alt text
  • Meta descriptions

Add target keywords where they’re relevant, but focus mostly on offering helpful information. Search engines pull this data and use it to entice users to visit your site, so write this metadata for both search engines and site visitors.

5. Improve the User Experience

Even if you have great content, you need to give users the best experience possible. Otherwise, they won’t stick around long enough to engage with your content. 

User experience is a big ranking factor, so improve your on-site experience by: 

  • Boosting site speed
  • Using a mobile-friendly design and responsive web pages
  • Creating an intuitive and simple navigation bar

Removing friction from the user experience keeps people on-site longer, which is great not only for building audience relationships, but also for boosting your search engine rankings.

Stay on the Right Side of the Google Algorithm: Follow White Hat SEO Methods

It’s tempting to stray to the dark side, but black hat SEO techniques have so many pitfalls that cheating the system just isn’t worth the risk. Doing things the right way takes time, but investing in white hat SEO tactics is the best way to create an SEO strategy that generates real results. 

Content is the lifeblood of any digital marketing strategy, and SEO is no exception. But coming up with keywords, ideating topics, and creating content consistently takes a lot of work. Instead of doing everything yourself, go with an experienced SEO agency like Growth Machine. 

Our small team of SEO experts works with you to learn your brand voice so we can produce a steady stream of informative, engaging, people-first articles that follow white hat SEO best practices. Contact our team now to start building your own white hat SEO strategy.

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