Depending on their legitimacy, SEO techniques can fall under white, grey, or black “hats.” Companies spend billions of dollars on search engine optimization every year. Indeed, overall business expenditure on SEO is set to reach almost $80 billion by 2020.

Such giant sums of money showcase its immense importance. There is no way companies would allocate such enormous budgets to SEO if the returns didn’t justify it.

However, not all SEO is helpful.

In fact, many prevailing strategies can land businesses in big trouble. Many websites are penalized (some even get banned from Google) due to poor SEO practice.

White, black, and grey hat SEO are three distinct approaches. Each entails alternate practices and provide different short and long term results.

It’s vital to know the main differences between them. If you don’t, you may risk potential negative repercussions.

Keep reading to discover all about the different SEO ‘hats’.

White Hat SEO

Let’s begin with white hat optimization strategies.

White hat SEO strategies constitute an approach of short term pain for long term gain.

The pain comes from waiting for the results to happen. The gain derives from the ongoing ranking benefits over time. It’s tortoise versus hare tactics. White hat SEO takes longer to get up and running. However, they don’t stop once they get going!

That’s all well and good. But what actually is it?

White hat is the goody-two-shoes of SEO. These optimization techniques abide entirely by search engine rules (predominantly Google’s). They see the potential issues of disobeying (aka penalties) and decide to yield to them.

Overall, white hat SEO is the approach all responsible businesses and individuals should take. Sure, the rankings may come a little slower. But it’s a safe bet. There’s no chance of being hit with a penalty.

Nicely, when the results do come, they keep ticking away for some time.

Here are some examples of white hat SEO:

Keyword Research

It’s totally permissible (and definitely recommended) to create content in line with your specific keywords.

This is about orienteering keywords around what people are searching for online.

Creating Great Content

We all know that content is king.

To get ahead on Google rankings, it’s vital that your content is second to none. The idea is that better content will naturally rise to the top over time. People see it, like it, and link to it.

Link-Building via Social Media & Outreach

Content and websites need links to get ranking higher.

It doesn’t matter the niche. From advertising for plumbers to promoting a new dental service. The same rule applies to everyone.

Do this legally by reaching out to other webmasters and letting them know about your awesome new post/video/podcast etc. They see it and might choose to link.

Likewise, social media provides a platform to showcase great content and attract interest.

Black Hat SEO

If white hat SEO is the good guy, then black hat SEO is the villain.

It’s the bad guy of website optimization that you love to hate. It’s the naughty kid that sits at the back of every class.

You get the idea.

Basically, where white hat SEO plays by the rules, black hat SEO does not!

The results are inverted too. Here, your website may experience short term gains. Rankings come quickly. However, long term, it can suffer. The results don’t last long; the potential for negative implications is high.

All the things white hat SEO successfully avoids are more likely to happen.

Now, back in the day, when websites and search engines were new territories, black hat strategies were the norm. It was the wild-west of the web! Anything and everything was allowed, with no repercussions.

But times have changed. Black hat SEO weights the dice unfairly in favor of the website, at the expense of the user. For Google, that’s a big no-no. After all, the user experience (UX) is central to Google’s ethos.

Black hat strategies forsake the UX. Therefore, they’re not allowed. Search engine algorithms are now complex and advanced. They don’t fall for the same tricks as they did before.

Here are some examples of black hat SEO:

Keyword Stuffing

You can’t create content with an excessive number of keywords.

Google bots may pick up on them sooner. But they detract from the reading experience. The text must remain legible to humans- not just bots!

Paid Links

Paid links from poor quality sources are bad news.

Buying thousands of links from dodgy link dealers will spike your rankings. However, you risk being banned as a result.

Grey Hat SEO

Grey hat SEO, as you might expect, treads the line between white and black.

It’s the clever kid in class who knows how to bend the rules and get away with it.

If we’re honest, pure white hat SEO is generally too pure! Of course, rules and regulations are in place for a reason. They have to describe the ideal behavior in the eyes of ‘the law’.

However, there’s a significant difference between bending and breaking. For the sake of the business, sometimes it’s necessary to push the boundaries of what’s technically permitted.

In fact, most people playing by white hat rules fit into the grey category. Almost everyone is doing what they can to promote their content and attract backlinks. Strictly speaking, this doesn’t always fall in line with Google’s policies.

It’s about finding the right line.

You wouldn’t pay directly for links (not allowed). But you might try finding a legit site that’s willing to link back to you. It’s similar, but not the same! It’s grey hat SEO.

Here are some examples of grey hat SEO:

Three-Way Links

Many people trade links (“I’ll link to you if you reciprocate”).

But Google’s getting pretty hot on that. Three-way linking is a common alternative. This time, three people come together and trade links accordingly.

Person A links to person B; B links to C; person C links back to A.

High Keyword Density

Again, subtle differences.

Don’t keyword stuff! The content must make sense and be easily readable. But having more keywords than might naturally occur might work.

Final Thoughts on White, Black and Grey Hat SEO

There you have it: everything you need to know about white, black and grey hat SEO.

As we’ve seen, search engine optimization is key to business success. Companies spend billions of dollars each year for that reason.

However, there are different ways to do it. Some are better than others.

Hopefully, this article has highlighted how to maximize your gains and minimize the potential for trouble!

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