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White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO: The guidelines for ethical optimisation

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White hat & Black hat


There are good and bad ways to do SEO. White hat strategies are approved and encouraged by Google, but black hat strategies are considered deceptive.


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  1. White hat vs. Black hat SEO: Know the difference and boost your visibility the right way
  2. White hat SEO: Steps to take to perfect your strategy
  3. Black hat SEO: What not to do
  4. Conclusion


1. White hat vs. Black hat SEO: Know the difference and boost your visibility the right way


Categorising SEO methods as “white hat” and “black hat” is simply a way to point out what to do and what to avoid if you want to be ethical in your strategy. These are not exactly different types of SEO per se, but different ways to do SEO. 


Beyond the question of which strategies work and which don’t, there are ways to get results with SEO that might put your business at risk. Since over 90% of searches happen on Google (Source: statista), we’re going to consider it as the search engine of reference.


2. White hat SEO: Steps to take to perfect your strategy


This is the exact way Google wants you to carry out your SEO campaign. Increasing a page’s visibility online using targeted keywords, relevant content, and other optimisation strategies should be a process that adheres to Google’s guidelines.


Long-term approach


The first thing to keep in mind is that a white hat SEO strategy has a long-term plan and doesn’t promise a quick fix. SEO is by definition a long-winded process whose results could take anywhere between months and years to properly show.


Granted, this will depend on the competitiveness of the keywords, your specific industry, and the complexity of your SEO strategy. But keep in mind that regardless of any of these factors, it takes a good while for Google to grant you a good rank on the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) - and it does so gradually.


It’s all about trial and error, keeping track of what didn’t work this month to improve it the next. You don’t just start optimising your content knowing what will work and what won’t. You need to research your audience, your competitors, observe how each platform reacts to your content, how your traffic is distributed... and then make the necessary changes. All of this takes time.


Fortunately, a strategy that takes time to show results is also one that is long-lasting. An SEO campaign that focuses on a gradual improvement of your website’s positioning on the SERPs will give it a lasting impact. Think about it like a delayed reward: the more you work on your SEO, the better your results will be. 


Clear communication with Google


SEO is also supposed to adapt smoothly to updates in Google’s algorithm. When you understand the way Google functions and make it understand your content, you make sure your site can withstand any change in the algorithm


The basis of this clear communication is refraining from trying to “deceive” the algorithm in any way. Beyond having great content, your pages should be indexable by Google’s database, crawlable by its spiders and linked well amongst themselves. Google wants to have a clear view of your website and be able to find it and understand what purpose it serves as clearly as possible


Structuring your website’s text and data well and having a good internal linking structure will help Google understand your content or put it into context. This will make it easier for the algorithm to know what to do with your site, as it knows that you cater to a specific audience, publish relevant content, and prioritise a good user experience. 


When you focus on promoting some pages more than others, you let Google know these are more important. When you optimise your design and UX, you let Google know users are going to have a pleasant and fruitful experience on your site. Keep your methods transparent and understand how Google receives your content so that you can get your strategy to adhere to its algorithm.


Address your audience, not your search engine


Your content should first and foremost be geared towards your actual, human audience. It’s never a good idea to focus solely on Google’s reaction to your optimisation efforts and end up with subpar, irrelevant or unreadable content. You always want to put the user first.


Many tried-and-true SEO strategies already involve methods that improve user experience. When you realise that Google is similarly always looking to cater to its users better, it makes sense that it would consider user-focused content a top priority.


Importantly, don’t try to reach a keyword count at the expense of the quality of your writing, and don’t skimp on UX because even seemingly small details (such as the conversion of button size from the web to mobile) matter. 


Google-approved tactics are therefore ones that prioritise putting the audience first. By making your content more relevant and more specific and by improving elements like loading times and ease of navigation, you show Google that your SEO strategy’s primary goal is to satisfy users. 


3. Black hat SEO: What not to do


This is what you should avoid doing when working on your SEO campaign. Black hat tactics focus on trying to go around or flat-out violating Google guidelines. Even if they may seem to work at first, they’re likely to hurt your chances of eventually receiving a good ranking and keeping it.


More importantly, they may result in Google placing penalties on your website or even blacklisting it entirely from the search results. 




The golden rule. Google has a sharp eye out for plagiarism, and it will not give any kind of pass for copy-pasted content. Your content should always be original even when it takes inspiration from articles or copies published by companies in your industry.


Do your research, browse different sites, and make your content better than theirs. Besides, users are more likely to appreciate their experience on your site if they find that you bring something new to the table. It doesn’t need to be groundbreaking, but it certainly shouldn’t be recycled.


Article spinning


Your content only ranks high when Google sees that it provides something new to the existing landscape. Similar to plagiarism is what’s called article spinning: that’s when people use automated software to “spin” an existing article by replacing words with their synonyms but retaining the same overall meaning of the content.


Google may be more easily tricked by this type of recycling (and may not immediately ban it as it would for plagiarised content), but it won’t help your rankings regardless.


When you spin articles, you are reusing existing content and most likely staying stagnant in the SERPs. Keep in mind that the race for top results is often extremely competitive; and if you don’t offer something original, you don’t get ahead. 


Invisible text


Black hat SEO tactics are deceptive because they aim to convince Google that a piece of content is worth more than it is. Adding invisible chunks of text to your content by matching the text colour to the background is an old deceptive tactic on which Google quickly caught up.


Focus on optimising your text, perfecting your writing, and tailoring it to web readers. When your content is consistently enjoyable to read and specific to a topic that’s relevant to your audience, you’ll be well on your way to building a good basis for invariably optimised content. Don’t resort to deceptive tricks like invisible text as it can both hurt your website’s reputation and get you in trouble with Google. 


Link farms


Your backlink profile is evaluated by Google, and it should look coherent at the very least. When a large number of (often unrelated) websites link to one another in what seems to be a completely arbitrary organisation, Google can tell something’s likely wrong. 


This is why it’s important to mindfully build your backlinks and regularly check your backlink profile to ensure that the sources are high-quality. You want your backlinks to be coming from sites that are relevant to your brand, in or related to your industry, and consistent with your own online presence and reputation. 


The same goes for purchasing a large number of links just for the sake of increasing the volume. This will turn out to be a bad investment and will probably contribute to hurting your rankings.




In summary, the terms “white hat” and “black hat” are used to indicate ways of implementing an SEO strategy, rather than pointing to different types of SEO. White hat strategies are those that adhere to Google’s guidelines; black hat strategies are methods that Google considers deceptive and illegitimate. 


Here’s the most important thing to keep in mind:


The best way to gauge the difference between these two types of strategies is by their longevity. If an SEO strategy promises unreasonably fast results such as getting the top position on the SERP in a week, then you can be sure it’s a black hat tactic.


White hat, Google-approved SEO strategies will only show results gradually and over time. However, the good news is that an SEO campaign whose results are slow to show (from months to a year) prioritises long-term, long-lasting results. This means that if you stick with your above-board, progressive SEO campaign and implement all the necessary strategies, you can rest assured that you will be able to maintain your high ranking on the SERPs. 

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