What’s the Difference Between White-Hat and Black-Hat SEO?


If you’re ever watching an old Western, and you’re not sure which characters are the good guys, look at their headgear. The heroes typically wear white hats, and the villains wear black ones. While this trope has since been recognized, and subverted both in film and in other kinds of fiction, it is still common enough that it’s become part of our everyday language. For example, if you hear about a white-hat computer expert, that is someone who is legitimately working to keep a system safe. A black-hat expert, or a black-hat hacker as they’re more commonly called, is someone who uses his or her knowledge to exploit and subvert the rules for personal gain or pleasure. It’s like how someone who is an expert in security systems might be trying to prevent burglaries, or they could be a thief, depending on how they use that knowledge.

This black and white terminology applies to SEO, too, and it’s something businesses should pay close attention to when hiring search engine optimization services.

White-Hat SEO VS. Black-Hat SEO

So, aside from white-hat is good and black-hat is bad, what’s the difference between the two types of search engine optimization? Well, generally speaking, white-hat SEO is about following the rules, and providing value to your users in a way that still satisfies the algorithms used by search engines to find the best content. Black-hat SEO, by contrast, is typically about exploiting the rules in order to make large, short-term gains.

Examples work best, so let’s use a few to illustrate the difference.

One of the old rules of search engine optimization was that backlinks were the key to getting onto the front page of search results. Now, a backlink is simply a link to your website that is found on another site. A white-hat SEO strategy would be to integrate backlinks organically. For example, if you wrote a guest blog for another site, you could put a link back to your own page in the closing so readers would have the option of clicking-through to see your page. Other parts of a white-hat strategy might include submitting your webpage’s address to Internet bookmarking sites, mentioning it on social media, and working it into forum posts.

A black-hat strategy, by contrast, would be to find some way to significantly boost the number of backlinks your site receives, without regard to the quality of those backlinks. Churning out low-quality posts, creating dummy and shell sites to pump up your importance, and using automated linking services are all black-hat tools.

SEO is a Long-Term Investment

While it’s true that both white-hat and black-hat strategies will improve a website’s standing, black-hat SEO only provides short-term boosts. Worse, black-hat methods damage your website’s reputation, because they’re seen as manipulative and unprofessional. White-hat SEO, on the other hand, is meant to increase your website’s standing in search engine results, while still providing value to your readers. Because white-hat SEO is organic, and it acts as a natural extension of your marketing strategy, it may take longer show results, but said results are going to be more permanent.

Both white-hat and black-hat SEO are affected when the rules for search engine algorithms change. However, the difference is that while white-hat SEO strategies are mildly inconvenienced, black-hat SEO strategies are often destroyed by a change in the rules. So, while websites using white-hat SEO can simply make minor changes to align themselves with new rules, websites using black-hat SEO often have to build a new strategy from the ground up. Because, most of the time, SEO rule changes are instituted specifically to close loopholes to prevent black-hat strategies from working. 

To learn more about what goes into a successful SEO campaign, give us a call or send us a note today at Small Dog Creative 661-702-1310! 


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