The difference between black hat and white hat SEO

Maybe this has happened to you or someone you know. You’re working with what seems like a great digital marketing company that’s helping you rank better in search engines like Google. You only started working with them a few weeks or months ago, but you’re already seeing great results.

One morning, you wake up, Google yourself, and you’ve disappeared from the results. All of a sudden, you’re in panic mode. What happened? You thought things were going great!

You may have been using black hat SEO tactics. Let’s look at the difference between the two.

The downside of quick results in SEO

Believe it or not, quick results in SEO (search engine optimization) are actually a huge red flag. In the world of search engines, quick results may mean the company is using black hat SEO tactics that are setting you up for failure long term.

We would all like quick success, wouldn’t we? I like to compare SEO to exercising. Sure, there can be some short-term success with both. But if you see someone going from completely out of shape to extremely fit in a short period of time, you tend to wonder if something shady is going on.

The same is true in the world of SEO. We call those shady tactics black hat SEO. Taking their name from the cowboy hats the bad guys and good guys wore in old westerns, black hat tactics are bad, and white hat tactics are good.

What is black hat SEO?

Black hat SEO tactics are those that break the search engine rules and try to trick those search engines to get higher rankings more quickly than they really deserve.

As an illustration, let’s look at a tactic from years past. Long ago, sometimes you would scroll down to the bottom of a website and see quite a bit of extra white space. But if you highlighted it, you would discover it was actually white text on a white background. The website owner put it there so that a person couldn’t read it, but search engines like Google would pick it up.

People were doing that to make Google think content was on their site that wasn’t actually part of their human-readable content. Of course, Google caught on to what was happening, tweaked their algorithm, and those sites dropped in the rankings or disappeared altogether.

In fact, many of Google’s constant adjustments to their ranking algorithm are a result of combatting those black hat tactics!

What is white hat SEO?

White hat SEO tactics focus on what’s important for the human audience, because that’s what Google is focused on as well. White hat SEO includes quality content published consistently over time, research to find out what people are searching for, and following best practices recommended by the search engines.

What are some red flags your company may be using black hat techniques instead of white hat techniques?

  • They guarantee first-page results.
  • They talk about staying on top of every little algorithm change Google makes.
  • They get great results very quickly.
  • They don’t share any details about what they’re doing.
  • They’re incredibly inexpensive.
  • They’re located outside the country.

Any one of those on their own aren’t necessarily a bad thing. I know of companies that employ white hat SEO tactics that fit one or two of those. But the more of those your company matches, the more you should be worried.

White hat SEO tactics are not quick. But if you’re in it for the long haul, they’re definitely the better option.


  1. Sandra Longcrier on January 31, 2019 at 4:32 pm

    Good advice!

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