White Hat SEO vs. Black Hat SEO

White Hat SEO vs. Black Hat SEO

Last Edited September 11, 2023 by Garenne Bigby in Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization is more important than ever before. Why? Because we live in the digital age where every business has a plethora of competition on the web. Searchers can find a huge range of results when they’re looking for any given product or service. That’s why it’s vital to make sure you’re standing out and ranking high for keywords relating to your products and/or services. When you’re following common best practices for search engine optimization, you’re able to boost your search engine rankings while also achieving various benefits in terms of usability. For instance, your website will load quicker, be easier to navigate, and ultimately, convert more prospects into customers. 

So what kind of SEO methods are you using? No, we’re not talking about on-page or off-page, we’re talking about black hat SEO vs. white hat SEO. If you’re not familiar with the terms, you might be using techniques that won’t necessarily set you up for great results in the future. Knowing the difference between black hat SEO and white hat SEO is essential to ensure you’re meeting your long-term goals when it comes to ranking on the search engines. Let’s take a look at the meaning of each term.

White Hat SEO vs. Black Hat SEO

What is White Hat SEO? 

White hat SEO refers to any sort of strategy that follows the rules. Google sets out various recommendations and/or guidelines in terms of quality content. Essentially, white hat SEO means you’re doing exactly what the search engines want you to do. This means you’ve created a long-term plan that doesn’t try to trick any crawlers and will withstand any future algorithm updates. 

What is Black Hat SEO? 

Black hat SEO is the opposite of any sort of strategy that follows the rules. Essentially, you’re breaking the rules to earn higher rankings in a less honest way. You may increase your website or page’s rank in the search engines; however, you’re doing so in a way that violates the search engines’ terms. More often than not, black hat SEO doesn’t work out in the long-run as you’re unable to adapt to algorithm updates. 

Which Method Gets Better Results? 

Each method has its own benefits and drawbacks. In fact, many marketers and/or web developers struggle to decide which way to go. For instance, white hat SEO can work exceptionally well, but it takes more time to see results. Black hat SEO, on the other hand, offers fairly quick results, but there’s always the risk of reputational damage or having your website blacklisted. Let’s review exactly what kind of techniques fit into each category.

Techniques that Fall Under White Hat SEO 

Many of the most successful companies choose white hat SEO techniques. Why? Google, the most popular search engine, will ban your site if they see you using too many black hat SEO techniques. As they’re the most popular search engine, they’re an incredibly powerful source of potential traffic to your website. If you’re banned, you’ll notice a drastic decline in traffic, and in some cases, business opportunities. What’s worse, there’s no way of knowing if they’ll ever remove the ban. If you’re looking to play it safe, here are some of the most common techniques that fall under white hat SEO: 

Write high-quality content

Your content should be unique and specific to your website. This means you should avoid mass-produced or outsourced content that will be found on a number of other websites. Try to write in a way that meets the needs of searchers rather than focusing on ranking well on the search engines. Creating valuable content that answers the questions your visitors are asking is the best way to rank higher. Aim for longer content — around 2000 or more words — to get the best results. 

Before you post anything, double check for any spelling and/or grammar errors. Then take a moment to consider whether or not the content is share-worthy or link-worthy. If people share or link back to your content, your search ranking will increase. Lastly, make sure your content is relevant to the products and/or services you provide and the keywords you’re trying to rank for. Google and other search engines look for relevancy. 

Pay attention to your meta description

Your meta description is the short paragraph of text that appears in the search results under your page title. It’s best to write your meta description for your target audience rather than worry too much about the search engines. You’ll notice this is a common theme. Google and other search engines want their searchers to be happy with the results they get. Don’t overstuff your meta description with keywords — one or two of them will suffice. Remember, a meta description can make a huge difference in terms of whether or not a searcher will choose your result over the others. 

You can add a meta description in the <head> section of the HTML code on your website. Your CMS should give you complete control of your meta description. There are SEO plug-ins available, such as Yoast, that allow you to add a meta description and preview an example of how it’ll show up in search engine result pages (SERPS). 

Perform thorough keyword research

This should always be your first step. Although it’s frowned upon to “keyword stuff” — the act wherein you fill your content with keywords to rank higher — keywords are still incredibly important. Start by performing a few searches on words and/or phrases you think people would use to find the products and/or services you offer. Notice how the search engine will show you similar searches? Add these to your list. You can also use a keyword generator tool. SEMrush, for example, will provide a list of words depending on your product and/or service. 

Keep in mind; there are two types of keywords: single words and long-tail. When you’re researching a list of keywords, try to have a good amount of both types of keywords on your list. You’ll want to rank for both types as they’re both important. Additionally, try to have a good mix of highly competitive and less competitive keywords. If you aim for highly competitive keywords only, you may have trouble getting on the first page. 

Get relevant, high-quality backlinks

Backlinks, also known as inbound links, are links that are directing back to your website. Google and other search engines see backlinks as an indication of importance for any given website. Essentially, they’re a sign of popularity and relevance, which is important because the search engines give more credit to websites with a high number of backlinks. If other websites are linking to you, it means your content must be good quality, and therefore, you end up ranking higher. 

Remember, there are low and high-quality backlinks. You don’t want backlinks from spammy websites. When backlinks come from sites with content related to your website, they’re considered more relevant backlinks than those coming from sites that have nothing to do with you and your product and/or service. It’s even better if you can get backlinks from high authority websites, such as news outlets. 

Add internal links whenever possible 

Internal links are hyperlinks pointing to another page on the same domain. As long as you don’t overdo it, internal links are a great sign that your website offers value in terms of a range of posts. They make it easier for users to navigate your website, help establish information hierarchy, and above all, spread link equity around websites. How many internal links should you include on a page? Aim for no more than 2 or 3. Try to add your hyperlinks to keywords that lead to pages about that particular topic. 

In order to create a lot of internal links, you’ll need to have a lot of content on your website. This means you need an effective content marketing strategy wherein you’re posting new blogs on a regular basis. Remember to use anchor text as opposed to linked images. Although it’s fine to link images, it’s not as effective as text. 

Keep Page URLs Short and Concise 

Permalinks, also known as permanent linking structure, refers to the way a URL reads on the user’s address bar within their browser. Google and other search engines look at your permalinks — searching for information or insight into what that page is about. Make sure you add keywords to your permalinks but keep them short and concise. Several studies have stated that shorter URLs rank higher than longer URLs. The goal is to incorporate your keywords but keep it within 3 or 4 words. You can add hyphens to separate words. 

This is also about ensuring a better end-user experience. Would you rather visit a site with a URL of or You want people to click on your website and know what they’re reading and/or doing at all times. Plus, you want those who use assistive technologies to be able to hear what the URL is clearly. WordPress offers the ability to change permalinks easily. You can simply go to Settings > Permalinks.  

Techniques that Fall Under Black Hat SEO 

Those who practice black hat SEO rely on breaking the rules to rank higher, and although this can be effective, you can end up having your website blacklisted. For obvious reasons, you don’t want this to happen. In today’s day and age, having your website blacklisted can make a drastic impact on your ability to gain new business opportunities. If you’re interested in seeing what falls under black hat SEO, here’s a look at some techniques: 

Adding unrelated keywords to bait searchers 

This is commonly referred to as “bait and switch” marketing. Most business owners know that using this tactic is unethical, but sometimes, you fall into the trap without realizing it. Perhaps you’re not finding much success ranking for keywords you’ve researched, so you try some keywords that seem to be trending, and it works! You start getting more traffic than you were before. This is because those keywords are very highly searched but don’t have much competition.  

Unfortunately, adding keywords that don’t have any connection to your website and/or keywords that would make sense to rank for looks unnatural to the search engines. Let’s say you have a coffee shop. If you add a few sentences about how a specific popular celebrity would love your coffee shop, you might end up being found for searches on that celebrity. Chances are, your visitors would leave your website pretty quickly when they realize it has nothing to do with celebrity gossip and everything to do with coffee. 

Use of content automation in comments/body text

Google and other search engines like to see comments on your blog posts; however, they need to be natural and make sense. There are many programs out there to achieve content automation wherein your comments and/or body text is automatically generated by a bot. You can input your specific keywords, then the program of your choice will use those keywords at least once or twice in the comments/body text of the blog. This helps the URL rank higher, but because it’s randomly generated, it often doesn’t make much sense to the end reader OR the search engines.

While comments on your blog will help enhance keyword variation while improving the quality of the content, irrelevant comments on your blog posts will end up doing some damage. Plus, spammy comments found on blog posts tend to discourage real visitors from leaving a comment. 

Hiding text or links within content

A common technique involves hiding text or links throughout your content. This might include setting the font size to zero, adding white text on a white background, using a div tag or hiding a link within a small character. Google and other search engines have stopped looking for how many times a specific keyword is found on the page, so although this may get some sort of results, it’s not as effective as it would’ve been 5 years ago. Google uses artificial intelligence nowadays — determining the quality and relevancy of the content found on your website. 

This is why it’s recommended to write for your target audience rather than writing for the search engines. Of course, it’s great to add your keywords once or twice throughout any given page or post, but don’t get hung up on filling the page with keywords, especially if they’re hidden. It’s not necessary. 

Setting Up of Doorway Pages 

Doorway pages are essentially sites or pages created to rank for specific keywords. The goal is to lead users to your company as they’ll find your sites and pages anytime they search for specific words or phrases. While this makes sense in theory, users end up finding multiple similar pages — ending up in the same destination every time they click on the links found in the search engine. They end up being a huge eyesore for search engines and a source of frustration for visitors. 

Google and other search engines see this as manipulation, and if they catch on, they will rank you lower because of it. They don’t want their users being brought to the same page every time they click on the first few search results for any given search. Although this may work very well initially, it has the potential to end badly. 

Use of Cloaking to Trick the Search Engines

Cloaking is a technique wherein the content or information presented to the search engine crawlers is entirely different from what’s presented to the people visiting the URL. This is done to achieve better indexability, and in turn, higher search rankings for specific keywords. Google and other search engines have been known to permanently ban any sites or site authors that use cloaking, so while it can be effective, it can eventually catch up with you and result in the end of your website being shown on the search results. 

Some examples include serving a page of HTML text to search engines, but that page shows an image to users or inserting keywords into a page when the user agent requesting the page happens to be a search engine while those keywords don’t show up for actual visitors themselves. 


When you’re trying to get your website to rank higher in the search engines, it might be tempting to use quick fixes. Keep in mind; black hat SEO techniques are referred to as “black hat” for a very good reason. They will likely get you short-term results, but they come with huge risks. Typically, these techniques will be detected sooner or later, and your website may be banned or penalized in some form. Google and other search engines prefer white hat SEO techniques as they follow all of the rules and target a human audience as opposed to tricking the search engines. While it may take more time and effort to implement these techniques, it’ll pay off in the long-run. 


Garenne Bigby
Author: Garenne BigbyWebsite:
Founder of DYNO Mapper and Former Advisory Committee Representative at the W3C.


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