White Hat or Black Hat SEO – Let’s Settle This

The views expressed in this article are those of my own and not necessarily those of  Niche Site Journal (compulsive creative) or its members.

Let me be clear on a couple of things before I begin. This is not going to be a black vs white hat debate regarding which is more efficient. I simply want to clarify the differences between the two sides, without telling you which is better or which you should use.

If you aren’t familiar with the terms, “white hat SEO” is referring to the process of organically optimizing your website for search engines, in the hopes of them ranking your website high in their search results in return. Of course “black hat SEO” would be any tactics that try to trick or deceive search engines into thinking your website is of worth and rank you favourably in return.

Did you see what I said there?

Any tactics that try to trick or deceive search engines into thinking your website is of worth.

I started taking SEO clients recently and the one thing I noticed people requesting- being SEO literate or not- was that the methods to be used should be “white-hat”. Everywhere I go I see this request time and time again. The kicker is they then ask for you to lay out your backlinking strategy and reiterate that they only want white-hat backlinking from non-spammy sources.

Here is what gets me. If you only want white hat SEO done to your site, why are you going out and building backlinks. In other words, if you are trying to avoid black hat SEO (see quote above), then why are you trying to deceive the search engines by building links to your site and essentially telling Google that your own site is worth something?!

If you are going out and posting articles (spun or original) on other web 2.0 sites that you created, on social profiles that you created, on forum posts that you posted, that is going against what you were trying to avoid. Google’s job is to try to return content that is appropriate to a user’s search by finding things that other people think is great quality. They do that by seeing how many other sites on the web are linking and talking about your website. If you are the one going out and building those links, then you are trying to trick and deceive Google.

I reiterate that I am not telling you that you or wrong or right by doing black-hat SEO. Google does not own your website and they cannot tell you what you can or cannot do around the web. If they happen to react to some work you’ve done on the internet, that’s their quality maintenance issue they have to deal with. I am simply telling you the distinction between the two tactics so that people will stop using white hat and backlinking strategy in the same sentence. It’s simply incorrect and not white-hat if you are hoping those backlinks will trick Google into thinking your site is really being linked to by other people.

So What is the Difference?

We already went over black hat tactics and what that entails, but what about white hat? What room is there left for that?

White hat SEO is a long term strategy that involves one thing: marketing. I didn’t say quality content or any of the usual jargon, because that should always be part of your content strategy. But for SEO purposes, it is marketing and marketing alone (anyone can create a sitemap in 30 seconds and take a couple hours to optimize each page with keywords- something they shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars a month for).

Let’s say I own a nightclub and I want to do some white hat SEO and potentially get more people to my venue. I want to be in this for the long run and have people see my nightclub as the best in town and an “authority”, if you will. I will do this through marketing to people in my related industry.

First, I will contact every hotel in the area and offer their guests free entrance to my nightclub. In the online world this will translate into them linking to my website from their own, where guests can see local things to do. Maybe I could sponsor an event for a local charity, and they so happen to put my logo on their website with a link back to mine. Maybe I will invite a journalist to the venue and he writes an article on his magazine’s website, again with a link back to mine. I could guest blog on a related website, or even produce a wacky viral commercial that gets shared around and has people linking back to my website.

Are you starting to catch my drift here? All of the above is marketing and long-term relationship building. All of those sources are very high-quality backlinks and trusted authorities in Google’s eyes. That is white hat SEO. How an SEO agency plans to do that, I have no idea.

You can either buy your way through a ton of high-quality backlinks, or slowly build a brand and reputation through marketing. One method Google will eventually catch up to, and the other method will be long-lasting and authoritative branding in their eyes.

The choice is yours.

Lior is a current member of the Niche Site Journal Podcast and blogs over at Muse vs. Muse, a site dedicated to showing others that it is possible to make money online, and exactly how to do it. 


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