SEO Practices are Black and White
What are the real differences between Black and White Hat SEO? This article takes a deeper look into the philosophies and activities behind these two publicly opposed factions of the SEO industry. Search engine optimization is still a rather new field, its facing some growing pains we have seen in other industries.
Back in the “Wild West” of TV land, it was simple to tell the good from the bad; good guys wore white hats and bad guys wore black hats. In today’s fairly unmapped search frontier it’s much harder to tell the difference between white and black hats. The line is not a sharp as the 1950’s screenwriters would have it. In fact, its not unheard of the have a bad guy slip into a white hat to ease the fears of his mark, or that a good guy actually go a bit over board on declaring black hat status.
The Black Hat/White Hat conflict in the SEO community runs very deep. In some cases the conflict is due to a difference in morality, while in other cases it is due to a difference in perceived responsibility. The morality issue is simple, “If its wrong, don’t do it.” says the White Hat. The Black Hat may respond in kind by saying “If I can, Why Not?”. It’s the issue of perceived responsibility that tends to blur the line the most. The White Hat will normally perceive his responsibilities to include all parties invested in the search. They look at how a decision affects not only their customer, but the surfer and the search engine as well. The Black hat on the other hand, perceives his responsibility to be only to his client. The goals of the customer come before all else. There are too many arguments on both sides to even try to go into details here. Visit any of the major SEO forums and if you stay at least a week you will be privy to one of these discussions.
Another base difference between Black and White Hats is the longevity of the work. Black Hat tactics are always changing; they are in a constant struggle to stay one step ahead of the search algorithms. This means Black Hat results are normally fleeting in nature. Once an engine catches on to a new technique they devalue it and the results gained using that technique are now history. Black Hats hope to have the next trick in place before the last one falls. It is not uncommon for true Black Hats to have hundreds of what they call “throw away domains”, ones they know will be banned sooner or later. White Hats on the other hand, tend to work towards longevity. They build single all encompassing sites instead of multiple niche sites, use standard SEO techniques and nothing questionable to maintain search integrity. All the while knowing the site may take much more time to achieve its desired placement, but they are willing to wait to ensure their work lasts. This also has the side effect of providing much better resources for surfers and indexed content for engines.
One of the biggest issues in the burgeoning SEO field is the lack of certifications or credentials. The industry is wide open to interpretation by both its members and outsiders. This combined with the thousands of web pages filled with out-dated or mis-information, available to anyone with a browser, makes it very tough for someone to even know what is right or wrong. Many SEOs using Black Hat techniques are not even aware they are putting sites at risk. They may have just found the wrong information resource to learn from. The techniques themselves are even questionable sometimes. Used one way a technique may be perfectly viable, but over used or abused and it becomes pure search spam. White Hats in turn may not be utilizing every advantage they can due to fears of crossing over into darker territory.
Just for fun, let’s look at a couple of extreme examples of our hat choices. Both of these companies and their descriptions are real, but the names have been changed for obvious reasons.
Company White (CW) has been in the search marketing business for many years. Knowing that most web designers do not have a clue about SEO, CW always requires new clients to have a complete redesign of their website from the ground up. CW will only report to clients on the ROI of the site, CW refuses to create ranking or linking campaign reports, knowing that seeing this will make no difference. CW will only use approved search copywriters and their designers. CW makes no promises or guarantees and will pre-qualify a customer based on their market. CW will give access to real references. CW charges tens of thousands of $$ for SEO work per job. CW has “fired” many a client that did not want to do things his way.
Company Black (CB) has been in marketing for many years and is applying that knowledge to sell themselves in search marketing. CB uses a call center to cold call potential clients. Hard sell is the name of the game and rude hang ups are normal if you don’t play ball. CB will create new pages or sites for you (on their domains) using questionable tactics. CB claims proprietary information on common SEO techniques. Close your account and CB keeps the work. CB shows you examples of first page listings for obscure terms and claim guaranteed work. CB charges thousands of $$ for their packages. CB will sell to anyone at any time. CB has opened and closed under many different company names due to problems with customer satisfaction.
Remember these are real companies, so let’s do a little overview of their current status.
CB is a true Black Hat, they only care about their bottom line. Some Black Hats will claim that if the client is aware techniques can get them in trouble then it is fine to proceed. White Hats will tell you getting a clients site banned is never “fine”.
Sometime in the near future, clients are going to have to make a distinct choice about going White or Black Hat when looking to hire or do SEO. They will be more informed and will understand the difference. The scenario reminded me of similarities in the programming world. Coders -vs- Hackers. White Hats (Coders) will be sitting at their terminals all day studying, testing and in general producing good solid quality work. SEO Professionals. While the Black Hats (Hackers) may actually have better skills and even more up to date knowledge of how the algorithms actually react. But their focus will be more on showmanship than SEO production. I can even follow the correlation to the point where SE’s may someday be hiring Ex-Black Hats to help them tweak systems to be more Black Hat resistant. I know for a fact that Google already picks the brains of well kown Black Hats. If you look at the history of Coders and Hackers you can see the beginnings of a parallel between Black and White Hats with out having to look very hard.
Know this, Black Hat is not always obvious and tends towards instant gratification short term solutions. It can hurt a company’s bottom line if the company is not prepared in advance to deal with the issues that may arise out if it. White Hat is the tried and true, focused on long term results. It’s based on profitability growth, not just traffic growth.
If Black Hat is “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, then White Hat is probably “Roy Rogers”. One is gritty, enticing and engaging, the other never draws blood and always wins. This issue will be debated for a long time, so please get what you can from this article and take a cue from Google … “Do No Evil”.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Carcutt is the in-house SEO for a national Real Estate Data provider and has been working in the SEO field for over 4 years. He moderates at well known SEO forum and writes for AppliedSEO.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com