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Our solutions are systems that deliver search results without constant effort. Set it up and let the technology do the work.

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Stay up to date with local search trends with content our experts have created to demystify SEO.

About Us

Locafy is a growing company that has been in the martech and web technology industry for over a decade. Get to know us!

What are White Hat and Black Hat SEO?

Nathalie Parent

Marketing Coordinator

Nathalie has a background in music technology and performance, and is passionate about words, poetry, and writing. She's always ready for a good game of Scrabble, or a nice cup of tea.

White hat and black hat SEO are two sides of the same SEO coin: one side falls within the bounds of honesty and best practice, and one side falls far without. Let’s break down the difference between white hat and black hat SEO, and what the consequences are for using each.

What are White Hat and Black Hat SEO?
White Hat SEO vs Black Hat SEO

1. What is White Hat SEO?

White Hat SEO refers to SEO strategies which follow the guidelines of major search engines, especially Google. These guidelines are put in place to encourage the honest use of internet services, and put a high priority on the human reason for creating and promoting a website: helping real people. Aside from the moral high ground you have by following honest practices, when Google guidelines are followed, you have a better chance of achieving SEO success!

Google’s SEO guidelines are quite extensive, so here’s an easy way to remember the gist of them: If your web page is intuitive and easy for a human to use, it will be easy for Google to use as well. Web pages and sites should be easy to find and navigate, and offer high-quality content.

Woman sitting at a table laughing. One is holding a paper.
LINK TO SEO BASICS: GETTING STARTED GUIDE

Examples White Hat SEO

  • Follow Google E-A-T principles

Google E-A-T is a set of guidelines that Google uses to determine what is high-quality online content and whether updates made to Search will affect that high-quality content in a positive way. When you follow these guidelines, Google essentially tosses your content into the pile of websites and pages that it wants its updates to favor. It’s the first step in the SEO process. Read our Google E-A-T blog post here.

  • Use outbound links

An outbound link is a web link that directs your users to a website that is unrelated to your own. Outbound links connected to relevant and high-quality web pages are generally used to provide more information or context about the topic you are writing about, or to provide sources for your information. Because you are making additional resources or information sources about the topic, Google will also view your content as more credible; especially in an era of parody, satire, and ‘fake news’.

Looking to earn some metaphorical bonus points? Tell Google your relationship to your outbound links, to ‘qualifying’ them. Doing this can build trust between you and Google, which of course helps your SEO. Click here to see instances when qualifying links is a good idea.

  • Create simple URLs

A URL is a ‘Uniform Resource Locator’, also known as a ‘web address’, and is the short string of information placed in a search browser to find a web page:

The use of relevant keywords, locations, and names will make it easy for people to read your URLs. Above, we can see the URL to Locafy’s SEO Basics: Getting Started Guide resource. It is short and only uses the relevant words “Locafy” and “SEO-Basics” Anyone reading this URL will know exactly what is included on the page.

Google suggests that you use hyphens instead of underscores in URLs, and that you stay clear of “unreadable, long ID numbers”. Here is Google’s example of an unreadable URL:

https://www.example.com/index.php?id_sezione=360&sid=3a5ebc944f41daa6f849f730f1

If you see that your URLs are needlessly complex, check out some of the common causes of this problem.

  • Browser compatibility

The average person will use a web browser, such as Google Chrome, Firefox, or Safari to access content on the internet. All browsers read website codes in a slightly different way, so it’s important to make sure that your web content is compatible with as many browsers as possible to reach the largest audience that you can.

Man has google home page open on his laptop

You can easily test browser compatibility by opening your website on several different browsers and making sure it appears and works as you want it to. If your loading times are slow, features don’t work, or the website’s format is changed with a specific browser, you should head back to the web design stage and fix it up to give everyone who visits your website a good experience.

  • Follow Google best practices

It goes without saying following any kind of best practices online will be considered white hat SEO. Best practices, after all, are the best way to do business!

Images- Make sure that images are high quality and placed next to relevant text so that they provide extra context to your content. Also, make sure the image works seamlessly on different devices, especially mobile, where most people view images. Descriptive alt-text should be added to each image for cases where someone on your website cannot see or load images.

Photo of a video recording taking place on a mobile device

Videos- It is best practice to put each video on its own dedicated web page, as well as place it next to relevant text. Putting timestamps and ‘key moment’ markers in your videos will help Google suggest your video to people who make relevant searches for that type of content. Provide high quality thumbnail images that are indicative of the content of the video.

  • Indicate your preferred links

Sometimes duplicates of your web pages or web content can be created, and when this happens in non-malicious ways (such as if a dedicated “printer” version of your web page exists alongside the general browser one), you can tell Google which link you’d like it to favor. Addressing your duplicates directly tells Google that you are honest about the content you create, and helps them to direct people to the right page for you. When people follow the correct link from the get-go, they are more likely to enjoy their user experience and become a repeat visitor.

Check out Google’s guidelines to see more examples of white hat SEO, and if you have any questions, don’t forget to ask your SEO expert!

2. What is Black Hat SEO?

Black hat SEO is the use of SEO tactics that go directly against Google guidelines. Basically, they’re the opposite of any white hat SEO technique. Black hat SEO tends to focus on speed and profit over organic growth, is spammy, low-quality, disregards user-experience, and is otherwise manipulative.

Man waring a black hat standing

Examples of Black Hat SEO

Google’s Quality Guidelines tell internet users exactly what it doesn’t want to see.

  • Using scraped content and thin content

Scraped content refers to information and resources that are taken from a reputable source and put onto a different web page for the sake of ranking or increasing the amount of content on the page. This copied content does not add any new value to the web page and can constitute copyright infringement.

Thin content is created to attract attention with lots of keywords and titles, but offers little or no value. It’s all talk, and no substance, such as a web page made up of titles and lists of keywords. Thin content can include scraped content.

Someone in a ghost costume
  • Cloaking and Sneaky Redirects

Google sums it up best, “Cloaking refers to the practice of presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engines.” Sneaky redirects happen when a human internet user clicks on one web address, but is sent to an unrelated and spam address instead. Both of these practices are dishonest and hide a web page’s true intent from its users and from Google.

  • Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is a black hat tactic wherein a keyword is used multiple times in unnatural ways to try and boost a page’s ranking. This can be done by using the keyword excessively in sentences, and by creating lists with little to no value filled with the keyword. Here is Google’s example of a keyword-stuffed paragraph:

“We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you're thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at custom.cigar.humidors@example.com.”

  • Using hidden text and links

Another deceptive black hat SEO tactic is the use of hidden text, keywords, and links, meant to boost rankings without being helpful to website visitors. Hidden text or links might be the same color as the page’s background, a tiny font, positioned off-screen in a location that visitors can’t scroll to, or positioned behind other page features such as images.

There are some instances when the use of hidden text doesn’t go against Google’s guidelines, such as when you are using alt-text or accessibility features. If in doubt, check out the guidelines just in case!

3. Consequences of using Black Hat SEO

Consequence of Using Black Hat SEO

By using black hat SEO and other techniques prohibited by Google, you will risk being penalized and having your web pages lower in rankings or omitted from Search results altogether. There are generally two types of penalties you can receive: algorithmic and manual.

Algorithmic penalties occur when a web page violates the guidelines laid out by a specific Google update. Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird are all examples of previous updates that focused on different aspects of SEO. Algorithmic penalties are not an official Google report, but rather a noticeable drop in web traffic or visibility once a new update is launched.

Manual actions, or manual penalties, are official penalties that are issued by Google’s team of human reviewers who look through web pages and determine if they are guideline compliant. When they find a page that is not compliant, Google can omit it from Search results or drop its rankings drastically as punishment.

If your web page does get hit by a Google penalty, all is not lost. Here is a list of Google’s penalties and the many ways that you can fix them to get your pages back in search results.

*Locafy’s team stays up to date with Google’s updates and do regular updates to the technology to make sure that our landing pages stay on top and continue to follow the rules. Because our landing pages are all programmatic, the updates our team makes go out to every page basically instantly. Automation + awesome tech = no stress ranking.

4. Why should I know about Black Hat SEO if I have an SEO expert to handle this for me?

So what’s the point in knowing proper white hat techniques? Simple. Even if you have an SEO expert creating a strategy for you, you want to understand exactly what strategies they are using to promote your business. On top of that, sometimes little mistakes happen in content or website updates and you’ll want to be able to catch them. Or the worst happens and your “expert” wants to take an SEO shortcut. Knowing white and black hat SEO basics will protect your business in the long run.

Two woman looking at a laptop pointing to the screen

How Locafy wears the white hat

  • We work within Google guidelines
  • We rely on organic growth
  • We take up search real estate without keyword stuffing → we use relevant keywords and locations

Conclusion

White hat SEO includes any and all SEO strategies that follow Google’s guidelines and aim to better a user’s online experience. Black hat SEO goes against Google guidelines and can result in you receiving penalties and having your web pages removed from search results.

By sticking to white hat techniques, your web pages will gain viewers in an honest way and have a higher chance of being promoted by Google. The best way to do SEO is the honest way.

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