“Am I doing it right?” is a question you’ll likely ask as you attempt to optimise your website for search engine visibility. As you ask around for advice on the matter, you can come across dozens of ideas on effective site optimisation but you’ll eventually realize that they fall into two distinct approaches: White hat vs. black hat SEO.

In a historical context, black hats and white hats were used in old-timey Western films so the audience can tell between the hero and the villain. Over time, the terminology has been adopted most notably in the Internet security and the SEO industries.

With SEO, knowing the difference between these two approaches is crucial so you can have a better understanding of what strategies to put in place to lead your SEO campaign in the right direction.

Who Determines the Black From the White?

For SEO, it’s the search engines that set the rules for webmasters to follow since it’s their platform you’re signing up for. They, of course, are the ones who decide what conditions you have to meet for them to include you in their database.

Over the years, major search engines like Google have developed algorithms specifically designed to combat black hat SEO and its blatant manipulation of search results. And as time goes by, search engines are getting good at catching websites that don’t play by the rules.

If you wish to get ranked in the biggest search engine on the Web—Google—know that they have one of the most clear-cut webmaster guidelines that digital marketers have to abide by. It’s clear what activities they deem as deceptive in their quality guidelines, which includes “scraped content”, “cloaking,” and “doorway pages”. Get caught with any of these illicit tactics to work around their ranking system and your website will surely land in hot water. 

With strict and constant policing of such guidelines, website owners and developers have to know whether the optimisation they’re doing is considered fair play.

Telling Black Hat From White Hat SEO

While these two sides of the proverbial SEO coin have the same objective—to rank a website on search engine results—they differ in the manner they attain their goal. On one hand, white hat SEO aims to go up the ranks by adhering to Google’s guidelines to improve overall user experience. Meanwhile, its counterpart climbs up the ladder by violating the said guidelines in complete disregard of a site visitor’s browsing needs.

Now, let’s carefully look at the distinction of white hat SEO and black hat SEO.

White Hat SEO

When you optimise a site in an ethical way, you can say that you’re going down the path of white hat SEO. In other words, you optimise a site by the book. 

You’ll also know if you and your digital marketing team wear a white hat in your SEO approach if you meet the following criteria:

  • Focus on human audience

Keep in mind that Google’s top priority is providing users with the best possible results and user experience. So when you optimise a site with the aim of improving what site visitors get or experience from your portal, you’re employing white hat strategies. If you’re working to improve page load speed, publishing high-quality content, and designing easy navigation on your website, you’d be brushing on the search engine giant’s good side.

  • Follow prescribed guidelines

Ask any Internet marketer and they’ll refer you to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines if you wish to know the definition of white hat SEO. These rules lay out what Google categorises as the proper way to optimise a website. The guidelines discuss in detail what an “ethical” SEO strategy looks like but you can easily sum it all up with one simple idea: don’t deceive the ranking algorithms. With white hat SEO, the goal isn’t to outsmart Google at their game.

  • Long-term impact

When you go by Google’s rulebook, your SEO efforts will be much more time-consuming and labour-intensive. Expect that it’ll take more time to see the results of your optimisation endeavour, too. It’s important to note, though, that any subsequent gains will have a more lasting impact. Steady ranking for targeted keywords can be achieved as you invest in content that is guaranteed to generate results in the years to come. So between white hat and black hat SEO, it’s the former that has a long-term approach in mind. 

Black Hat SEO

Taking up this SEO approach basically means employing risky optimisation practices. You leverage tactics that might (and some will) work until search engines crackdown on such manipulative strategies. Luckily, you won’t have to worry about lawsuits for disobeying such guidelines since it isn’t a legal issue. Unless, of course, you use nefarious means to rank your site like hacking.

You can tell if a webmaster has gone to the dark side of search engine optimisation when he or she does the following:

  • Employ manipulative tactics

How black hat SEO goes up the ranks is that it does website optimisation in such a way that it manipulates Google’s algorithm. In other words, it makes Google think that a website provides more value to users than it really does. This deceptive approach is the hallmark of a black hat SEO.

  • Violate search engine guidelines

Because black hat SEO has little care for a better user experience, it easily violates Google’s primary objective. In fact, many of the ethical practices outlined in the Webmaster Guidelines are nothing but hurdles to work around for black hats.

  • Focus on “quick gains”

With black hat SEO, the advantages a site gains are mostly thanks to the presence of loopholes in Google’s algorithm. Exploiting these often leads to improvement in SERP ranking without much work on the web developer’s side. But with the constant updates on search engine platforms, the results your site enjoys with black hat SEO are often short-lived. Sites employing such a sinister tactic will find themselves constantly scrambling every time there’s a new search algorithm update on the web.

Which Side Do You Choose?

Although black hat techniques are notorious for deliberately going against search engine guidelines, they’re known to get results faster. Of course, the success you gain through it carries a lot of risks.  Once your monkey business is discovered by Google, your website could be penalised with an outright or partial ban from the platform.

On the other hand, white hat SEO shows great skill on the part of the digital marketer. Choosing this path is slower but if you succeed playing by the rules without cutting corners, your success will be something to write home about.


On the surface, it’s fairly easy to define both white hat and black hat SEO. In the real-world application, however, most SEO campaigns will walk a fine line between these two.

If you need a hand with doing SEO right, contact us today and we’ll get you started down the right path toward search engine visibility.