• AUTHOR Adrian Camilleri
  • DATEJan 27,2021

When it comes to site optimization, numerous strategies can be used for the purpose.

Though you can get your desired results by any method, the question that which strategy is the ‘best’ is subjective and sometimes debatable.

There’s just one distinction that you must fully know: White hat SEO v. black hat SEO.

Below, we will have an in-depth look into all the differences present between these two approaches of site optimization. We will also describe the practices involved in the two methods along with a few examples to give you a better understanding.

In addition to that, we will also get to know a lesser-known midway approach, known as the grey hat SEO. So keep reading to learn it all.

White Hat SEO

Let’s first understand what white hat SEO is.

If we were to summarize it in one sentence, white hat SEO is the ethical and correct way for the optimization of a site.

To help you better understand the concept, an SEO strategy is white hat if it fulfills the following 3 conditions.

1.     It follows Google’s guidelines

If your site optimization strategy is in accordance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines (or the guidelines of the search engine you’re using) then it’s safe to assume that you’re using white hat SEO.

Google and other search engines have laid clear rules regarding how to optimize your site.

These rules, describing the tenets of ‘ethical’ site optimization, are extremely comprehensive. However, they can easily be summarized into one simple tip, and that is, don’t manipulate.

It means, if you are not trying to manipulate your organic rankings or deceive Google in any way, you’re most probably following their SEO guidelines, i.e. white hat approach.

2.     It targets humans, not bots

If your SEO strategy adds value to your site’s visitors, you’re using white hat SEO.

The top priority of Google and other search engines is to give their customers the best results whenever they search for anything. That’s why if you make your site beneficial for users, the search engines will reward you with higher rankings.

You can improve the user experience of your site by various techniques.

For instance, you can enhance the loading speed of your page to give them a better experience. Or you can provide them with quality content, relevant to their search keywords.

When your SEO strategy targets humans in a bid to provide them a great experience, you’re doing exactly what Google wants from you, i.e. using white hat SEO.

3.     It takes more time and effort

An SEO strategy that’s in line with Google’s site optimization guidelines and that gives a great user experience takes more time and effort as compared to black hat techniques.

However, your effort will be worth it, because white hat techniques always have a long-lasting impact on your site.

Since you invest in your content and you don’t use any manipulative tactics that can cause penalization from search engines, white hat SEO is a long-term approach for site optimization.

Black Hat SEO

As you can guess, black hat SEO is 180o opposite to that of white hat SEO.

To give you a better understanding of the concept, an SEO strategy is black hat if it fulfills the following three conditions.

1.     It goes against Google’s guidelines

A black hat SEO strategy violates Google’s site optimization guidelines.

In most of the cases, the black hat practices have been clearly described in search engine guidelines as the tactics you must avoid in all circumstances.

2.     It uses manipulative techniques

A black hat SEO strategy uses manipulative techniques to deceive Google’s algorithm in a bid to get higher rankings.

In contrast with white hat SEO, black hat doesn’t provide a good user experience.

However, it uses deceptive tactics to trick Google into believing that the site is providing a great experience to its users.

3.     It tries to get ‘quick wins’

A black hat SEO strategy tries to exploit the loopholes present in search engine algorithms to get higher rankings without putting in much effort.

Even though black hat tactics can improve the ranking of a site, the result never lasts.

Google and other search engines constantly improve their search algorithms to prevent the sites that don’t provide value to users from ranking higher in search results.

It means if a site gets good results due to black hat tactics, it would lose its ranking every time Google updates its algorithm.

To put it simply, black hat SEO is a myopic approach with short-lived success.

Difference Between White Hat And Black Hat SEO

The biggest difference between white hat and black hat SEO is that the former gives a great user experience and complies with Google’s guidelines, while the latter has no regard for user experience and violates Google’s guidelines.


Since white and black hat approaches are the exact opposite to each other, the tactics deployed in both the strategies are also entirely different. Here are the most notable techniques used in both these approaches, as per Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

What To Do: White Hat SEO

Google lays out a framework of basic principles that site owners can consult while optimizing their site. Here are a few of those principles:

  • Never try to deceive users.
  • Make your pages for humans, not for bots or search engines.
  • Try to make your site unique, engaging, and valuable. Your website should stand out in the crowd, at least you should aim to make it stand out from competitors.
  • Don’t rely on tricks to enhance your search rankings. If you’re not sure about something, ask yourself if it would help your users. Another great test is to think if you would find it comfortable to explain your site optimization approach to a Google employee, or any of your competitors.

Google also makes it clear that the rankings of site owners who resort to deceptive practices would be poorer to those who act in accordance with “principles.”

So, if your efforts are intended to provide a great browsing experience to users, you can rest assured that your site optimization approach is in total compliance with Google.

It means, writing relevant and quality content, enhancing page loading speed and making your site mobile-friendly are all white hat tactics since they improve user experience. These ethical, Google- compliant techniques will have a positive and long-lasting effect on your search rankings.

What Not To Do: Black Hat SEO

In contrast with the general and broadly defined things Google recommends you to do, the tactics that you shouldn’t use (black hat) are specifically pointed out.

According to Google’s guidelines, the following (black hat) practices can cause penalization:

  • Webpages with irrelevant keywords
  • Malicious pages, containing trojans, viruses, or other badware
  • Hidden links or text
  • Pages with scraped content
  • Doorway pages
  • Pages with cloaking
  • Pages with sneaky redirects
  • Sending automated queries to Google
  • Abusing rich snippets markup
  • Pages with automatically generated content
  • Pages with little or no original content
  • Participating in link schemes with no value
  • Participating in affiliate programs with no value

It must be noted here that this list isn’t comprehensive. There might be more tactics that violate Google’s guidelines but aren’t listed here.

Grey Hat SEO

You might have sometimes heard the term ‘grey hat’ SEO, even though it’s not a very common concept.

As you can probably guess from the name, grey hat SEO refers to the strategies that lie in between black hat and white hat SEO.

The grey hat practices can be manipulative in the majority of cases, but they are not specifically labeled by Google as something one should avoid.

It means they’re less risky as compared to the black hat practices, which are strictly defined as a no-no by Google. But they could still lead to negative consequences, though the risk might be less.

To give you a better understanding of the concept, practices like submitting to link directories, building microsites, and creating doorway pages all fall under the grey hat umbrella.

The Risks Involved In Grey Hat Or Black Hat Tactics

If you use grey or black hat tactics in a bid to trick Google’s algorithm, you can face any of these two possible consequences.

Google can either manually penalize you, or you could lose your rankings after an algorithm update. Let’s have an in-depth look into both.

Manual penalties

Google has clearly specified that it will take Manual Action against the sites that use black hat practices.

Once a site is flagged for violating Google’s guidelines, Google’s team members review it and issue penalties in accordance.

When a manual action is taken against a site by human reviewers, it fails to appear in search results in all subsequent searches.

It means the result of using black hat practices is the exact opposite of what the site owner used them for in the first place.

Algorithm updates

In order to improve their search results, Google and other search engines regularly update their algorithms. And most of the updates are aimed at addressing the loopholes that are exploited by black hat SEO users.

For instance, the ‘Penguin’ update of 2012 was one of the most noteworthy changes. This update targeted the sites that bought links or used spammy link tactics.

As soon the update was out, tens of thousands of sites that were using the aforementioned link practices lost their rankings.

Google has since then released numerous updates to target deceptive SEO practices.

Even though the algorithm updates don’t try to target or penalize a specific site owner, they dramatically affect the search rankings of site owners who rely on black hat practices.

Is Link Building A Black Hat Practice?

A common question that may arise in your mind could be whether link building also falls under the umbrella of black hat practices?

It’s a well-known fact that a majority of site owners try to build links to improve their rankings. Regardless of the user experience, their sole aim is to enhance the credibility of their site with Google or other search engines.

So, should you or should you not try to build links to optimize your website? Fortunately, link building is not prohibited by Google – but you must be very careful about how you earn links to your site.

According to Google’s guidelines, you must not participate in affiliate programs and link schemes that don’t offer value. Besides that, you must never ever try to buy links.

To put it simply, earning links is not a black hat tactic until and unless you don’t try to manipulate the search engine algorithms with spammy and unnatural links.

The Takeaway: Adhere To White Hat Practices

White hat practices take effort. You will also have to invest a notable amount of time, and often some amount of money as well, to achieve your desired outcome.

So, you might see black hat SEO as a shortcut to achieve your desired results.

But the truth is, the risks the site owners face when they resort to a black hat SEO strategy are simply too much, and definitely not worth the probable rewards.

If you want to be successful in the longer run – without ever worrying about potential penalties or algorithm updates – you must invest in a white hat SEO strategy.


White hat v. black hat SEO is a debate you may often come across as you explore the best ways for site optimization.

And when it happens, remember that this debate isn’t worth investing your time.

Using white hat practices is, without a doubt, the approach you must take as a digital marketer. Don’t even bother hearing if anyone tries to convince you otherwise.

Black hat practices may help site owners in achieving quick wins, but they rely on deceptive tactics in clear violation of Google’s guidelines and lead to penalization, sooner or later.

On the other hand, white hat SEO takes a long-term effort, focuses on humans, and complies with Google’s guidelines — leaving a positive and lasting effect on your rankings.

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