The controversy regarding Black Hat SEO techniques and White Hat SEO techniques has existed since search engine optimization emerged as a viable method for promoting a Web site in the late 1990s. Each offers a different approach to optimizing a Web site for higher organic or natural “free” search engine rankings. Both methods do work, but in different ways.
The White Hat approach to SEO focuses on using clean code and proven optimization techniques, while avoiding all issues that could result in a penalty from a search engine. Penalties are commonly placed on Web sites for a wide range of infractions. Most penalties result in reduced rank positions for a site. Penalties for egregious violations may result in the banning of a site, which is the complete removal of a site from a search engine’s database. If your Web site is banned from a major search engine like Google, you risk losing about 60% or the traffic to your site from Google and affiliated search engines such as AOL and Netscape.
The major search engines never notify a site owner about a penalty and only rarely acknowledge a penalty when contacted. Unless the penalty situation is resolved, a Web site can exist for years in a low ranking position without any other indication that a penalty has been applied. Once a penalty situation has been identified and corrected, a Web site frequently rises to a higher ranking position. White Hat SEO therefore seeks to identify, correct and avoid all situations that have the potential for creating a penalty.
The Black Hat approach to SEO focuses on doing “whatever it takes” to achieve a higher ranking position. This usually means an intentional disregard for search engine rules in order to achieve an advantage over other sites ranked for the same keywords. Black hat techniques are synonymous with search engine spam, which is basically any method intended to artificially boost a site’s rankings and specifically disallowed in the search engine guidelines.
What determines if a technique is Black Hat or White Hat?
It’s pretty easy to determine is a technique being used is Black Hat or White Hat SEO. See the article Webmaster Guidelines from Major Search Engines for the links to the official Webmaster Guidelines pages for Google, MSN and Yahoo. These pages identify the methods that search engines prefer, and those that they discourage.
What are the risks associated with White Hat and Black Hat techniques?
There aren’t very many risks associated with White Hat SEO techniques, because the White Hat approach seeks to follow the rules to avoid penalty situations. The Black hat approach, on the other hand, is fraught with risk because of its intentional or unintentional disregard for the rules as set forth by the major search engines.
Which method works better?
The question should really be, “Which method works better and longer?” Both techniques do work, but because the White Hat approach focuses on avoiding risk, the chance for long-term success are much greater. This approach seeks to give search engines what they want, which is focused informational content and clean code, while avoiding anything that search engines have chosen to penalize.
Black Hat techniques can work and sometimes achieve very good short-term results. But because these methods disregard and violate search engine guidelines, the risk of a penalty or a complete removal from a search engine database is very high. Black Hat SEO techniques do sometimes work, but they only work until you get caught. At that point you may see all of your efforts and marketing investment flushed away.
If the techniques you are using on your Web site, or someone else is applying to your Web site are identified in the Webmaster Guidelines as something that should be avoided in your site promotion and design, you may be guilty of wearing a black hat.