SEO Tactics 101: White Hat, Black Hat and Grey Hat Strategies Defined

by Aleks Vizulis on December 26, 2016

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When discussing SEO tactics, rankings, and linking, there is a lot of chatter surrounding white hat, grey hat, and black hat strategies. While the names were borrowed from hacking culture, the meanings remain pertinent – practices that are legal, uncertain, and illegal. Curious what this means for content? Let's take a closer look!

White Hat

White hat strategies follow all the rules. To properly conduct white hate SEO, you take a look at all the latest Google recommendations for proper SEO etiquette and what they like to see in content, and you follow all the advice.

Today, white hat practices depend primarily on real human users to increase page rankings, and almost entirely ignore bots. If bots or automatic analysis help out, that's all to the good, but white practices doesn't lend itself to dedicated bot strategies. It's focus is on people.

This approach comes with several marketing benefits. It tends to favor engagement or discussion, which helps you develop client relationships more easily. It also helps you get into the habit of developing stronger content. When you aren't focusing on the exact links, phrases, or publication methods, you tend to focus more on quality information, readability, and making contact with the reader...which helps everyone.

Finally, white hat is getting easier these days. One reason is user intent, or the smarter versions of search engines that can interpret user intent from a wide variety of phrases, which means keywords don’t have to be as exact and you don't have to spend as much time worrying about every technical detail.

Grey Hat

Grey hat strategies avoid anything that's explicitly banned or discouraged...but tread freely everywhere else. Here the technical details are still important, and marketers are willing to use bots and other automatic forms of analysis to give their page rankings a bump.

Grey hat is an effective way to give your content a starting boost, especially if you're developing a new website. A good example is using link distribution tools to automatically spread your content to applicable platforms. You aren't doing black hat tricks like paying for links, and you could do the same thing "manually," but it's much faster to use this tool, and that speed can net you better rankings (Bitrebels has an infographic with good examples).

The problem with grey hat is that it focuses on poorly defined SEO techniques. In other words, many of these grey tactics have been ignored by search engines, not actually allowed. In other words, grey hat practices are always moving toward either white hat status, or black hat bans...and the bans tend to be more common. This means that if you use any grdy hat methods, you have to keep up with any official or apparent changes to SEO algorithms. For example, "article spinning" or writing a new article that repeats the content of a similar article (found somewhere online) is currently grey hat, but Google may create more stringent analysis in the future that marks you down for articles that look too much like copies, even if your wording is different.

If one of your grey tactics becomes black, you're looking at a whole lot of work going back through your content and removing that tactic from every piece. We saw this happen when grey backlinking tricks drifted toward black, and it ruined the page rankings of many websites.

Black Hat

Black hat strategies are tricks that are directly banned, discouraged and punished by search engines. They involve plenty of automatic tools and bots that replicate vast amounts of content, as well as paying for cheap links, keyword stuffing, copying content to claim as your own, hidden text, and other cheap methods. These can give you a sharp boost in rankings, followed quickly by your website getting banned.

Black hat strategies are hard to defend these days. Sure, they worked for a few months and sometimes even years in past decades, but now algorithms detect black hat tricks immediately and penalize you severely. There's really no benefit here.

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Aleks Vizulis

As operations manager at 21 Handshake, I bring an analytical perspective to the discussion table. My vision is to take projects from 'just strong' to superb. Often you will find me capturing behind the scenes photos in the 21 Handshake office or at a clients location. I play a fierce round of 18 during warm weather and catch me on the slopes during the other months of the year!

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