White hat, black hat, and gray hat SEO
Various techniques are used for search engine optimization, or SEO. One way to group these techniques is with hat terminology: white hat SEO, black hat SEO, and gray hat SEO. White hat SEO is considered ethical SEO, while black hat SEO is considered unethical SEO. Gray hat SEO walks the line between the white and black hats of search engine optimization.
White hat SEO
White hat SEO is ethical SEO. It's SEO techniques that search engines accept. White hat SEO techniques are beneficial for site visitors as well as for search engines. The goal of white hat SEO is to improve search engine result positions via methods that won't cause search engines to penalize the site.
Successful white hat SEO is slower than black hat SEO and is an ongoing process.
Examples of white hat SEO techniques
- Researching relevant keywords, both short ail and long tail keywords
- Including keywords naturally in page titles, headings, link anchor text, other page content, and alt tags
- Studying analytics reports and fine-tuning the content to further optimize it for targeted keywords and to help direct traffic to relevant pages
- Adding fresh content regularly
- Using correct HTML markup (for example, heading tags) so that search engines can identify headings and other types of content correctly
- Making sure that all the code is valid (or at least won't stop search engine bots)
- Creating site maps so that every page is linked to and search engine bots can crawl every page
- Using CSS to separate content from markup and thus increase keyword density by having less markup to crawl
- Creating quality content that other people will want to link to
- Asking to have directories and other relevant websites link to the site
- Optimizing pages for social media in the hopes of attracting social media links
- Arranging for link exchanges with relevant sites (considered by some to be gray hat SEO)
Black hat SEO
Black hat SEO is the use of techniques that are unacceptable to search engines to boost a page's position in search results. These techniques are intended to trick search engines into giving pages higher positions in search results, and they have no benefit to site visitors. The goal is to improve search engine result positions no matter what it takes to do it.
Black hat SEO techniques are used for two reasons:
- They work — until search engines find out about them and they don't work.
- Some people don't understand that black hat SEO techniques can get their sites penalized by or banned from search engines.
Even if search engines can't detect the black hat SEO techniques, competitors of sites that employ black hat SEO techniques can spot them and do report them to search engines. Even seo agency can suffer from it.
Examples of black hat SEO techniques
- Keyword stuffing
- Overusing keywords in comment tags, alt tags, and meta tags
- Placing keywords in hidden text (hidden from people, that is) by making their font color the same color as the page background
- Overusing keywords in visible text, to the point where their repetition is apparent to readers
- Doorway or gateway pages: pages that are stuffed with keywords but that only search engines see because people are redirected to the page with the real content
- Cloaking: displaying different content to search engines than to people by identifying visitors via IP or via other methods
- Link farms: pages with unrelated links solely for the purpose of creating more links to target pages
- Spamming forums, blogs, and other social media sites with links (search engines might not penalize sites for this, but it's considered unethical)
Gray hat SEO
Gray hat SEO is SEO techniques that take more risks than white hat SEO techniques but aren't likely to get your site banned from search engines (although a search engine penality could result). They're questionable SEO techniques but not in the same category as black hat SEO techniques. However, what's considered gray hat SEO today might be black hat SEO next year.
Examples of gray hat SEO techniques
- Having a keyword density that's high enough to sound unnatural but not at the level of black hat keyword stuffing
- Publishing duplicate content at different sites
- Link building where relevance is less important
- Planned three-way linking
- Using paid links
Web Hosting Wiki article text shared under a Creative Commons License.