If you're just beginning your venture into the world of SEO, chances are you've seen the terms "white hat" and "black hat" SEO thrown around quite a bit. But what's the difference between white hat and black hat SEO, and what do these phrases mean specifically for your digital marketing strategy?

Let's start with the good guys.

What is White Hat SEO?

When you're being completely pure and following Google's rules for search engine optimization. It's the SEO equivalent of never jay-walking or taking a pen from your office's supply closet- completely clean and at no risk for penalties. White hat SEO tactics are aimed at a human audience rather than search engine robots, and the end goal of white hat SEO is for the website at hand to rise in the search engine rankings in a natural, ethical manner. The best ways to do this are by:

  • creating high quality content
  • researching and using appropriate keywords
  • structuring your site so that it's easily understandable
  • and creating a website with a great user experience

These strategies are most effective when experienced digital marketers take the reins and help increase your digital presence. However, those who want their search engine rankings to dramatically rise in no time at all, well, they may find white hat SEO a little frustrating. The white hat SEO process takes time and effort, which is why some websites turn to black hat SEO.

Just how much time does SEO take to see results? We put together an e-book based on 10 years of SEO clients and experience to shed light on just how long SEO can take for you to see results. Download it now.

What is Black Hat SEO?

Unlike its goody-two-shoes brother, black hat SEO promises to catapult your site to the top of the SERPs practically overnight. Google's Panda and Penguin updates have weeded out most black hat SEO tactics, but shady strategies like paying for links and joining link networks still exist.

They may seem tempting at first, especially in our instant-gratification society, but ultimately, these techniques will land you in Google's timeout corner. And Google's timeout corner is not a place you want to be- your site can fall drastically in the site rankings or even be de-indexed. It's happened to BMW and JC Penney, and chances are, it'll happen to your site too if you engage in black hat SEO. All your hard work will go down the drain, and you'll be back at SEO Square One.

How Does Negative SEO Impact All of This?

You might also be hearing the phrase "negative SEO" and assume that it's the same thing as black hat SEO- but that's not necessarily the case. Sites engage in black hat SEO to improve their own search engine rankings through unscrupulous methods; with negative SEO, however, one of your competitors sets out to deliberately sabotage your site by performing black hat SEO tactics on your website. For example, they may buy hundreds of spammy links to your site in hopes that Google will devalue your page. Luckily, this mud-slinging can be combated with Google's disavow tool, and Matt Cutts (head of Google's webspam team) doesn't think negative SEO should be a major concern for webmasters.

Is There Such A Thing As Grey Hat SEO?

As always, a middle ground does exist. Grey hat SEO tactics may technically follow search engine guidelines, but they bend the rules in a way that could get you in trouble. For example, one gray hat SEO tactic might be creating hundreds of geographic landing pages on your site with little unique content on each page, a badge that links back to your site, and alt image anchor text repeatedly. While gray hat SEO tactics may be tempting to indulge in, they are akin to playing with fire.

White hat SEO is the best, most surefire way to naturally grow your inbound links and rise in search engine rankings without risk of penalty. When choosing your SEO agency, asking if they ever engage in the afore-mentioned black or gray hat tactics can save you some major time, money, and headaches down the line. By keeping your audience at the forefront of your mind, you'll be able to craft your website and its content to be aligned with Google's webmaster guidelines.

As the saying goes, anything worth doing is worth doing right; by engaging in white hat SEO, you'll be setting your website up for long-term success.