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White Hat vs. Black Hat vs. Grey Hat

May 4, 2012

A lot of people we talk to always ask… What’s with all the hats?! Is Google sponsoring a new fashion trend?  Well, not really, I like to think the “hat” analogy derived from the good ole days of the Wild West, where the good cowboys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats. Although being the uber geek that I am, I prefer space cowboys to western cowboys. When I close my eyes and imagine a white hat vs. black hat scene it plays out something like this….

black hat vs white hat


Anyways, enough with the funny business, so what is all this “hat” stuff about? In its most simple form it can be described as such; white hat optimization techniques are those that are in line with what Google finds to be acceptable marketing practices, black hat techniques are those that violate Google’s best practices, and grey hat techniques are those that questionably fall somewhere in the middle. For most of us ethical white hat guys, we prefer to stay away from the grey area, as it is the path to the dark side.

When I explain this to clients the question I usually get most often is “what kind of black hat tricks should I be looking out for?” The three most obvious black hat practices that we warn people are about are as followed…

  • Link farms / paid links – This is a huge Google no-no. Being associated with link farms or paid link networks is a great way to get red flagged by the Google bots. Please avoid these at all costs, no matter what promises of riches and glory they promise.
  • Keyword stuffing – This can take several shapes and forms but the idea is that you are artificially inflating the keyword density on a page and usually trying to mask it in some way. i.e. white text on a white background. The Google bot is getting much savvier to these types of schemes and although they may have worked well a blue moon ago, now it’s just a quick path to a Google penalty.
  • Gateway pages – Gateway pages are independent domains that are purchased and setup with low quality or even no content with the sole purpose of re-directing the browser to a page on your website. These are most commonly seen with exact match domain names for a specific keyword and when a user clicks on the link they are automatically re-directed to a page on a site that is most likely selling whatever that keyword was. Gateway pages are a big Google no-no and even big corporations have been penalized by Google for trying to use them.

So what’s the bottom line here? With the army of caffeinated zoo animals Google is sending our way (panda, penguin, and the likes) it’s always better to error on the side of caution when managing a proper white hat search engine campaign. So unless you’re ready for an alley fight with a hopped up panda or a rabid penguin, don’t give into the dark hat. Stay with the light and help us save the galaxy from low quality content!

We hope this was at very least informative, stay tuned for next week’s post: March of the Google Penguin.


Posted by Erin Carney on June 16th, 2012 at 4:00 am

Great information! However, for us not so “techno geeky” people, expand on the idea of link farms a bit. Like, how would I know, as a business owner, if someone was trying to entice me into this kind of advertising? What would the e-mail or phone call or whatever be calling this (in order for me to know what it really is)? I think businesses get caught up in this type of marketing sometimes by ignorance. The proposal sounds lucrative so they go for it!

Posted by iova on August 6th, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Thanks for the question, Erin! This is a huge problem for many small and medium sized businesses! -In fact, this would be a great topic for a whole new post. The saying “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” is as applicable to the SEO industry as just about any other. Unfortunately, there are less scrupulous black hat SEO companies that will “guarantee spot 1, 2, and 3 rankings in 2 months for $200 a month!”
The reality is no one can “guarantee” rankings as Google’s ranking algorithms are proprietary and constantly changing.-Even Google themselves warns against working with anyone who promises specific rankings. Furthermore, current best-practice SEO methods require great on-site analysis, high-quality link building, and constant tracking with the purpose of fine-tuning the campaign. No one can give your website the attention it deserves at silly, low price-points. You get what you pay for with SEO – so if you don’t want cookie-cutter, spammy SEO campaigns associated with your website (which can end up doing more harm than good), avoid the “bargain” SEO companies.
Marks of a good, honest SEO company include promises that on-site analysis will not only be completed and implemented, but that the results will be monitored and reassessed as needed, high-quality, relevant links will be built to a multitude of pages on the site, and regular reports will be provided and used as a basis to judge the success of the campaign.
It will take time to get good, long-lasting rankings and tangible traffic increases, but ultimately you’re better off avoiding SEO snake oil and going with a company who isn’t simply telling you what they know you want to hear!