White, Black & Grey Hat SEO - Nnechi Digital

SEO Techniques: White Hat, Grey Hat, or Black Hat SEO

Your SEO strategy will usually fall into one of these: white hat, grey hat, or black hat SEO. We will look at their differences and how they impact your SEO results and demystify the confusion between them.

If you’re new in the SEO space, you will agree with me that one tricky part of the job is trying to convince a client about the time it takes to achieve your SEO metrics.

I once had a client who demanded I optimize and rank his website within a month. In other words, this new client wants me to improve the website’s user experience, create and distribute content across platforms, and gather multiple backlinks within a month. To achieve this, the SEO may have to resort to tactics like link buying, keyword stuffing and cloaking, which are considered unethical SEO practices.

It is such demands/timelines that would make the SEO result in using black hat SEO tactics, which sometimes may yield quick results, but comes with severe repercussions from Search Engines.

Nothing good comes easy; even the impatient client must understand that SEO success is not and may never be achieved by immediate actions but by consistently taking deliberate steps to achieve long-term success.                            

Black Hat and White Hat SEO: Their Origin & Adaptation

Suppose you’re a newbie in SEO and come across the terms white hat or black hat. What comes to mind? White implies everything ‘good’, while black means everything ‘bad’.

In trying to paint a clear picture of White Hat and Black Hat as SEO strategies, one may have to cast their mind back to the 1920s, when the terms black and white hat were used in Western films to create a discrepancy between a hero and a villain. 

The hero always appears in the white hat, while his antagonist (the villain) appears in black. 

Over the years, these same terminologies have been adopted in various industries to describe malicious or ethical hackers, especially in security. SEO is one of those modern industries that use either white or black hats to denote good or bad practices within its platform.

What is White Hat SEO: Help Users & Search Engine Find Your Site?

To be concise, White Hat SEO means sticking by the rules of the webmaster’s guidelines. 

When stretched a little bit further, it means not trying to use tricks or sneaky tactics to manipulate search engines for improved rankings.

Under White Hat SEO STRATEGY, it becomes imperative that one focus on the content and accessibility of the website; that is, the SEO would ensure that their content is “highly relevant” and, at the same time, easily accessible to the right audience. 

White Hat SEO works within the terms and conditions of search engines to promote a site’s Search Engine Result Page(SERP) rankings- more like a show of integrity while pursuing one’s goals.

The White Hat SEO Techniques Include;

  • offering helpful, quality & relevant content and services
  • use of the right keywords with rich meta tags
  • consider user intent while creating content
  • provide a good user experience 
  • quality speed for loading websites
  • engage in healthy link acquisition strategies such as content marketing and PR

White hat SEO involves focusing on the users instead of search engines and following defined principles (such as the webmaster guidelines) to get the best results for the users.

What is Black Hat SEO: Trying to Trick Search Engine?

Black hat SEO refers to the practices used to influence a site or page’s rankings in search engines without adhering to the search engine guidelines.

It is a deliberate violation of rules and principles guiding Search Engine Optimization. Black hat SEO commonly points to computer hackers, virus creators and all who use unethical actions to manipulate search results for higher rankings.

Here are some Black Hat tactics to avoid;

  • Content cloaking
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Sneaky redirects
  • Link schemes
  • Negative SEO ( reporting competitors, usually maliciously)
  • Hidden texts or links
  • cloaking
  • Doorway pages
  • Duplicate content
  • Guest Posting Networks
  • Link Manipulation (including buying links)
  • Article Spinning

Is Black Hat SEO Illegal or Unethical?

Black Hat is not necessarily a legal issue as failure to stick by SEO prescription is not illegal. This is because no governing body, at least for now, dictates what ethical SEO practices are, in a general sense. 

The issue of “ethics” in SEO is more of a unanimous consensus on the parts of professionals- but it is, in any way, dependent on the guidelines provided by the various search engines.

Here is what I mean. Website owners and content creators are only duty-bound to the search engines as it is search engines’ platforms and not that of any SEO strategist. 

Somewhat put again, the fact that this is not a legal issue does not change the fact that one may face serious legal actions if caught involved in some criminal SEO tactics such as hacking.      

Difference Between White Hat and Black Hat SEO

The difference between Black Hat and White Hat culminates in the fact that while the former focus only on (manipulating) search engines, the latter focuses on the user; to create helpful and relevant content for the user. 

As mentioned earlier, Black Hat SEO is one “quick success syndrome” employed by those seeking quick financial returns on their websites or page.

Black hat is a deliberate attempt to trick search engines into increasing visibility and rankings; it looks for loopholes in search engines’ algorithms to exploit.

 A common method of black hat SEO is exchanging irrelevant links for rankings – a practice that is unethical and in no way helps the user. The term ‘black hat’ refers to a risky method of utilizing tactics that appear to work but are not in line with search engine terms of service. 

Black Hat SEO aims to gain short-term benefits, as opposed to White Hat SEO, which targets long-term gains.                                   

Grey Hat SEO: Definition with Examples

Just as in estuaries where Ocean tides meet with river water, Grey Hat SEO is the meeting point of both black and white hat. Funny, grey hat SEO is a riskier venture than a purely black hat because it involves carefully calculated steps in mischief and deceit.

It is more like a seller painting a commodity that is originally black with White to attract the right customers. In the long run, Grey Hat SEO aims to improve a page’s rankings in search engines through exploitation.

There are conflicting ideas on the internet regarding what Grey Hat SEO is, but the common denominator is this: Grey Hat SEO is neither black nor white hat but something squashed in between. Grey Hat is not generally illegal in the quote but is not anything one would proudly lay bare before search engines. There are no know automatic penalties, but it is a not-too-clear tactic by cunning content creators to top the ranking ladder        

Some Grey Hat techniques:

  • Using expired domains
  • buying or trading rating links 
  • using Private Blog Network (PBN)
  • building micro-sites and blogs
  • spinning content
  • duplicating contents
  • automatic content
  • increasing keyword density with hidden texts
  • cloaking
  • paying for a positive review

Here are Some Reasons SEOs Use Gray Hat SEO

If you follow Google’s guidelines and do not stray away from the rules prescribed by the system, it will take many years to reach top positions. In reality, every optimizer is looking for the most efficient and quickest route.

Grey Hat SEO tactics have white tools that predominate, but Black Hat SEO methods are also adapted and used.

What is and isn’t grey hat SEO can vary. I have often heard that guest blog posting is a form of grey-hat SEO. Perhaps this is because Matt Cutts, a former Google engineer, said in 2014 that guest blogging is dead. It isn’t.

Writing articles for other websites is not prohibited by Google. The problem is that if you write for a website and embed your links there, you quickly move into the grey hat SEO area. 

Obviously, in 2020, Grey Hat SEO will become more and more akin to White Hat.

In conclusion, one may rightly opine that Grey Hat SEO techniques represent black hats that seem white to gain more visibility. 

Be it White, Black or Grey, they all represent attempts by content creators and website owners to stay relevant in the growing world of SEO, each having different approaches and, as such, capable of producing results differently.


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