White, Black, or Grey: Which Search Optimizer Are You?

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Spend enough time learning about search optimization, and you’ll undoubtedly run into strong opinions about “white hat” versus “black hat” tactics. Marketers argue (often very privately) all the time about which work best, or are even ethical to use.

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To understand which camp we fall into – and where we think you should be, too – it’s important to know some of the key differences. So let’s dive into the white hat versus black hat chat…

White Hat SEO Is All About Great Content, Activity, and Visibility

Pure white hat SEOs keep things squeaky clean. That means complying with Google’s wishes and doing everything you can to provide great content on your website and then make it accessible for anyone to find. It also involves doing what you can to attract high-quality links, from relevant websites, that point to your content naturally and with variety.

This, in theory, is the way search engine optimization should work. In fact, if everyone followed white hat strategies, search would be a much more accurate process, because it would be easier for users to find the kinds of results they were looking for when they type a search into Google.

Black Hat SEO Is Designed to Game the System

If white hat SEO is all about building interesting and unique content that’s supported by high-quality links, black hat SEO involves making it appear as if you’ve done those things when you really haven’t.

For example, relatively recently, black hat techniques involved spamming the internet with links, and adding thousands of fake people to “like” your posts on Facebook with the hope you’ll improve search rankings or fake social proof.

More recently, webmasters have been altering the dates of their posts to make them appear “fresh”, triggering Google’s freshness algo to push them up briefly. Or, more negatively, spamming  the web with poor quality links to their competitors in an attempt to have Google punish them for poor SEO practices, essentially eliminating the competition.

Some black hats are running classified ads on Craig’sList and in low end directories in an attempt to create new links. What they don't tell their clients is that those links are both low quality and dissipate quickly.

In each case, the signal to Google (or another search engine or social media tool) is that you have a popular, high-quality search result when in reality you’ve just put up a fake front in hopes of tricking searchers or search engines. You’d be blind not to see the ethical questions around these types of practices.

Of course, these techniques seldom work any more. Google and searchers are much smarter than some would think. They’ll be on to your game very quickly and the damage done will have been your own doing.

And Then There Are The Grey Areas of Search

Yes, there are “grey hat” optimizers. These are people who mostly adhere to the rules, but may bend or break them now and again, whether aware of it or not. For example, they may invest in purchasing older domains that have some value due to their age with hopes of shortening the ranking process. Or swapping links with friends out of simply wanting to be helpful, unaware of link-exchange rules against doing so.

I would suggest the grey-hats are possibly the largest portion of website optimizers, due primarily to a limited knowledge of search best practices if nothing else.

And then there’s the Click Baiter, who I’d put solidly into the dark grey area, offering tantalizing tag-lines and sensationalist promises that really do make you click the link, only to find low quality content at the other end. Your visit, along with the visits of countless others, rack up advertisement views/clicks on their tabloid-style sites.

In the End, There’s Only One Choice for Sustainable SEO

As you’ve probably figured out by now, Kayak Online Marketing promotes the deployment of white hat (and at times, slightly off white) search optimization strategies (because your goals aren't ranking-related). Moreover, we recommend you adopt a similar lighter policy.

This isn’t just because we like thinking of ourselves as “the good guys” – although we really do – it’s about sustainability. You see, black hat, and even grey hat, tactics sometimes work for a few days, and occasionally months. But Google is getting better at screening websites that are attempting to take shortcuts to the top search positions. As a result, following these kind of tactics isn’t just ineffective, over time, but can actually get your website pushed so low in search results that they may as well not be there at all.

There is another, more powerful, reason as well: When prospects come to your website, they need to find what they are looking for. That isn’t going to happen if you have keyword-stuffed pages, or are using gimmicks to attract searchers. They might be open to doing business with you if they like your blog posts and ideas; but simply getting them onto your website isn’t enough to prompt them to buy.

For long-term profitability, there is really only one choice. Wearing a lighter hat for search optimization might not be as much fun as joining the dark side, but it’s the way to keep your company successful for years to come.

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Topics: search optimization, content marketing