There is a lot of discussion about the strategies that are used by SEO marketers today, and rightfully so because this medium is the greatest driver of online traffic to company websites.
There are a variety of ways to generate traffic to a site through search engine ranking. Some strategies are effective, and some are not; some tactics are ethical, and some cause more trouble than they’re worth.
It’s really a matter of how closely you want to toe the line between what’s ethical and what’s not because even the bad guys of SEO have some success.
The good folks over at Google.
Google puts a great deal of energy into filling their index with quality, relevant information, but the main reason they pay attention to that is because they want everyone to turn to them for information.
The good folks at Google are most likely not the least bit concerned that the information they gather for users meets a high standard, in the interest of academic accountability.
They do know, however, that if they provide higher search results, then people will tend to trust them for information. It’s just good to know where Google stands before you start trying to manipulate their system.
What is meant by black hat, white hat, and gray hat SEO?
What you have to keep in mind, when it comes to SEO, is that black hat, white hat, and gray hat SEO are just terms to identify the methods used to achieve a good ranking on search engines.
What is referred to as “black hat” tactics are basically just methods of improving SEO ranking that do not abide by the terms of service that are put forth by the search engine, such as Google or Bing.
On the other hand, “white hat” refers to the so-called law-abiding content marketers who follow the terms of service and don’t break any of the webmaster guidelines of the search engine. “Gray hat” uses a mixture of both strategies.
White hat SEO marketers never break the rules.
Using white hat SEO is how you get traffic by following the rules and adhering to Google’s terms of service, or webmaster guidelines. Many content marketers do not subscribe to these methods exclusively, however, because building links in this way tends to take much longer than the more deceptive methods of black hat.
Employing “white hat” methods means that you are gaining an improved SEO ranking as a result of organically building links to your site as other sites naturally link to yours. So the way this kind of SEO works is pretty straightforward.
Generally, you are generating traffic to your site without using any tricks or devious tactics, but instead people are finding, liking, recommending, and linking to your site on their own.
Black hat tactics just tend to color outside the lines.
Black hat methods are pretty much any practice that you use to force or fake increased traffic to your site, meaning traffic is not being generated naturally.
Such methods include “keyword stuffing”, basically cramming as many highly-searched keywords into the headline of a piece of content, sometimes not even related to the content which they describe.
The practice of buying links or Facebook “likes” is also a common tactic used by marketers. Some of these marketers will even start separate sites that link back to the target site to generate fake traffic.
The list goes on, and quite honestly, most content marketers are probably using a couple of these not-so-upstanding methods, here and there, which is the reason for the term, “gray hat” SEO because it tends to be a mixture of white hat and black hat methods.
Do you want it fast, or do you want it to last?
So I suppose the final point is that, yes, black hat methods do work, and you may even be able to get away with it without being penalized or obliterated by Google (just make sure you’re aware of the consequences first).
At the same time, the fastest, easiest route is not always the best, and in the long run, creating social proof naturally by doing work that is so good that other sites actually want to link to yours, is of far more benefit to your site in the long-run.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.