A recent Business Development Bank of Canada survey looked at marketing budgets. The results showed that businesses with up to 20 employees spend at least around $30,000 a year on marketing. Businesses with more employees spend even more.

No matter your budget, you’re probably putting a slice of it toward search engine optimization Marketing and SEO services. If you’re spending so much on SEO, though, you want to be sure you’re getting the most for your dollar.

You have to be careful about the kinds of SEO services you utilize. If someone is promising something that sounds too good to be true, they may be using “black hat” SEO tactics. You want to be sure you’re buying white hat SEO services.

What’s the difference between white hat SEO vs black hat SEO marketing anyway? This guide will break down the techniques used in each category. It will also look at why black hat SEO tactics can actually hurt your SEO efforts, and how you can spot them right away.

What is Black Hat SEO Technique?

There are many different ways to go about boosting a webpage’s ranking in search engine result pages ( SERPs) of Google and Bings of the world. Some of these are frowned upon by search engines like Google.

There’s no official “black hat” definition, but these techniques have a few common features. Black hat techniques typically:

  • Rely on manipulation
  • Focus on “quick wins”
  • Violate search engine guidelines

It’s the last bit that will get you in serious trouble with Google and other search engines. They’ll penalize your site for making use of tactics that violate their guidelines.

What are some common black hat SEO techniques?

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Buying or trading black hat backlinks
  • Using gateway sites to redirect users
  • Using hacked sites
  • Spam, duplicate content, and “scraped” content

You may also be penalized if you try to take down a competitor by reporting them for spam or black hat tactics. Launching a negative campaign can also land you in hot water with search engines.

Why Does Black Hat SEO Exist?

Black hat SEO techniques all focus on the same thing. They deliver “quick wins” for the webpage. They usually accomplish this by manipulating Google’s algorithm in some way.

You can see this in the example of backlinks. Google uses backlinks as one indicator of a page’s quality. If there are authoritative backlinks like high authority guest posts to a page, Google assumes the content is high quality.

You can “trick” the search engine into giving your page more points for backlinks by buying cheap irrelevant seo backlinks or trading them. Some dodgy marketers have used contests to garner thousands of backlinks in a matter of days.

There are also dozens of SEO agencies and Link building companies that use spammy backlink building, like putting spammy backlinks on comment sections of high authority websites or stuff the backlinks in the code of the websites.

The same is true of keyword stuffing. Pages using this tactic have the keyword repeated over and over. It used to be possible to rank very high just by putting the keyword on a page frequently.

These sorts of tactics have led Google to tighten up their rules and make its algorithm smarter. Today, having a high keyword saturation on a page will earn a penalty.

Google is also smarter about backlinks. While it’s possible to “trick” the search engine for a short while, the algorithm will catch up with you. The sudden appearance of hundreds of “quality” backlinks is usually a tip-off.

Of course, in a marketing field as new and competitive as SEO, there are always going to be individuals willing to take risks. They may try to “cheat” the system, and it may work for a while. Eventually, the search engines will catch up.

What is White Hat SEO Technique?

White hat SEO is, quite simply, the opposite of black hat SEO techniques. These are SEO techniques that are approved by search engines. They meet all the guidelines, and they don’t attempt to manipulate users or algorithms.

Some common examples of white hat SEO services and techniques:

White hat SEO services are those that help you create a page that is both search engine optimized- and user-friendly. Generally speaking, white hat techniques focus more on your human users but still ensure that your website content is relevant to your ideal client and that Google can index your webpages and understand that you are the best solution to your client’s needs.

So, what do they want to see and read when they click a link from Google is a great question that the top SEO agencies would always ask when tackling your SEO marketing.

Many SEO tactics are ways of telling Google what your page is about. Google can then tell its human users which pages are likely to answer their questions.

Black hat techniques, on the other hand, are more focused on robots and algorithms. They’re not designed for human readers. Their purpose is to rank high on Google and be visible.

If you actually want to grow a business and your brand, then black hat SEO techniques aren’t going to help you in the long run.

Why Search Engines Prefer White Hat vs Black Hat

Why do black hat SEO tactics get such a bad rap? Search engines look down on them, but the reason has to do with the goals of any search engine.

Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and every other search engine wants to direct their users to the best content on the web. Their crawlers index pages and the algorithm matches pages against a user’s search query.

Most search engines’ preferences are actually reflective of their users’ expectations. Users don’t appreciate being sent to pages that just repeat the keyword over and over. That doesn’t answer their question.

Today’s Internet users are also more savvy. They want to see where statistics and facts originated. Linking to relevant content and references shows them where the information came from.

Linking to non-relevant pages feels like spam. It may make people question the legitimacy of the page. They may also be concerned about security.

Pages that redirect users are also a major suspect. A page that redirects the user to non-relevant content is usually seen as suspicious.

Search engines study user behavior to inform their own algorithms. That way, they can be sure they’re giving users the results they actually want to see.

Pages using black hat techniques usually don’t satisfy users, and search engines discourage them for that reason. Pages using white hat tactics are more likely to meet user expectations.

Do Black Hat Techniques Work?

One of the reasons black hat tactics have stuck around so long is because they seem to work. That is, most black hat techniques seem to perform at first.

Many black hat techniques deliver quick gains for the pages using them. Over time, though, those gains degrade. The pages are either penalized or the search engine de-indexes the page.

More interesting is that black hat SEO never equals the gains of white hat techniques. Black hat techniques tend to peak quickly, then erode.

One reason black hat techniques don’t last long is that search engines discover the manipulation. Google uses hundreds of factors to determine page rankings. Manipulating a few factors to score high will work for a little while.

Other factors Google considers will eventually expose the page’s underhanded techniques. Take, for example, bounce rates. These measure how long someone spends on your site once they arrive.

If your bounce rate is very high, it means most people leave almost as soon as they land on the page. That could signal irrelevant content or a redirect. Google might investigate further.

Google is Constantly Tweaking the Algorithm

Updates can also lead to sites being penalized, sometimes unfairly. If a black hat technique is widespread, it may be taking advantage of a loophole in the algorithm. Google tweaks its algorithm almost constantly, and it may move to close these loopholes wherever they crop up.

Sites taking advantage of these loopholes will be penalized or suddenly lose a lot of their organic traffic due to loss of backlink juice. Some sites may lose rankings if they get caught up in the loophole, even if they weren’t intentionally using black hat techniques. Google does try to avoid and correct these situations.

White hat techniques take longer to work. They also require more initial effort from your SEO team. They tend to deliver better, more consistent results over time though.

So, what’s the moral of the story here? Black hat techniques may seem like a quick fix for SEO, but they’re actually a poor investment for your brand.

How to Spot Black Hat Marketing in the Wild

Now you know the difference between black and white hat marketing. You’re wondering how you can avoid black hat tactics.

If only it were as simple as avoiding SEO teams that billed themselves as “black hat.” Unfortunately, few people will label their tactics as “black hat,” even if that’s what they use.

How do you know the provider you’re talking to is using white hat vs black hat SEO? You can look for some of the following signs.

Black hat providers will typically:

  • Promise quick results or “fast” improvement
  • Do not discuss what kind of links they are building ( Blog comments, in JS, 301 Redirect, PBNs)
  • seem to be much cheaper than established SEO agencies
  • Promise to provide hundreds of links in a short period of time
  • do not do an SEO analysis and strategic planning with you before providing SEO services
  • Emphasize backlinks over other SEO tactics like Content Building
  • Make guarantees or promises they can’t keep, like first-page ranking in 3 months.
  • Do not use the best SEO analytics tools for SEO, like SEMrush, Yoast or Ahref.

You can also ask about how they maintain their clients’ success. Be leery if they suggest that you should set up gateway pages or buy expired domains.

By contrast, white hat SEO providers will focus on:

  • Creating a plan for quality content and backlink building
  • Improving website security, and accessibility
  • Boosting website speed is paramount to them
  • Start with creating a backlinking strategy
  • Always have Onpage optimization as part of their plan

There are a few telling features of a white hat SEO vs black hat SEO strategy. A white-hat strategy will focus on creating great content. A black hat strategy will focus more on keywords and vague links without content to back them up.

A white hat strategy will also look to your website as a whole. Google prioritizes both speed and security, so a white hat provider will emphasize these aspects of SEO. A black hat provider will be happy to let security take a back seat.

Both black hat and white hat providers may talk about backlinks. With black hat providers, there may be a focus on linking buying or trading. Links or keywords may also come at the expense of quality content.

White hats still use keywords and backlinks as part of their SEO strategy. There will be more emphasis on getting quality backlinks naturally and through requests, instead of sneaky placement of links on sites. Keywords will also be used naturally, and the focus will be more on creating quality content.

A Word about Grey Hat SEO Techniques

Since SEO is always evolving, there’s always some debate about which techniques are safe to use. Link building is one of them.

Some people may consider link building part of what are known as “grey hat” techniques. These tactics fall between white and black hat SEO. Some people consider them safe to use, while others feel they’re not worth the risk.

When it comes to link building, there is definitely a huge difference in the kinds of backlinks so take the time to understand the difference.

Other examples include building microsites or submitting to automated and irrelevant directories. Right now, these activities are considered legitimate enough.

There is debate about how “fair” they are, or if they’re actually a way of cheating search engine algorithms. Right now, Google hasn’t said you should avoid them.

It’s possible that Google and other search providers will take action against microsites and automated directory listings across thousands of irrelevant sites in the future. At that point, these tactics would become “black hat.” If your site is using them when the rules are updated, you could be penalized.

It’s a good idea to keep a close eye on how SEO is evolving, even if you’re using white hat techniques. What works today could be considered poor practice tomorrow. If you plan to use any grey hat techniques, it’s especially important to stay on top of updates and trends.

Is it Time to Switch Your SEO Provider?

Now you know what is the difference between white hat SEO vs black hat SEO and marketing. Black hat techniques may look attractive/ cheaper and those who use them may promise quick results. In the end, though, black hat techniques will hurt your brand more than they’ll help.

The bottom line is that you should always stick with white hat techniques. They may not get you quick results, but they will help you build your brand on a strong foundation and carry you much further in the long run.

If you think you’ve been using black hat SEO techniques, it could be time to switch. Get in touch with our SEO experts over a free 30 minute SEO consultation that would give you a detailed break down of your current SEO standing and discover the difference white hat SEO tactics can make for you.