White Hat Vs Black Hat SEO: What’s The Difference?

White hat vs black hat SEO, one of the most debated topics in the SEO industry. On one side, there are so-called “Ethical” SEO practitioners who consider themselves to be wearing white hats.

Then on the other side, there are those who are proud to wear black hats and would do anything to game the Google algorithm in order to rank as high as possible in the SERPs.

But what’s the difference between these two? Which hat should you be wearing? Let’s find out in this article.

What Is White Hat SEO?

In simple words, white hat SEO refers to the correct and ethical ways of optimizing websites to rank in the search results.

Some of its characteristics are as follow:

1. It Follows Search Engine Guidelines

The first and most important characteristic that defines the hat you’re wearing in SEO is whether or not the optimization methods follow what is widely known as “Webmaster Guidelines”

These guidelines are the rules that search engines set up to define the proper way of site optimization. The most famous one being the Google Webmaster Guidelines by Google.

In a nutshell, these guidelines can be summarized into a simple meaning, i.e. “Don’t manipulate their algorithm”

2. It Focuses On Human

With white hat approaches, the primary objective is to put the human audience first. As far as the ethical SEO best practices are concerned, they already take user experience into consideration.

For example, providing a comprehensive piece of content with the highest quality that focuses on answering any possible questions that the users may have.

3. It Takes A Long-Term Approach

When your primary focus in on providing the best user experience possible and following webmaster guidelines, it will usually take time and effort to do the work.

This is because you’re not gaming the algorithm. So it will take time for the compound effect to ultimately yield results.

But looking at it from another perspective, white hat SEO also has a much more lasting impact. This is because you build trusted user experience for your users and don’t put yourself at risk for consequences from search engines which can happen if you break their guidelines.

What Is Black Hat SEO?

Black hat SEO is the exact opposite of white hat SEO.

Here are some of its main characteristics:

1. It Violates Search Engine Guidelines

Black hat SEO includes different kinds of strategies that aim at gaming the algorithms and thus violate search engine guidelines and rules.

 2. It Focuses On Algorithms

Just as the opposite of white hat SEO where the primary focus is on user experience and satisfying what humans are looking for, black hat approaches emphasis on manipulating search engine algorithms to win the ranking.

3. It’s All About Quick-Wins

If white hat approaches take longer time to yield results, I bet you already know that by gaming the algorithm, black hat SEO objective is to win the search engine ranking as fast as possible, without putting in a large amount of work and effort.

Difference Between Black Hat And White Hat SEO

The main differences between these two hats can be clearly seen and observed in their characteristics. However, one of the most important ones that categorize SEO tactics into two different categories is whether or not they follow search engine guidelines.

With this being said, let’s have a look at what webmaster guidelines said when it comes to what to do and not to do. 

Here, I’ve taken an example from Google’s Webmaster Guidelines:

White Hat SEO:

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
  • Don’t deceive your users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.

Black Hat SEO:

  • Automatically generated content
  • Participating in link schemes
  • Creating pages with little or no original content
  • Cloaking
  • Sneaky redirects
  • Hidden text or links
  • Doorway pages
  • Scraped content
  • Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
  • Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
  • Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware
  • Abusing structured data markup
  • Sending automated queries to Google

Which Hat Should You Be Wearing?

So you must be wondering which hat you should be wearing right? Well, it all boils down to what’s your overall strategies.

With white hat SEO, it takes time and effort to do the work. But the results are worth it. You get a chance to build your own brand’s trustworthiness over time from users as well as search engines.

Whereas with black hat SEO, you can get similar results with your white hat approaches in much lesser time, but you risk yourself getting penalized by search engines, especially with Google.

Two types of Google penalties are:

1. Algorithmic Penalties

Google updates its algorithm several times a year. This is to ensure that websites meet the highest standard possible. With this being said, the algorithm is continuously evolving and getting better and better at detecting various black hat methods.

You may end up being penalized by the algorithm if it finds and detects any shady SEO practices on your site. The penalties can result in your site or page being demoted in the ranking.

2. Manual Penalties

Worse than algorithmic penalties are manual penalties. These penalties are given by humans reviewers from Google’s team and indicate that a site has been flagged for violating their guidelines.

Unlike algorithmic penalties, manual action can prevent your page or the entire site from appearing in the Google search results altogether.


That’s if for all you need to know about the difference between white hat and black hat SEO and which hat should you choose to wear.

As mentioned, these 2 categories of SEO have their own advantages and disadvantages. At the end of the day, it’s your choice as to which direction you want your business to be in.

Author Bio: SEOSilos is a Thailand-based SEO agency offering advance on-page, technical, off-page and local SEO service to help small and medium business owners grow their businesses online with strategic strategies.