Last Updated on February 28, 2021 by Filip Poutintsev
Black hat SEO techniques are generally as defined “manipulative tactics”. I say that is a bunch of nonsense. Search engine optimization is a combination of manipulative tactics to improve a specific website’s search engine rankings. That’s the definition of it.
If no one would do any SEO, some website would naturally get more popular than others, as people would share their content and link to them. And this is what happened quite often in the past. Today, however, with the extremely tough competition online, it’s unlikely for a website to gain high rankings in search engines and compete with established websites simply by being good. It’s possible, but in that case, the website should be amazing and get a lot of exposure online using other methods for people to notice it in the first place.
Because this happens only to one in a million websites get lucky, everyone else needs to do SEO. What SEO basically does is try to improve the rankings of a website that is not ranking naturally, because while it may be a good website, it’s not great enough for people to bother promoting it and linking to it, on their own time.
The real, more objective definition of black hat and white hat techniques is the following.
White Hat techniques: Google allows them.
Black Hat techniques: Google does not allow them and will punish the website by dropping its ranking.
The interesting part is that many techniques that were considered white hat in the past are today a black hat, and techniques that are white hat today could become a black hat in the future. The further we go in the past, the easier it was to use a black hat technique and not get caught, and more black hat techniques were seen as white hat. In the beginning, these methods were not even differentiated as they both worked. But as Google algorithms become more and more sophisticated, they notice actions that they did not see before.
The whole SEO industry is a race between search engines and SEO consultants. Before Google existed, ranking on search engines was extremely easy, and it was still easy in the 2000s. Things started to change in the 2010s. The first hit was Google Panda algorithm in 2011 which dropped a huge amount of websites from top places by punishing for duplicate, plagiarized or thin content, user-generated spam and keyword stuffing. In 2012 it was followed by Google Penguin algorithm that targeted spammy or irrelevant links and links with over-optimized anchor text. After these two updates, many websites had suffered and lost their rankings. This lead to a white hat and black hat SEO concept to get a foothold since now it became essential to separate acceptable and not acceptable SEO techniques.
What’s the difference between White Hat and Black Hat techniques?
Both techniques are not about what you do, but how you do it. In both cases, you are building links: blog posts, guest posts, PR articles, forum posts, comments etc. It also happens on similar websites, sometimes even on the same website.
The biggest differentiation between white hat and black hat SEO is quality versus quantity. Here are some characteristics of both methods.
White Hat – Quality
- Posting links on relevant high authority websites.
- Carefully examining each website where you post to match both niche and topic.
- Writing fresh, unique and relevant content for each post
- Using skilled people to build links manually.
Black Hat – Quantity
- Posting links on all websites where you can.
- Not researching websites and not paying attention to niche and relevancy.
- Posting the same content everywhere.
- Using a cheap labour force or bots to mass post links.
In many cases, you can be posting the same link on the same websites, but in one case be doing white hat and in another case black hat SEO. The difference is which strategy you apply and how you do it: individually with a thought or as a mass posting.
Google sees the difference between white hat and black hat link building methods mostly by analyzing these aspects:
- Website authority
- Type of website
- Uniqueness of content
Thus black hat techniques are easily spotted because the definition of doing something in bulk is that you don’t analyze each submission nor pay attention to relevancy and uniqueness.
Today Google’s AI is sophisticated enough to notice any SEO tricks done in bulk without individual touch. In terms of SEO techniques, it has almost as good a detection level as an average person. So anything that looks to be authentic will pass Google’s check. Google AI is not yet so developed that it can differentiate organic link posting from intentional link posting. It does not know if other websites linked to yours, because they genuinely think that your content is good, or because you paid them to do that. And Google doesn’t know if you posted an article on the forum to promote it, or someone posted it because they thought it was interesting.
It would require Super, God-like AI to spot a difference between those, and that’s what we luckily don’t have yet. Thus any manipulative methods can be used for as long as they look genuine to the human eye.