Black Hat Vs White Hat Vs Grey Hat SEO

What’s the Difference and Why Do They Matter?

If you’re familiar with search engine optimization, you’ve likely heard or read about the terms “white hat SEO” and “black hat SEO.” You may have even heard “grey hat SEO” thrown in there as well.

So, what’s the difference between black hat vs white hat vs grey hat SEO? Why should they matter to your website and your business?

Let’s break down the differences to determine the best way for you (or your agency!) to approach SEO initiatives.


Why the “Hat” Terminology?

The first time you hear the phrase “white hat SEO,” you may be wondering why that term specifically is used. 

In old movies, colored hats were used to identify if a character was a hero or a villain. Villains wore black hats, while the good guys wore white hats.

This “hat” terminology has been used in the business realm to identify good versus bad practices.

White Hat SEO

White hat SEO is when an SEO is using proper tactics and following the rules laid out by Google. It is often referred to among SEO experts as the “clean” way to do SEO.

When you follow proper search engine guidelines, you do not run the risk of having your site flagged for violating the rules. Think of it like driving: if you are obeying the laws of the road, you do not run the risk of receiving a speeding ticket.

White hat SEO is the acceptable form of SEO. While it does not produce quick results, it will help your site to earn a great reputation and will produce better results over time.

Some common white hat SEO initiatives include:

  • Creating a great user experience
  • Optimizing your site for mobile
  • Creating relevant and high quality content
  • Thorough keyword research and analysis
  • Creating a clear site structure

If you are doing SEO on your own, be sure to do your research on white hat techniques so that you don’t run the risk of Google penalizing your site. If you work with an agency on SEO efforts, be sure to ask them what kind of techniques they use to influence rankings and increase traffic. Reputable companies know the ins and outs of white hat SEO and work hard to increase traffic and rankings without disobeying Google’s rules.

Black Hat SEO

Instead of following the rules like white hat SEO, black hat SEO tactics try to manipulate search engines in order to increase keyword rankings and site traffic. 

When someone uses black hat SEO techniques in their work, they’re likely trying to game the system in order to see quick results instead of focusing on the long term. 

These initiatives CAN work to improve your stats in the short term, but they aren’t ethical and can lead to manual actions from Google. 

Some common black hat SEO practices include:

  • Hidden text and links (keywords on the page that are visible to robots but not to users)
  • Clickbait (getting users to click on something they think is relevant but is not)
  • Cloaking content (creating content that is readable and understandable by humans, but rewriting the content for robots based off their preferences)
  • Creating sneaky redirects (being taken from one page to another without warning) 

Though circumventing Google’s rules isn’t necessarily illegal, it is not a good practice. Not only does it pose the risk of being caught by Google, but it diminishes trust in your site and your company by users.

Grey Hat SEO

Just like most things in life, everything related to SEO is not always black or white. Grey hat SEO is another technique that is often used by SEO professionals. It’s the blended line between white and black hat techniques.

Grey hat SEO can be defined as slightly bending the rules, but not doing anything too extreme that would warrant consequences.

Let’s go back to the driving example. Most people would admit that they typically drive a few miles over the speed limit. A police officer is typically not going to pull you over for driving less than five miles over the speed limit. 

Grey hat techniques are not technically bad practice, but they are done with the intention of bending the rules slightly in order to get ahead (just like driving five miles over the speed limit will likely get you to your destination faster). 

Some common grey hat initiatives include:

  • Buying or trading backlinks with another website to improve link building efforts 
  • Creating duplicate content to target other keywords without writing new content (such as writing the content about local services but only switching out the city’s name)
  • Submitting your site to too many web directories
  • Paying customers for positive reviews.



How Do I Determine if My SEO Practices Are Good Or Bad?

If you’re doing search engine optimization for your company and aren’t sure if your tactics are good or bad, we recommend doing some research to make sure they are white hat.

Google is a great place to start. We also recommend subscribing to articles by reputable companies such as Semrush or Search Engine Journal. Familiarizing yourself with each SEO tactic,  how they work, and how they affect your website will keep your site clean and maintain your reputation as a credible company.

Additionally, if you hire an agency to do SEO for your website, be sure that they are an honest company that only pursues white hat initiatives. You can ask them questions such as, “What are some of the practices you use in your company to help my site with rankings?” or “How have your white hat SEO initiatives served other clients?” 

Reputable agencies will be able to give you upfront and honest answers to these questions and show proof as to how they have helped other client websites to rank using the rules laid out by Google.

Hire the White Hat SEO Experts

SEO is a great marketing tool but it can often be overwhelming, especially to small businesses. If you want to rank higher in Google results and build a great reputation for your website, hire the SEO experts at Eldie.

We know the ins and outs of both the technical and the content sides of SEO. We’ll use our tried-and-true white hat SEO strategies and methods to improve your rankings. 

Schedule a free 15-minute discovery call with us to discuss your SEO needs!