SEO providers have to market themselves like any other company. They tend to do so with some common terms and phrases. For example, ‘white hat’ is a phrase you will often see associated with SEO. Do you know what it means? More important, do you know why SEO providers mention it?
The whole idea of white hat SEO is rooted in a long history of white hat/black hat idioms. The black and white references in these idioms refer to the concepts of good and bad. For decades, the now almost-defunct MAD Magazine published a comic strip based on this very idea. The strip was known as Spy vs. Spy. It pitted a good spy, dressed in all white, against a completely black-clad bad spy.
Applying that same principle to SEO practices should explain what providers mean when they describe themselves as white hat. But if there are white hat SEO practices, there must be black practices as well.
Google Gets What Google Wants
To truly understand white and black hat SEO, we must first understand why the two principals even exist. That goes back to Google and its dominance as a search engine. Google’s number one priority is to sell advertising. They only succeed in doing so to the extent that their algorithms produce the kinds of results users want.
Producing those results requires crawling, analyzing, and indexing content. Google algorithms apply a minimum of 200 ranking factors (that we know of) to the data they collect. Then they throw all of that indexed data into a big virtual pot along with ranking factors and attempt to figure out what users want to know. Finally, they rank pages accordingly.
To make their job easier, Google has published its Webmaster Guidelines. The guidelines are divided into two sections: general guidelines and quality guidelines. These guidelines tell webmasters exactly what Google wants to see for the purposes of ranking websites.
Google and White Hat SEO
Knowing all that, white hat SEO is designed to give Google just what it wants. White hat SEO is that collection of SEO tools and strategies that line up with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. They are tools and strategies for which Google algorithms will reward pages with higher rankings.
Here are some examples of white hat SEO:
Google wants to see websites that are mobile friendly. Why? Because they know that more and more web users prefer their phones over desktop and laptop computers. The more people search with their phones, the more important mobile friendliness becomes. By extension, making mobile users happy also makes Google happy.
A number of years ago Google reworked its algorithms in an attempt to put an end to internet junk. They put a lot of time and effort into adjusting algorithms so they could better recognize quality content. Those adjustments have only gotten better over time. Google algorithms now put a high emphasis on content quality.
Structured data makes it easier for Google to index and present information to users. The better the structure, the better the result. Google loves structured data so much that they use it to create those rich snippets their users so appreciate.
Google and Black Hat SEO
If white hat SEO is that collection of tools and strategies Google wants to see, black hat SEO is just the opposite. Black hat SEO is characterized by tools and strategies that either push the envelope or directly violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. According to WebTek Interactive, Google punishes black hat practices whenever they find them.
Here are a couple of examples:
Keyword stuffing is the practice of putting as many keywords in a piece of content as possible, even if that means creating content that is irrelevant, grammatically incorrect, poorly syntaxed, etc. It is a practice that used to dominate the internet back in the 1990s.
Content spinning is the practice of taking someone else’s content and ‘spinning’ or rewriting it by changing some words and sentences. It is the same information presented in the same way, just with different words here and there. That is not the kind of content readers want, so Google doesn’t like it either.
Some would argue that black hat SEO no longer exists because it takes too much work. That is true in relation to some of the more complicated black hat strategies, but it is not true for keyword stuffing and content spinning. Unscrupulous SEO providers still try these two things even though they know being caught means being punished.
Here’s the bottom line: SEO providers market themselves as white hat to tell potential clients that they only engage in white hat SEO. This is intended to reassure them that the provider will not risk the client’s business by employing black hat tactics.