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As we have learned from Scandal, those wearing the white hats are the good guys; the gladiators.
Fittingly, tactics that search engine companies recommend or approve of are labeled white hat while those that are shadier or deceiving are black hat. While search engines certainly make valiant efforts to minimize the prevalence of black hat techniques by penalizing websites that employ them, they are not always perfectly regulated or discovered. In any field, there will be some bad guys.
White hat websites employ good, wholesome designs and follow search engine rules and guidelines. They never attempt “to pull a fast one” or get ahead through sketchy means. They are honest and forthright.
Their overseers and practitioners are upstanding citizens.
Furthermore, white hat techniques ensure that the content users see is identical to what search engines index and subsequently rank. Suffice it to say that white hat techniques involve publishing content for users, not search engines, and making the content accessible to spider algorithms. No tricks.
The major benefit of practicing white hat SEO is durability.
White hat tactics are not always (in fact, rarely) the quickest to implement, but they are very effective over a long period of time. Once it is done and SEO-ready, a website is good to go for a while.
Black hat tactics are the bad guys in SEO. Simply put, black hat SEO practitioners have a variety of conniving tricks up their sleeves to sneak around search engine protocol undiscovered for better rankings or traffic. Black hat methods give rise to spamdexing. But how does one outsmart the Internet?
One technique implements hidden text (similar color to a page’s background or positioned off screen) stuffed with keywords. Another employs cloaking by offering different pages depending upon the seeker of information: human visitor or search engine. This way, pages can be designed for a specific audience and ignore search engine stipulations for associated content. Pretty sneaky, eh?
Additionally, all of these things have been openly denounced by major search engines: content automation; doorway pages; reporting a competitor (or negative SEO); sneaky redirects; link schemes; guest posting networks; link manipulation (including buying links); article spinning; link farms, link wheels or link networks; rich snippet markup spam; automated queries to Google; creating pages, subdomains or domains with duplicate content; pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing, viruses, trojans, and other malware.
Perpetrators of black hat methods anticipate eventual discovery and a temporary or permanent search engine ban or ranking reduction for their websites. Penalties are applied automatically by search engine algorithms or a manual website review and websites are excluded from the number one traffic referral source on the Internet.
The Internet cannot be fooled for long.
Although white and black hat SEO techniques are most commonly identified, a third “in between” categorization has come to light. Grey hat SEO practitioners do not produce the best content for users, but avoid website penalization by committing to improving search engine rankings via slightly questionable means. Grey hat tactics are obviously riskier than white hat, but are not certain to land webmasters in trouble like black hat. What is or is not grey hat is more of a personal decision.
Stick with white or grey hat SEO techniques to build a stable, durable website that drives a lot of traffic!