Like cowboys in old spaghetti Westerns, search engine optimization (SEO) can be broadly categorized into two groups: black hat and white hat — and just like in the movies, one is good and one is evil.
Well, evil may be a little strong, but unscrupulous SEO practices are often labeled black hat SEO, and those that follow common, ethical standards are called white hat SEO.
SEO is a strategy used to get Web pages placed higher in search engine rankings by appearing to be more relevant or authoritative to the major search engines.
Google wants to give the highest rankings to pages that will be the most useful to people who are searching. White hat SEO users make Web pages with the user in mind, creating quality content that gets ranked high on merit.
Black hat SEO users create Web sites with search engines in mind, attempting to bypass the filters Google has in place to weed out spam and get illegitimate content placed higher than it deserves to be.
White hat SEO users want their content to go to the top of the rankings and stay there long-term. Black hat SEO users want to get as much as they can out of a page as quickly as they can.
White hat SEO providers work hard to create good content that ranks high organically.
White hat SEO does not attempt to deceive search engines and makes every effort to conform to their rules and guidelines.
It creates pages that are easy to navigate and contain compelling content. Those pages are then enhanced with keyword-rich metadata and contain links that connect to other pages that contain relevant, useful information.
Instead of creating compelling content that receives higher ranking on merit, black hats often hide content within their page for the sole purpose of deceiving search engines.
One way is to hide a word or phrase by making the text the same color as the background so it is invisible to the user but stands out to search engines.
Like white hat SEO, black hat SEO also uses meta tags. But instead of relevant words or phrases, black hats employ deception by hiding irrelevant words within a cluster of relevant ones.
Let’s say a black hatter was choosing meta tags on a site that sells plumbing supplies. His meta tags may be “plumbing, plumbing supplies, sinks, faucets, Justin Bieber, pipes, PVC tubing.”
Black hat SEO providers try to deceive search engines by getting shady pages artificially ranked high.
Just as white hats use links on their pages, so do black hats. But instead of linking to relevant, useful pages, unscrupulous SEO providers create what are known as link farms, whose sole purpose is to trick search engines by making the page appear more popular than it is, and therefore have it ranked higher.
As this tutorial points out, there are pros to black hat SEO. It can be lucrative in the beginning, and it doesn’t take as much effort because you’re not providing quality content. It is, however, unethical and dishonest.
If that’s not enough to dissuade you, consider this: You’re going to get caught and banned.
Google and other big engines have gotten wise to black hatters and are constantly changing their ranking methods to find and eliminate those who aren’t playing fair.
If you work hard to provide good, relevant content, you’ll end up ranking right where you belong — at the top.