Beginners and those already more advanced in search engine optimisation practices should know the different shades of hats the companies wear when working on SEO. The latter group likely knows the various shades, whereas this will serve more as a primer for the former. There are already many articles on the web about the different ‘hats’ used for search engine optimisation, thus this piece will focus on clearly defining the different type of hats a company may wear during a project and how to identify each. These definitions do not take into account any moral stances on the different hats since that is entirely separate debate.
White hat refers to entities that strictly employ search engine optimisation techniques that fully comply with Google’s Terms of Service (TOS) and webmaster guidelines. These organisations wear hats bleached in white and will never stray outside of best practices, which is often more resource intensive, but ultimately more beneficial as well. These companies will never use automated software, engage in any type of link purchases or do anything to jeopardize violating the search engine’s TOS. True white hat SEO companies are difficult to find, despite the fact that many claim to wear a hat of this colour.
This is the most common hat in the industry based on anecdotal evidence. Most in the SEO field wear a grey hat that utilises a combination of white hat techniques and a couple black hat components, hence aptly naming this approach grey hat. Generally, most of the same best practices and techniques used with white hat search engine optimisation are also utilised by these professionals. The differentiating factor is that on occasion these experts may engage in strategies that do not strictly conform to Google’s webmaster guidelines.
One example is a professional whom generally follows the guidelines, but is looking for an extra quick boost in rankings and likely hoping Google will never take notice, thus purchases an apparently innocuous link. Sometimes this works and other times it can prove detrimental. Google is constantly improving its detection of paid links with algorithmic updates such as Penguin, a sub-section of the all-encompassing Panda update. Despite how friendly these names sound, they are quite harmful for many businesses, aside from those whom engaged in purely white hat SEO.
Entities utilising black hat search engine optimisation techniques are generally employed in the most competitive markets and can help a website achieve short term rankings. However, it is often at the expense of maintaining top search engine results for any extended period of time. Learn more by reading about sustainable SEO. Dependent upon the industry, such practices can make sense economically, but only in rare instances and specific market niches. More commonly black hat SEO will yield results that do not generate a positive and sustainable ROI.
Black hat SEO comes in an array of flavours from the more rudimentary strategies to those that are much more sophisticated. A basic strategy that Google can detect relatively quickly is the cloaking of webpages. This term refers to serving two versions of a webpage: one that visitors see and one that Google Bot views. Thus, most people who look at these sites will see innocuous pages in their web browsers. However, when Google Bot looks at the page another version is viewed, which is often not aesthetically pleasing, but contains an extremely well optimised page that delivers to Google the content it considers highly relevant for a specific query.
A more complex method of black hat search engine optimisation may utilise more advanced methods of cloaking, and rely more heavily on off-page components that impact search results. This can include the hijacking of another website’s page rank and many other factors that are worthy of an entirely separate article.
The safest and typically smartest approach is to only hire a purely white hat SEO company. This will eliminate any doubts that future algorithm updates will harm a website’s rankings. Furthermore, it also ensures that money invested in search engine optimisation is not wasted on resources that will ultimately yield little or no value.
Anyone marketing a website online and utilising SEO should understand these different types of SEO in order to identify, which is most appropriate and suitable for their business’ needs. Almost all businesses are better off utilising white hat SEO since it is the only method that provides sustainable results for a website. Recognising the different types of hats in the industry ensures your business does not accidentally hire a company that engages in grey or black hat practices.
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