Black-Hat/White-Hat SEO 101: Everything You Need to Know


When you’re just getting started with SEO, it’s important to learn the basics before you get in over your head. That includes learning about search engine optimization tactics and methods, as well as the best practices. This will ensure that you get it right to get the best rankings, and more importantly that you don’t do anything that could get you banned from search engines—potentially for life. 

Put simply, black-hat SEO is bad while white-hat SEO is good. However, it’s not really that simple. When SEO was first introduced, everyone just started stuffing keywords into content, hoping for better rankings. Google and other search engines quickly decided that a better solution was needed and that certain practices should be outlawed to level the playing field. There are still some that fall into the gray area in between, but that depends on whom you ask or how they’re being used. 

The most important thing is to understand the difference between black hat and white hat SEO, as well as why you should avoid black hat SEO at all costs. 

White hat SEO, or following the rules 

Those who use Google’s best practices and utilize SEO tactics properly to increase their search rankings are said to be following white-hat SEO. This essentially means that it’s the right, permitted way to get rankings so that it’s fair for everyone. The practice of generating quality search results has taken Google and other search engines years of honing their efforts and embracing new strategies and technologies. As such, they want these rules to be respected. 

White hat SEO includes:

  • Creating high-quality content for your audiences 
  • Doing keyword research and utilizing keywords based on best practices
  • Developing a social media marketing campaign that includes keyword optimization
  • Claiming and completing your Google Business Profile 
  • Adding a sitemap and using Google Search Console to get your site discovered

A simple Internet search for “SEO best practices” will return tons of great tips and tactics that you can use to boost your SEO without having to worry about breaking the rules. 

What does black hat SEO entail?

Even Google warns people not to do something that they wouldn’t explain to a Google employee. It’s a fair tip to discern black hat from white hat SEO. The former is about breaking the rules, trying to “trick” the search engines, or cheating your way to a good ranking. Most of the techniques in this category aren’t even permitted anymore, let alone effective. 

Google not only disavows black hat SEO techniques but has started penalizing and even banning websites that engage in these practices. Some practices that have been found in this off-limits arena include:

  • Link farming or link spamming
  • Article spinning (using automated tools to “spin” existing content into “fresh” content)
  • Stealing content
  • Cloaking URLs
  • Buying links
  • Negative SEO (build yours up, don’t tear the competition down)

If you’re planning to do something that you feel uncomfortable about or that you’re not sure of, feel free to search the Internet to find out whether it’s a good practice or if you should avoid it. If you’re not sure, there are usually plenty of resources to advise you on what’s acceptable and what isn’t. 

How do I know if I’m doing it right?

There’s a lot of gray area up for debate. For example, link farms are bad, but building links by connecting with a partner to deliver quality solutions for your audience will boost your rankings. You can’t buy links, farm links, or spam anyone. Your content can’t be generic, nor should it be so stuffed with keywords that it doesn’t read well. Create quality content on your website and elsewhere online so that you can prove to Google that your site is worth ranking highly. 

The best thing to do is to trust your gut. If something feels like “cheating” or like you’re trying to get away with something, it probably won’t go over well. Even if you get away with it initially, eventually it will come back to bite you. Focus on:

  • Creating value in your content and social media marketing 
  • Creating useful, informative content 
  • Optimizing on-page SEO
  • Building strong relationships 
  • Following Google’s best practices 

What happens if I accidentally use black hat SEO?

Those who are new to search engine optimization worry that they’re going to somehow accidentally do something that’s considered “black hat” and get their business in trouble. For starters, it takes more than one accident to get banned from search engines. Secondly, if you’re following the best practices, you aren’t likely to run into any of these incidents in the first place. 

If you do come across a situation where Google tries to say that you’re engaging in black hat tactics, but you didn’t intend that or you are outright not doing so, you will need to be able to prove your intentions and the strategy behind it. You can plead your case and, in many situations, the decision may be swayed. Of course, this only works for first-time offenders. After that, it’s hard to believe that “accidents” keep happening. 

Work with the experts to be safe

One of the best ways that you can protect your business from the risks of black hat SEO and other issues with search engines is to work with the experts. Whether that means hiring an in-house SEO expert or outsourcing to a third-party SEO service depends on your needs, but you can find a lot of expert resources out there that can do the work for you, making it easy for you to focus on running your business and trust that your SEO is done right the first time. 

And speaking of the experts, why not enlist the help of the virtual receptionists at to help with the influx of leads from your new SEO efforts? In addition to our 24/7 answering service, we can also offer support for appointment scheduling and lead intake. Schedule a consultation to learn more or reach out to

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Written by Samir Sampat

Samir Sampat is a Marketing Manager with He has experience working with businesses of all sizes focusing on marketing, communications, and business development.

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