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In the beginning, the field of SEO was comprised of companies attempting to “rig” the way search engines display their listing in search results. Today, the SEO has evolved into a holistic strategy geared towards generating a positive user experience and robot trust. The former represents what is today called “Black Hat SEO,” and the latter “White Hat SEO.”

The tactics that companies use to employ these alternative strategies differ drastically. Despite large efforts to render black hat techniques obsolete (largely in part by Google), their proponents linger to today. The differences are many, but here’s a quick chart to illustrate the main difference between the two.

Differences At a Glance

Black Hat SEO

White Hat SEO

Working Definition

The tactics used to obtain higher search rankings are in conflict with general webmaster guidelines. Tactics transparently conform to current web guidelines and laws without being deceptive.

Industry Status

Penalized by search engines. Approved by search engines.


Website is often de-indexed by search engines, or experiences diminished rankings. Website is enabled to receive full benefit from organic search traffic now and into the future.

Common Techniques

Keyword stuffing, cloaking, link farming, hidden text, spam, paid links, etc. Quality content, high user experience, relevant keywords, authentic online reputation, reviews, etc.

 Should You Use Black Hat Tactics?

The short answer is no. Search engines are very upfront about what they are willing to accept and what they will penalize. The good news is that there is still enormous room to gain long-term search exposure using an entirely white-hat toolbox.

The long answer is, maybe. The lines between white and black hat tactics are very blurry. The key is to understand the situations and circumstances that call for a given tactic. For instance, excessive use of keywords on a webpage will get you a density penalty. So don’t do it. But if you understand why you are penalized, you’ll understand that keyword stuffing wouldn’t be effective even if you were not penalized. At the same time, search engines like Google want you to use keywords. How else would they understand what your page is about? The point is to communicate your webpage’s meaning in a natural way.

Although search ranking algorithms are not accessible to the public, they have been modestly reverse engineered. For the most part, we know what tactics will get results. The upshot is that they are difficult to obtain unnaturally. So, the play is to obtain these online elements naturally.


Think about it this way. When you were in grade school, you probably noticed that some people cheated while other people studied. The people who cheated occasionally scored a good mark. The people who studied almost always received a good mark. Moreover, the people who studied became smart. This was the whole point. To employ black hat tactics is to stand in the way of your web business becoming better.