<img alt="" src="https://secure.data-insight365.com/265687.png" style="display:none;">
What are your SaaS company's current growth marketing challenges and wins?
Back to Blog
SEO for Growth

White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO: How to Rank & Avoid Penalties

SEO can feel like the wild west at times. But who's the good guy, and who's the bad guy? Get the full rundown on white hat and black hat SEO.

5 mins read time
Sarah Hollenbeck
Sarah Hollenbeck

Jun 26, 2022

You know how when you watch an old western, you can easily tell who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy? The bad guy, typically dressed in black from head to toe, always breaks the rules. And it’s up to the good guy, wearing — you guessed it — white, to save the day and do what’s right. SEO follows a similar, cliché format.

That’s not to say that SEO is a cliché — it’s not. In fact, it’s one of the most important things you can invest in for your brand, as it helps put you in front of potential customers searching for what you offer.

But how do you make sure you’re the good guy when it comes to search engine optimization?

White hat and black hat tactics can be confusing, and no matter if you plan to hire an SEO consultant or have your team tackle the optimization themselves, understanding the difference between the two can make or break your brand's success in search.

Below, we’ll cover the differences between white vs. black hat SEO tactics, which version is best for your brand, and how to spot these practices out in the wild west we call the internet.

White Hat SEO: An Overview

Following white hat best practices is simple: Put the user first, and the rankings will follow. 

Google is looking to show searchers the highest-quality content for their queries, so if you can quickly answer their questions and provide the information they need, Google will reward you for that. Add to that a website that loads quickly and plenty of brand mentions, and you’ve created a clear signal to Google that you know what you’re doing.

The one downside to white hat search engine optimization is that it can take some time. But as the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easy. If you put in the time and effort now, you’ll see your brand's rankings, traffic, and page views grow exponentially over the years to come.

White Hat Techniques

Though Google has its own documentation to help you learn the ins and outs of SEO, below are the most common white hat SEO techniques you should consider when building out your team's digital marketing skills.

  • A healthy number of organic links and press mentions
  • A mobile-first website design
  • An updated HTML and XML sitemap
  • Fast page speed and loading times
  • Internal links on every page with optimized anchor texts
  • Non-spammy link-building tactics, such as unique guest posts 
  • Proper alt text and labels on all images
  • Reduced click depth on important pages
  • Titles, copy, and meta descriptions that follow SEO best practices
  • Unique, topically relevant content targeting short- and long-tail keywords

What You Need to Know About Black Hat

Black hat SEO refers to strategies that are used to manipulate search engines and users in one fell swoop. 

From adding invisible text to core pages to participating in link schemes, there are plenty of black hat tactics that can seem enticing to SEO newbies. But be warned — these actions are not without consequences.

Google has got hip to black hat practices over the years, releasing a slew of updates that penalize those trying to game the system. This means that while you may see some short-term gains in rankings and traffic going black hat, penalties (and even potential blacklisting) will quickly follow.

Bottom line: Black hat SEO tactics are never worth the long-term penalties.

SEO Practices That Are Black Hat

In order to ensure your brand is investing its marketing dollars wisely, the following black hat tactics should be avoided at all costs.

  • Blog spamming
  • Creation and use of doorway pages
  • Invisible or hidden text
  • Keyword stuffing on pages, meta descriptions, and titles
  • Link farming
  • Non-relevant external links
  • Paid links or manipulative/spammy guest posts
  • Scraping or duplicating content

There are some tactics — like ling building — that can fall in both white, black, and gray hat categories, depending on how they're accomplished. To make sure you're staying on Google's good side, check out this chart from Moz.

Continuum of Link Exchange Risk


Which Is Better: White Hat SEO or Black Hat SEO?

If you couldn’t already tell from the descriptions above, when it comes to developing a long-term SEO strategy, white hat SEO is the way to go. By following white over black hat strategies, your website will see growth in rankings, traffic, and user trust — without ever having to worry about falling out of Google’s good graces.

What Is Gray Hat SEO?

Gray hat SEO refers to tactics that sit between black and white in Google’s eyes. 

If your ears perked up at the idea of quick traffic gains without any penalties, don’t send out a mass email to your team just yet. While gray hat practices like buying social followers or old domains haven’t been specifically listed as penalty-causers, that doesn’t mean they’re always a good idea. But more on that below.

Getting Penalized

As mentioned above, trying to manipulate search engines can come with consequences. These include ranking loss, quick-snippet or PAA box removal, and even being blacklisted from the search engine entirely (yikes). 

But not all penalties are doled out to manipulative websites. Sometimes, even the best-intending marketers and developers can make mistakes that cause Google to drop a site from the SERP.

Because of this, it’s important to educate every member of your team on SEO best practices and regularly run audits on your entire site to keep everything in tip-top shape. Or, you can work with an agency that specializes in that kind of thing.

You wouldn’t walk out of the saloon without your pistol for protection. Similarly, you shouldn’t try to break into the world of SEO without some backup. Check out how we can help get your brand where it needs to be.


Grow Your SEO  The right SEO strategy can drive thousands of qualified leads to your site.  We've grown organic traffic by 400% and revenue by 300% for clients – see what  we can do for you.  Learn More

Sarah Hollenbeck

Sarah is a writer, marketer, and brand strategist who is passionate about helping brands create content that delights and converts. Sarah loves yoga, working on her novel, and walking her dog, Otis.

Latest Articles

Top 10 leadership Skills Every Remote Leader Needs

Marketing Leadership

Top 10 leadership Skills Every Remote Leader Needs

Learn the top 10 leadership skills you need as a remote leader to be successful.

What Is an SEO Marketing Agency?

SEO for Growth

What Is an SEO Marketing Agency?

Discover everything you need to know about working with an SEO marketing agency — plus, see if you should partner with an agency or keep it...

How I Scaled a Marketing Team from 1 to a 40-Person Growth Machine

Remote Team Management

How I Scaled a Marketing Team from 1 to a 40-Person Growth Machine

How to scale a SaaS marketing team when you're the first marketing hire — scale up from 1 to 40 marketers to achieve $100M in revenue