Black Hat Versus White Hat

by marty on January 12, 2011

I was reading some favorite old posts today and came across this one, from all the way back in 2006 by Stuntdubl: hat SEO

Mr. Malicoat offers a lot of good things in here, but the one that made me want to scribble was this:

9. Blackhat is lying to clients, customers, partners, or vendors.
Whitehat is proactively discussing risk tolerance, process, expectations, and contribution to a community instead of just bilking people into teaching you to think.

A lot of things have changed in search since he wrote that almost 5 years ago - but I think this point is more salient today than ever. Thankfully people aren’t talking about this as much as they used to…but some still insist on climbing on a soapbox, and pretending that there are altruistic means behind their sweeping statements and judgements.

Defining what you do by some broad-stroke term is limiting at best. But the argument between whitehat and blackhat SEO techniques has always been that – an ultimately limiting and self-defeating approach.

I should know:

Hi, my name is Marty. I am a recovering whitehat.

In my own case, my couple years of chest-thumping whitehattedness were eventually replaced by data, and logic. But while it had me, I really drank that kool-aid, hard.

Here are some of the many misconceptions it created:

  • Buying links is bad, and will result in penalties. The truth is, buying links is commonplace and often results in success. Discretion.
  • Automating is bad. Impersonal approaches to web development scared me I think, because I was building sites, and didn’t want to see it all go away. It did anyway – open source changed everything. And it only made me run faster to catch-up once I finally decided to get in the game. 
  • Google is going to reward the best content.{Bwa-ha-haaaaaa-ha-ha-ha}
  • Link spam gets punished. Truth is, sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve seen link spam work well, I’ve seen it (apparently) sink sites. Truth is, good sites get punished too.
  • Good content is required to top the SERPs. Sigh. As much as I would love for this to be the case, no such luck.   

Now, believing in whitehat came from a good place. I wanted to only do what my clients wanted – things I could be proud of later. But I was not taking Stuntdubl’s approach, and simply understanding risk tolerance better. I couldn’t communicate it to my clients, because I was too busy shunning things, because they seemed “shady.”

Flash forward a few years, and I don’t wear hats anymore – I now prefer scarves. Hardly gets cold enough in Atlanta for me to indulge, but I digress.

It may have taken me close to 5 years since I first read this post from Stuntdubl, but his last point is the one that now makes my bald head shine:

10. It’s all about the results

Yes it is…as long as those results are accompanied by the immaculately clear conscience that you are not screwing people over to get them. It is not by any means necessary – but it is by any reasonable means.

Bottom Line:

If you insist on actively defining yourself as either a blackhat or a whitehat SEO, chances are you are simply an asshat. Just do what is best to get the ranking you are after for you or your clients – and make it less about you. Remember what Stuntdubl said: It’s all about the results.

Late add: found another one, worth adding here. In the historical review of how this separation in the SEO industry devolves, I found another winner here: and here:

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Lions and Tigers and Bears and Guest Posts: Google Wants you to Freeze with Fear...Again — Articulayers
January 30, 2014 at 11:20 am

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crowdfunding July 8, 2011 at 11:27 am

Black hat SEO is pretty much the opposite of white hat in that it attempts to fool search engine rankings through disapproved techniques. One example of a black hat technique is using hidden text or text that cannot be read due to a color change to drive traffic..

marty July 20, 2011 at 5:57 am

That is an old one! I think of black hat stuff today more like using mechanical means to appear like you are more than you are.
But again, the point of this post is that white hats are silly – it is about rewards balanced by risks, not something you classify that easily. Too much nuance in search to worry over something like this.

Samuel Symes September 21, 2011 at 2:44 am

Most link building by most SEO firms is not “natural” and is in fact blackhat according to Google. If you have to pay for it, ask for it, comment for it or insert a link in your article to gain it, then you are manipulating Google search results and Google terms that as blackhat. You just need to view the many video’s by Matt Cutts to realize that if you are doing any of the above, then you are creating links manually and you violating Google’s TOS.

It simply baffles me how many SEO experts will quickly denounce Cloaking as “unethical” or against Google’s TOS or even label it as spam which manipulates search results but then on a daily basis create artificial, manual or software generated backlinks for clients.

If you are distributing countless articles with links or posting on blogs/forums to obtain backlinks or using automated backlinking software, isn’t that also spamming to manipulate search engine results?

What is the difference? It all violates Google’s TOS.

So does “blackhat” or being “unethical” really exist anymore? Isn’t this really about traffic, conversions and surviving within an ever tightening monopoly created by Google for which we now are left with few other options, unless to line the pockets of Google shareholders.

marty September 21, 2011 at 2:53 am

cheers, Samuel – great comment. I’ll take my ethics to-go please… and can live with the fact that as long as Google creates the whole thing under a veil, so too, can I.

Alina@white hat seo December 4, 2013 at 12:03 am

Today all of us are concern about the importance of SEO service. It’s one of the best alternative for increasing our business websites ranking in Google page. Google only count white hat seo service. After update of Penguin and Panda it’s more strict about controlling spam. So it’s our duty to continue whit hat seo service for our clients.

marty January 24, 2014 at 6:29 pm

I had to approve your comment (after I took out your link) because it is so ironically sad that you use comment spam as your platform to talk about white hat SEO. The poorly written nature of it suggests you don’t even work for the company you are spamming for (about white hat SEO)…you are lower paid than one of their employees would be. But all good white hats outsource important things like outreach to minimally paid workers in non-english speaking countries. Google does not, by any means “only count white hat seo service” or you would not be doing what you are doing – but you have no idea what I am talking about. Nor will you ever revisit my site, or engage in any meaningful way – because you will be too busy doing your duty – or this that a typo, and you meant “doody” – because that makes much more sense coming from you. Thanks for coming by – good luck with all those clients.

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