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SEMrush Blog

Black Hat, Grey Hat, White Hat SEO: What Color Are You Wearing?

SEMrush Blog
Black Hat, Grey Hat, White Hat SEO: What Color Are You Wearing?

There are various SEO techniques used for rankings improvement. Some of them are 100% legal and approved by search engines, while other techniques are illegal and will lead to penalties from search engines. The most popular classification groups all these methods into 3 categories: white hat SEO, black hat SEO and grey hat SEO methods.

White hat SEO is also called ethical search engine optimization because it includes only methods that fully comply with guidelines of search engines. The main goal of white hat SEO is to make a website more beneficial for users. As a result, the amount of quality websites grows, and that is why these methods are welcome by search engines.

White hat SEO usually requires a considerable amount of effort and is generally slower than other techniques.

The most popular white hat SEO techniques include:

- Correct technical implementation, including correct redirects, robots.txt file, sitemaps, etc.

- Unique and quality content that users will be glad to like, link to or share in any other way

- Correct onsite optimization with correct HTML markup

- Correct optimization for social media

There are techniques that are considered unacceptable by search engines, and they are called black hat SEO. The purpose of such techniques is to trick search engines and make them believe your website deserves to be ranked high. Usually such techniques are used by websites that have no benefit for users and, as a result, they have no chance to gain popularity in a natural way. Black hat SEO techniques work for some limited period of time and often lead to a temporary rankings improvement. But within 2-3 months, they are uncovered by search engines and the website quickly loses rankings and gets penalized by search engines.

Some techniques have changed their color over time. This means that initially they were considered legal methods, but webmasters used them in a way to exploit imperfections of search engine algorithms. And so these methods became outside the law.

It is not recommended to use these methods. Even if search engines do not detect them at once, your competitors will probably keep track of your efforts and report abuse to search engines.

Here are some samples of black hat SEO techniques:

- Cloaking (two different versions of one and the same page. One version is displayed to search engine crawlers and the other version is for users)

- Keyword stuffing (too many relevant keywords so that text become very hard to read)

- Hidden text (for example: when the color of your text font is the same as the color of your page background)

Grey hat SEO is more risky than white hat SEO, but at the same time in most cases it doesn’t cause site penalties. Although sometimes it still does. Besides that, grey hat SEO techniques are the first and most probable candidates to become black hat following the next search engine algorithm update.

Here are two techniques that can be considered as grey:

- Keyword density higher than a natural text could have, but still not high enough to be considered black hat. All this is very relative and is hardly measurable in absolute figures.

- Unnatural links

If you have a long-term online project, you should plan your SEO strategy carefully and avoid any questionable techniques. There are several reasons why you should know about all kinds of techniques available. First of all, you should know what you are allowed to do and what not. Another reason is that you should track your competitors and understand what they do and what their strategy is. Besides, it is always useful to understand how a search engine algorithm works in order to receives more benefit from it.

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