With 67% of digital marketers citing search engine optimization (SEO) as the most efficient content marketing tactic they’ve implemented in the past year, having an effective SEO strategy is important for your overall digital marketing plans.
There are two common approaches to SEO: white hat and black hat techniques. White hat SEO is attributed to practices that increase a website’s search rankings on a search engine results page (SERP) without straying outside of Google’s guidelines. On the other hand, black hat SEO is associated with looking for and exploiting loopholes within the Google algorithm. Although both have the same goal in mind, there are some key differences you’ll want to understand, particularly because some black hat SEO tactics run the risk of earning a Google penalty.
In this guide, we’ll discuss what differentiates white hat from black hat SEO strategies. We’ll also cover the basics of effective white hat SEO tactics and how they can improve key ranking factors.
What Is White Hat SEO?
White hat SEO is a term used to refer to SEO strategies that function within the rules and expectations of search engines and searchers. It means implementing techniques to improve a website’s search engine ranking without relying on tricks to undermine a search engine’s algorithm.
White hat SEO strategies focus on providing readers with high-quality and relevant content that optimizes user experience rather than using more spammy techniques, like duplicate content that’s only optimized for search engines.
White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO: What’s the Difference?
Whether they engage in white hat or black hat strategies, content marketers want the same thing — to boost their ranking on Google. Why are SEO strategists clamoring to make Google’s algorithm happy? Because your website ranking high on Google means reaching 86% internet users worldwide.
To better understand white hat SEO, it might make sense to examine black hat SEO and understand their key differences, such as:
White hat SEO produces high-quality content that matches user intent, while black hat strategies put out low-quality, duplicated, or heavily templated content.
A white hat strategy includes using well-labeled images with thoughtful alt text, while black hat uses more dated SEO practices, like keyword stuffing and invisible text.
White hat SEO uses keyword research organically on a page. In contrast, black hat SEO takes a target keyword and overuses it in headers, meta tags, or unnatural anchor text throughout a piece of content.
White hat content complies with search engine guidelines and builds links by guest posting and authentic link building strategies, while black hat’s strategy is to buy links.
Black hat SEO doesn’t have to be seen as an insidious SEO service because looking closely, some of the strategies are the same. It’s just that black hat strategies create and produce content strictly for search engines instead of people — a practice often referred to as “cloaking.” However, it’s still best to stay away from such practices and build your site authority with long-term, sustainable strategies.
Why Is White Hat SEO Important?
White hat SEO is important because, without it, search engine results would be chaotic. Without rules to guide the internet, website owners would rely on more dated SEO methods to rank on the search pages. And users would have to comb through a lot of irrelevant sites to find what they’re looking for.
White hat SEO is important because it benefits everyone. Google makes sure its algorithms only rank great content that captures user intent for every keyword search because it encourages millions of internet users to use the search engine. Site owners also benefit because they can boost their ranking without resorting to dishonest tactics. Lastly, users benefit because they can find what they’re looking for easily through organic search.
What Are Some White Hat SEO Strategies?
Build your business and your website’s reputation on solid ground. White hat strategies may take time, but they produce long-term results. Below are some white hat SEO strategies you should implement.
Offer Valuable Content
Blog posts are used by 86% of marketing teams as a lead generator. Content is still king. So, don’t produce content for search engines. Create content for people looking for information.
You’ll also want your content to be relevant and authoritative so that others will use it for reference.
To get a quick view of your website’s overall search engine presence regarding organic traffic and the number of backlinks, use our Domain Overview tool.
We also offer effective keyword research tools to ensure your content includes the primary and secondary keywords relevant to users’ search queries.
Satisfy User Intent
Satisfying user intent is Google’s No. 1 goal, so you should also aim for it as a website owner. User intent is the person’s goal when they type a query into a search engine. For example, if they type “keto pasta recipes,” they’d expect the results to show them keto diet-approved pasta recipes.
The common types of user intent are informational, commercial, navigational, and transactional. If a person visits a clothing website, it’s safe to say they’re looking to buy, and that would be categorized as commercial and transactional. If someone looks up “how to grow mushrooms,” they’d be looking for information.
A few strategies to use to satisfy user intent include:
Knowing your audience and what they’re looking for
Optimizing your content to fit specific keywords
Formatting your content for skimmers — use subheadings and leave a lot of white space
Using videos and images
Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly
In 2019, 52.2% of worldwide traffic used mobile phones to access the internet. This means if your website is not optimized to be viewed on a smartphone, you’re losing potential leads. Your website visitors won’t stay if they can’t navigate your site.
Type your URL into the search box of Google’s mobile-friendly test tool. You’ll get an answer on whether your website can be viewed on mobile phones. You’ll also receive a screenshot of how your pages look on a phone screen with a list of recommendations for optimization.
Should You Always Use White Hat SEO?
The answer to this question depends largely on your goal and the industry and niche you’re in. We understand some industries themselves are black hat, so their tactics are part of the business model. To remain competitive in those markets, you’ll likely have to use some black hat strategies mixed with white hat strategies, which some refer to as a “grey hat strategy.”
However, there’s also the risk of getting penalized or being impacted by Google's algorithmic change, which could have devastating outcomes if you’re building a legitimate business and website. That’s why we recommend you build your web presence with white hat methods for long-term profitability and longevity.
Make White Hat SEO Techniques Work for You
As part of your content marketing strategy to grow your Google search traffic and improve your ranking signals, you need SEO techniques. White hat SEO strategies, in particular, are an effective way to improve your rankings without worrying about getting penalized. Playing by the rules may be time-consuming and slow to show results, but it’s still your best bet in building an authoritative and enduring web presence.
SEMrush offers a variety of SEO tools to analyze the health of your website. We can provide you with a list of issues that makes it easy to see where your site is struggling. From guest posts to concise meta descriptions, there are multiple ways to improve your SEO efforts to help drive your bottom line.