White Hat SEO: What It Is & Techniques to Use

Amanda Milligan

Nov 11, 20206 min read
White Hat SEO


What Is White Hat SEO?

White hat SEO is working to improve a website’s search engine rankings while complying with search engine rules and guidelines. It’s the opposite of black hat SEO, which is exploiting loopholes in search engine algorithms to undeservedly achieve higher rankings.

White hat SEO strategies typically involve creating helpful content, earning high-quality backlinks, and ensuring the website delivers a great user experience. 

Marketers usually focus on Google Search Essentials. And monitor the latest Google updates to ensure their sites remain compliant.

The term “white hat” comes from Western movies, where heroes typically wore white hats. While villains wore black hats. You may also hear about white hat marketing, white hat hacking, etc.

Tip: Check your site for potentially harmful backlinks with Semrush’s Backlink Audit tool. It can help you disavow links created using black hat techniques.

White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO: What’s the Difference?

Whether they engage in white hat or black hat strategies, digital marketers want the same thing—to boost their ranking on Google

Why are SEO strategists clamoring to make Google’s algorithm happy? Because Google is the most popular search engine 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 quality content that matches search intent. Black hat strategies put out low-quality, duplicated, or heavily templated content that’s only optimized for search engines.
  • A white hat strategy includes using well-labeled images with thoughtful alt text. 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. Black hat SEOs will typically buy backlinks.

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. 

Some black hat SEO tactics run the risk of earning Google penalties. These can result in your website being suppressed in search results—or removed altogether.

Tip: Looking for white hat SEO services? Check out Semrush Agency Partners.

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.

In SEO, white hat approaches benefit everyone: 

Google makes sure its algorithms only rank great content that captures search intent for every keyword search. Because it encourages millions of internet users to use the search engine. 

Site owners benefit because they can boost their ranking without resorting to dishonest tactics. And deliver a better experience to their visitors.

And users benefit because they can find what they’re looking for easily through organic search.

3 Essential White Hat SEO Techniques

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 three white hat SEO techniques you should implement.

1. Offer Valuable Content

Google wants to rank helpful, people-first content. 

Blog posts are used by many 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. 

If you need help, use Semrush’s SEO Writing Assistant.

The tool scores your writing’s readability, originality, tone of voice, and SEO in real time. So you can get the best of both worlds.

an example of article on "What is modern design" in Editor and its score chart in Semrush’s SEO Writing Assistant tool

2. Satisfy Search Intent

Satisfying search intent is Google’s number-one goal, so you should also aim for it as a website owner. 

Search 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 main types of keywords 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 satisfy search intent include:

  • Knowing your target audience and what they’re looking for
  • Optimizing your content to fit specific keywords
  • Formatting your content for skimmers—use subheadings and line spaces
  • Using videos and images

To find keywords and analyze search intent, use Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool.

Enter a keyword, choose your country, and click “Search.”

an example of searching for "best running shoes" in Keyword Magic Tool

The tool will provide a list of keywords that include your starting keyword or a close variation. 

You can filter by intent type (and much more) at the top.

intent filter and intent column highlighted in Keyword Magic Tool results for "best running shoes"

Click the icon in the “Results” column to view the search engine results page (SERP) for any keyword. And perform a SERP analysis.

a screenshot showing where the icon in the “Results” column is

This is one of the best ways to understand what searchers want.

3. Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly

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. 

Tip: Check your site for technical issues with Semrush’s Site Audit tool. It can help you identify and fix duplicate content, broken links, and more.

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 “gray hat strategy.”

However, there’s also the risk of getting penalized or being impacted by Google's algorithm, 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. White hat SEO tactics, 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.

Author Photo
Amanda Milligan is the Marketing Director at Fractl, a growth marketing agency that’s worked with Fortune 500 companies and boutique businesses alike. Throughout her content marketing career, she's managed the creation of 200+ content campaigns and led the strategy for 20+ clients. She spoke at 2019 SMX Advanced and 2019 Pubcon Pro Las Vegas. Her content marketing advice has appeared in Forbes, Content Marketing Institute, MarketingProfs’ Marketing Smarts Podcast, CMO and more. She also currently hosts the Fractl podcast Cashing In On Content Marketing.
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