If you talk to an SEO professional, or simply stand next to one long enough, you’ll inevitably hear the terms “white hat,” black hat,” and “grey hat” bandied about. There’s a tendency to oversimplify these concepts into terms of morality, with white hat being “good” and black hat being “evil” (and grey hat representing some kind of moral ambiguity). But the distinction is actually a bit more subtle than that. These hats aren’t about moral choices—they’re about risk and results.
Typically, it breaks down like this:
- White hat SEO plays within the rules established by Google and makes a sincere, good-faith effort to provide folks with the content they’re searching for. The gains aren’t nearly as drastic and sudden, but the results are long-lasting.
- Black hat SEO typically works by “gaming” the system. The goal is to trick Google into displaying a website in its search results, regardless of its relevance. This type of SEO typically yields dramatic results in the short term, but isn’t a viable long-term strategy.
- Grey hat SEO falls somewhere in between white hat and black hat, using tactics that aren’t technically against the rules, but that certainly aren’t in line with Google’s “expressed quality desires.” As a strategy, it’s not nearly as volatile as black hat. However, today’s grey hat is always at risk of becoming tomorrow’s black hat, which means any gains in search engine ranking could be wiped away when Google decides to release another update named after an adorable animal.
Anyway, the good folks at cognitiveSEO have put together this handy infographic that breaks down these three SEO concepts and outlines the pros and cons of each. It’s a great tool for making sure that your SEO strategy is in line with your short-term and long-term marketing goals.