Search engine optimization has a bad rep.  Ironic, isn’t it, that an industry that is advertised as protecting your individual reputation has such a bad one. The selling point for so many fly-by-night SEO firms is that they are omnipotent.  Want more visitors? They’ll sell you thousands.  Want to protect your reputation? They’ll control the first page of Google.  Need links to your site?  They can get you hundreds before the day is even out.

Hard work ants

Good SEO is extremely difficult

Here’s a secret for you—SEO is hard.  There is no way that these companies could do all that they promise, but that hasn’t kept these spammy SEO’s from promising the world to their clients. However, if all these companies did was promise and never deliver, they would be out of a job rather quickly.  So instead, what they do is engage in semi-shady practices that are collectively known as black hat SEO.

Dating back to the practice of giving cowboy villains in old movies black hats and the heroes white hats, the term “black hat” was first used in regards to hackers.  As Richard Stallman explained, “black hat” and “white hat” — i.e., hackers who turn new ideas toward destructive, malicious ends versus hackers who turn new ideas toward positive or, at the very least, informative ends.”

When it comes to SEO, however, the distinction is a little different.  White hat SEO refers to the hard work I mentioned earlier.  It is the use of best practices, in keeping with search engine webmaster guidelines, to achieve high rankings and results.

Black hat SEO, on the other hand, is the attempt to move the rankings deceptively—a practice that often breaks webmaster guidelines and results in sites being eventually banned, de-indexed, or penalized through lower rankings. What kind of things?  Black hat techniques include creating pages that look like one thing to the user and another to search engine robots (cloaking), creating pages that are customized to be only visible to search engine robots that lead directly to other pages to trick search engines into giving the site higher rankings (doorway pages), filling the content on the page with keywords they would like to rank for without any real content (keyword stuffing), creating hundreds or thousands of other sites and blogs that all interlink with another to increase each site’s page rank (link farming), just to name a few.

White Hat Black Hat

Black hat schemes may work for a time and result in a temporary increase in visitors, but with the recent updates to search engine algorithms in the last couple years it doesn’t take long for the search engines to catch on. And then all those promises that those SEOs made fall into the dust.  Those sites that they’ve worked on drop in rank, leaving their clients with having spent quite a bit of money on a service that has done more harm than good. Hence, the bad reputation. When it comes down to it, black hat SEO fails because it’s all about the rankings.  If you are desperate to get rankings as quickly as possible, you aren’t looking at the things that make a good website. 

On the other hand, white hat SEO is about developing good content, coming up with ideas that users want to find out more about, and building a community. White hat takes a little longer and is, let’s face it, a little more expensive.  However, results from white hat SEO stick.  And they stick because white hat is all about figuring out what users want and then creating it—not trying to game the system in the short term.