White Hat vs. Black Hat vs. Grey Hat SEO: What Should You Choose?

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White Hat vs. Black Hat vs. Grey Hat SEO: What Should You Choose?

There is plenty of misconceptions and grey areas in the space of Search Engine Optimization. What are legitimate SEO techniques? How to know if you are breaking any rules? What are the consequences of non-legitimate SEO options?

Usually, when you are running a business, you have to opt for many different services. Some services take care of your marketing, while others focus on your online presence. SEO encompasses several fundamental techniques to create a stronger online presence.  

Not following the rules and guidelines of SEO while using cheap tactics to have things your way may prove beneficial in the short term. In the mid-long term, however, your business (especially if it’s online) may suffer.

What’s the difference between a White Hat, Black Hat, and Grey Hat?

Even back in the 1920s, the term white hat and black hat were in use. Mostly it was relevant in the films as a way to add intrigue. The white hat wearer was introduced as the hero, while the guy wearing the black hat was the antagonist.

The use of the terminologies like the white hat and black hat are arbitrary. It’s just there to keep the practitioners of SEO in check as they are implementing SEO tactics on a site. Tactics that are unethical and go against the search engine guidelines come with risks, and we do not recommend black hat SEO methods anyways. Websites can also be penalized by a partial or direct ban from a search engine like Google.

If you are doing SEO for a business website that isn’t your own, black hat SEO is out of the question. It can cost the business its primary source of income.

On the internet, white hats and black hats imply whether you are ethical or unethical. This is commonly used among hackers. The SEO world also adopted a similar naming scheme by phrasing SEO tactics into two main terms: White Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO.

White Hat SEO

White hat SEO implies that you are following the guidelines and operation rules. When someone uses ethical tactics by following the search engine’s policies, we can define that as White hat SEO.

Black Hat SEO

This implies that you are using risky tactics or practices. These tactics may sometimes work and other times backfire. Many times, these methods will go against the guideline of a given search engine.

Note: Not following a search engine’s guidelines isn’t illegal. Google has its SEO guidelines, but you are not forced to follow them, but you may face legal issues if you are caught doing nefarious SEO tactics.

There are no strict rules on the matter, no governing body that determines the boundaries of ethical SEO. It boils down to the consensus among the professionals of the area.

Grey Hat SEO:

The consensus on grey hat SEO is unclear. Different articles will have different opinions on the matter. Some say it’s a mixture of both black hat and white hat SEO techniques. This tactic may currently be white or black hat but may change as new search engine algorithms roll in.

The main commonality among the different opinions is that Grey Hat SEO is neither black hat nor white hat. It positions itself somewhere in the middle, and part of the uncertainty is its own attribute. You can view it as a blurred line.

SEO Guidelines by Google

Payday, Panda, and Penguin included various measures to further lessen the presence of websites in the SERPS that use unethical SEO tactics.

Google has a clear guideline on SEO for professionals to utilize. Under its Quality Guidelines, Google denotes many common forms of manipulative SEO behavior. Google concisely addresses the kind of exploitation that can land a website in hot water if caught.

Terms like: Cloaking, doorway pages, and scraped content are also mentioned in the guidelines. These terms relate to Google’s evolution over the years.

Understanding Black Hat SEO:

Black Hat SEO tactic breaks all the rules of a search engine SEO guideline. It might work in the beginning, but soon after, it will crumble down as Google is intelligent enough to detect and counter exploitations. Google updates its algorithm pretty often, which affects the relevance of White Label SEO services.  However, the frequent update of the algorithm also allows Google to mitigate the exploitations of black hat SEO tactics. Some black hat SEO tactics that used to work back in the days and work are:

Hidden Text

People used to make the text of certain words match the color of the background of the website. It was done to hide those words from plain sight. People weren’t able to notice or see these texts, but google could and would help rank the sites. Google soon found out about the exploitation and caught on.

Stolen Content

Duplicating content has been one of the earliest exploitations on the internet. As we all learned throughout our education life, Plagiarism is bad, and anything that hints at your content being a duplicate will bring bad consequences. Google is extremely efficient and effective at detecting Plagiarism.


This is when HTML that is shown to the visitor differs from the one that is shown to the Google bot. It had its run and worked for a while, but soon that too was caught.

All of these tactics are not only useless but also carry negative implications for a website. Your website will actually rank lower if you are found using any of these tactics. Some other exploitation tactics that no longer work include Link farms and Automatic Article Spinning.


It should be clear by now that White hat SEO should be the way to go. Since there is a lack of general consensus on grey hat SEO, some of its techniques may be implemented. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Only use tactics that you would have no trouble justifying to a Google Employee.