The terms “white hat” and “black hat” are what many search engine marketing firms use to describe the methods used to improve a website’s ranking in search engines.

The origin of the terms translates from computer hackers, the ‘black hat’ hackers being those who abuse the internet for malicious acts, and the ‘white hat’ hackers who use ethics and practical guidelines for hacking, if only to improve the security of certain sites; the darker the hat, the shadier the hacker.

Tactics used by SEM and SEO firms have to be monitored by the watchdog search engines, ensuring that there are rules, guidelines and fairness that prevent corruption within this booming industry.

As explained by Wikipedia:

“An SEO tactic, technique or method is considered ‘White hat’ if it conforms to the search engines’ guidelines and/or involves no deception.”

“‘Black hat’ SEO are methods to try to improve rankings that are disapproved of by the search engines and/or involve deception.”

All internal and external SEM and SEO firms are expected to practice ‘white hat’ tactics. But when they over promise things like a guaranteed number one rank, some firms may feel they’re in over their heads, resorting to ‘black hat’ methods to retain their reputation.

Using black hat methods may have SEVERE penalties if you’re caught. Such was the case for BMW and Ricoh of Germany, whose pages were taken off the Google directory listing because they were guilty of implementing black hat tactics.

Once the pages were fixed, they were re-included on Google’s directory, after only a couple days. Here is Matt Cutt’s (Google webmaster and spam stomper extraordinaire) blog where he exposes what did wrong.

Below is a short list of more common ‘black hat’ practices (again, do not use these!):
• Cloaking (a form of doorway pages) – Fake pages created to serve spiders in order to earn a higher page rank. These sites are not intended for human visitors.
• Hidden Text – Placing text on a page that’s the same color as the background
• ‘Throwaway’ domains – a domain name with little value to the user (Black hat SEO practice used for link building)
• Keyword Stuffing – cramming as many keywords on a page or in meta tags as possible (a good rule of thumb is to have no more than nine percent of your page content filled with keywords)
• Link Hoarding – getting as many inbound links as possible without providing outbound links, considered spam
• Shadow Domain – a site that usually involves redirection or link from a throwaway domain onto the real site
• Doorway Pages – template-based, and automatically generated, these are web pages created for spamdexing

Google is the main watchdog for ‘black hat’ SEO. They have created a list of Google guidelines for deciphering a good SEO firm from a potential ‘black hat.’ This is so people do not get duped into spending lots of money on a search campaign only to find that it has been deleted from Google’s directory because of malpractice.

Even with all the road blocks Google has set up to deter black hatters, there are still those Voldemort’s to their Harry Potter.

Black hat techniques have unfortunately earned somewhat of a following because of their get rich quick promises. Sites like these promote the benefits of cheating the system. There are warnings that this SEO method is not for amateurs or the weak at heart, but it promotes cheating the system.

So, be aware of black hat SEO and be sure to hire a firm that will help your company in legitimate ways, because the penalties for black hat methods can completely destroy online profit.