The terms â€œwhite hatâ€ and â€œblack hatâ€ are what many search engine marketing firms use to describe the methods used to improve a websiteâ€™s ranking in search engines.
The origin of the terms translates from computer hackers, the â€˜black hatâ€™ hackers being those who abuse the internet for malicious acts, and the â€˜white hatâ€™ 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:
â€œAn SEO tactic, technique or method is considered â€˜White hatâ€™ if it conforms to the search engines’ guidelines and/or involves no deception.â€
â€œâ€˜Black hatâ€™ SEO are methods to try to improve rankings that are disapproved of by the search engines and/or involve deception.â€
All internal and external SEM and SEO firms are expected to practice â€˜white hatâ€™ tactics. But when they over promise things like a guaranteed number one rank, some firms may feel theyâ€™re in over their heads, resorting to â€˜black hatâ€™ methods to retain their reputation.
Using black hat methods may have SEVERE penalties if youâ€™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 Googleâ€™s directory, after only a couple days. Here is Matt Cuttâ€™s (Google webmaster and spam stomper extraordinaire) blog where he exposes what BMW.de did wrong.
Below is a short list of more common â€˜black hatâ€™ practices (again, do not use these!):
â€¢ Cloaking (a form of doorway pages) â€“ Fake pages created to serve spiders in order to earn a higher page rank. These sites are not intended for human visitors.
â€¢ Hidden Text â€“ Placing text on a page thatâ€™s the same color as the background
â€¢ â€˜Throwawayâ€™ domains â€“ a domain name with little value to the user (Black hat SEO practice used for link building)
â€¢ Keyword Stuffing â€“ 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)
â€¢ Link Hoarding â€“ getting as many inbound links as possible without providing outbound links, considered spam
â€¢ Shadow Domain â€“ a site that usually involves redirection or link from a throwaway domain onto the real site
â€¢ Doorway Pages â€“ template-based, and automatically generated, these are web pages created for spamdexing
Google is the main watchdog for â€˜black hatâ€™ SEO. They have created a list of Google guidelines for deciphering a good SEO firm from a potential â€˜black hat.â€™ 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 Googleâ€™s directory because of malpractice.
Even with all the road blocks Google has set up to deter black hatters, there are still those Voldemortâ€™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.