As with any other business practice, Search Engine Optimization can be performed within or without the boundaries of accepted business ethics. White hat SEO is optimization that follows the guidelines set forth by search engines. Black hat SEO intentionally undermines these guidelines.
For those who haven’t heard, for the past year or two some have labeled different forms of search engine optimization by different hat colors. Those who practice what some refer to as “ethical” SEO are the White Hats (like the good guys in the movies), and those who some refer to as “spammers” are the Black Hats (like the bad guys in the movies). Those who are not quite as pure as the driven snow but who aren’t quite as… umm… aggressive as a full-fledged “search engine spammer” are sometimes referred to as Gray Hats.
There are various new shades added to the list:
Dark Inky Black Hat SEO: So evil he’s a typo squatter installing spyware. Plain illegal, too.
Charcoal Hat SEO: Optimizes really unrelated pages for all kinds of queries, but within the bounds of legality.
Dark Gray Hat SEO: This SEO is e.g. a splogger stealing content from other sites. (What, that’s better than charcoal?)
Slate Gray Hat SEO: An SEO creating link farms and such.
Gray Hat SEO: An SEO who actually reads the search engine’s webmaster guidelines, but then tries as much “evil” as she can get away with.
Light Gray Hat SEO: This SEO creates original content (lots of it), but the content is still only aimed at search engines.
Off-White Hat SEO: This guy not only ensures the site is indexable – he’ll also make sure to get lots of backlinks from friends.
White Hat SEO: This person puts up the content that people are actually searching for, and prepares the site to make it very accessible. White Hat SEOs only optimize those of their pages they deem worthy to be ranking top in search engines.
Luminescent Pearly White Hat SEO: Not only does this SEO do everything the White Hat SEO does, the LPW Hat SEO also makes sure pages will not show up for irrelevant queries.
But are these labels helping anyone, and do they really mean anything? Certainly, the SEO methods I use would put me into the White Hat category. Does this make me better than those in the Black Hat category? I guess the question would be, better at what? It doesn’t make me a better person, nor does it necessarily make me a better SEO. It might make me better at not getting a site banned from the search engines, but then again, most Black Hats know that their sites will eventually get banned and have figured that into their business model. So it’s not really a question of good or bad, like the hats seem to imply.
White hat SEO includes:
Increasing keyword density within text in a relatively natural manner
Designing keyword friendly Titles, Meta Tags, Meta Descriptions, Headers, and Alt text for your site
Natural linking between your site and similar sites
Developing new, link-friendly content for your site
Both White Hat and Black Hat SEOs have their place. Lots of people are indeed looking for the types of products and services that Black Hatters specialize in. There is a huge demand for their black magic. As much as I hate lousy search results, as long as the Black Hats are doing their thing to the types of sites that I wouldn’t be seeking out anyway, then it really doesn’t bother me; it’s the search engines’ problem to get rid of it