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Some call it a question of ethics; others just call it business. The discussion is raging online and in marketing conferences around the world, but what exactly are black hat SEO and white hat SEO, anyway?
White hat SEO is the angelic version of optimization, that is, it employs only techniques as recommended - or at least, not barred - by search engines and their ever-changing guidelines. Typically, results in the form of more traffic and higher profits take anywhere from three months to a year. With this type of SEO, there is no fear of your site being banned by search engines.
Black hat SEO, on the other hand, is the impatient fraternal twin of white hat SEO. It utilizes techniques specifically banned by search engines like hidden text and hidden links. Some call this spam. Others call it business savvy. Whatever you call it, if the search engine gurus figure out your game then the gig is up and you're blackballed. That means that you could type the name of your company and your name and business address into the search box and your site still won't come up.
It basically breaks down like this: White hat SEO focuses on marketing and the text on a site, updating with keyword rich, informative articles that benefit their clients and build a solid following over time. Black hat SEO focuses on technology and IT tricks to get a ton of traffic right away.
The important thing to consider is what your goal is. Do you want high traffic or do you want high sales? With black hat SEO, you may get immediate results as far as visitors to your site but do these visitors want to buy what you have to offer? If not, who cares if they end up on your site? White hat SEO is more interested in targeted traffic, attracting the kind of visitors to your site who are actually looking for you and are ready to buy your products or services. Over time, your traffic and sales rise together as you build up a following through word of mouth and repeat customers.
So what's all the fuss about? Mostly, the rules. White hat SEO follows them meticulously. Black hat SEO follows the numbers instead. Those who take the time to research and follow the rules are irritated by those who achieve high search engine rankings without taking the same pains. However, black hat SEO proponents point out that search engine requests are hardly laws and therefore doing what they like is far from illegal. It's in this discussion that the white hat and black hat merge to become a grey hat.
In fact, white hat fanatics might charge that those who write articles specifically to utilize keyword repetition are manipulating the system and are dabbling in black hat SEO. The less fanatical may point to links as a grey area. Search engines don't want links on a site purely to drive traffic. However, if links are related to the content on the site, then that's okay. But what about those sites where there are paid links that have nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the site they grace? Paid links as advertisements are white hat. Paid links purely for driving traffic, black hat. True motivation of the webmaster? Grey hat.
When it comes down to it, everyone who utilizes search engines in hopes of gaining top rankings are going to use optimization in order to climb to the top of those rankings. If motivation is the only concern, then it is an issue of politics that need not take up your time. Just know that if you use technology, link farms, and other banned resources that are designed purely to drive traffic and you get caught, you will be blacklisted from the search engine. If it's worth the risk to you, then do what you have to do. The choice is yours.