White hat SEO, Gray hat SEO, Black hat SEO: the differences

When you want to give value and visibility to an online business, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is certainly the best strategy: it allows you to get a good positioning in search engine results and, consequently, to increase the notoriety of the site and access by users.

SEO is divided into 3 types of different techniques: black hat SEO, white hat SEO and gray hat SEO. All are useful for improving the positioning of a web page and, in general, of a website, but they act in very different ways. Let’s find out how!

Black hat and white hat: the origin of terminology

The definitions of “white hat” and “black hat” are freely inspired by the western films of the 1940s – 1960s: the first, worn by the good protagonists, in fact indicates the positioning techniques considered correct; the second, however, worn by the so-called bandits, includes all those practices considered incorrect.

Even in SEO, therefore, there are good and bad elements and search engines, with Google in the lead, are nothing more than the sheriffs who try to enforce the rules by punishing those who break them.

Consequently, anyone who wants to approach SEO and use it in their marketing strategy can follow two paths: one longer and more difficult but, at the same time, honest (white hat SEO), the other simpler and faster but much less respectful of the rules (black hat SEO).

Considering that sheriff Google doesn’t like people who think they’re smart and try to get far in a disrespectful way, the advice is to choose carefully which way to go.

White hat SEO techniques

The white hat SEO is based on constancy and dedication, given that it takes time to obtain good results in the medium to long term: positioning, in fact, takes place slowly and through the drafting and publication of quality content, which can be prove difficult but not impossible. Generally, it helps to follow these steps:

Research and use of keywords

Users search online using certain keywords and the results are returned by the SERP of search engines; consequently, it is essential to understand which keywords are most used/searched for by users and start from these to devise an effective marketing strategy.

After having identified them, the keywords must be inserted in titles, body text and alt tags of the image in a natural, non-mechanical and repetitive way, also because Google itself advises against forcibly inserting keywords and repeating them until you drop.

User-friendly content

Each content published on a site and/or web page must be created to meet a user’s need, therefore it must be smooth, understandable and intuitive. At the same time, it cannot do without the previously identified keywords e it should not be copied from other pages; users like to read and discover new and Google information all the time, through an AI feature called Google RankBrain, is able to evaluate user satisfaction with search engines.

Descriptive URLs

The first element that must describe the content of a page is the URL: on the one hand it helps users understand if the page may be of interest to them, on the other it suggests to search engines to insert the page in the SERP results in response to a specific search intention. It is no coincidence that the address of a page is the first thing that Google scans to understand how to index it.

Link building

Building links is a long operation, which requires patience and above all attention to quality: Google, in fact, focuses on linked sites and enhances the revenues relevant to the reference site. Quality and relevance, therefore, are the two characteristics that must always be kept in mind when carrying out both incoming and outgoing link building.

Site structure

Considering that every marketing strategy must put the user at the centre, the structure of a site must be clear and intuitive, in order to facilitate the user in the research and purchase phase. The pages must therefore follow a well-defined hierarchy and the user experience must always be included within a solid and effective web structure.

Analysis and optimization

There are numerous tools that allow you to monitor the results obtained from the SEO strategy you have chosen to pursue, such as Google Analytics, Google Search Console, SEOzoom and SemRush. The elements to be analyzed are different and also include images, audio and video. Furthermore, it is essential to optimize pages and websites for mobile devices, because this also contributes to positioning, especially taking into account the increase in searches from smartphones and tablets.

Black hat SEO techniques

Black hat SEO can be defined as the path taken by those who, due to their impatience, want everything immediately. The envisaged techniques, in fact, force the natural evaluation criterion of the search engine algorithm with the aim of quickly increasing the ranking of a page or website.

However, if it is actually true that the traffic to the site increases practically immediately, Google will soon notice the loophole and penalize the incorrect behavior by obscuring the contents from the results proposed by the SERP. Simply put, all progress made is undone, which means that you have to really pay close attention and think ten times before going down this path. Here’s what it includes:

Keyword stuffing

The keyword stuffing technique, i.e. the abuse of keywords, consists in repeating the same keywords within a content to increase the site’s relevance to their search. As previously explained, however, their excessive use is actually penalized by search engines.

Once upon a time, this technique also involved entering keywords that were highly sought after on search engines but not relevant to the topic of the page/site; defined as “disconnected”, these keywords were then obscured to the user using, for example, the same color as the background and making them visible and indexable only by search engines.

To date, Google penalizes this procedure a lot, as well as the one that focuses on repetitive and copied content: if the user is not offered new and natural information, the consequences will be paid in the long run.


Cloaking, i.e. concealment, is a technique which consists in serving requests for the same address from different pages, depending on whether the visitor is a search engine or a user. In a nutshell, a special page is created for search engines that is clearly distinct from the one shown to users and this thanks to particular scripts that make the Search Engines detect a different content.

Doorway pages

A doorway page is an automatic and immediate redirection page to another web page. It consists of a technique that pushes search engines to index all the content of the second page without taking into account the redirect. In essence, the doorway is an empty page, which only serves as a doorway/bridge to other pages.

Link and spam

Some sites allow you to buy link packages, perhaps at a good price, but which often provide very low quality. In the past, such a purchase involved a large number of advantages, but today it only incurs serious penalties. The same goes for the use of software or automatic circuits for the exchange of links which are not only not well seen by Google, but do not help at all the natural increase in the popularity of a site.

Gray hat SEO techniques

Since not everything is just black or white, there is also the gray hat SEO which includes within it all those techniques that cannot be defined as totally right or totally wrong. It can be said that Google has not yet fully expressed itself, therefore their use could still lead to penalties; therefore, the advice is to always be very careful.

The most commonly used gray hat SEO procedures are:

  • paraphrasing other people’s texts: Google values original content and penalizes copied content, but paraphrasing is currently not entirely excluded. Considering, however, that in the long run it could still turn out to be plagiarism, it is always better not to risk it;
  • updating of old posts with date modification: modifying the publication date of a content indicates to Google the presence of something new, but it is said that in the future an algorithm capable of detecting the trick will not be born.

This last aspect, i.e. the Google algorithm, must absolutely not be underestimated, because it evolves continuously and from one moment to the next it could penalize an action granted and rewarded up to that moment. In any case, the principle that bypassing the rules never leads to anything good always applies, so it is always advisable to proceed slowly with white hat SEO and stay away from the shortcuts provided by black hat SEO.