What is White Hat SEO and Why is it Good for my Business?

Woman wearing white hat SEO
Sabrina Dougall

White hat SEO is the equivalent of white magic for your website. As white wizards only perform good magic, so do white hat SEO professionals.

Put simply, white hat is a term from programming (writing code) that refers to ethical practice. An “SEO” works to improve your website so that it is listed nearer to the top of Google (and other search engine) results pages. Therefore a white hat SEO follows best practices set by search engine companies and never tries to “game the system” using deception tactics.

It may seem obvious that you'd only ever hire someone to work in an honest and transparent way. Yet it's surprisingly easy to accidentally hire a “black hat SEO” who'll carry out shady techniques, take your money, and damage your website's credibility.

Unless you know the pitfalls, you could end up wasting money and hurting your business' reputation. Read on to find out how to spot the difference between a true white hat SEO and a bad actor, and protect your business.

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What Exactly is White Hat SEO?

We already know that white hat SEO refers to best-practice “search engine optimization”. As the market leader in search engines, Google sets out recommended SEO techniques in its webmaster guidelines – the white hat SEO Bible.

White hat SEO experts compete to bump up clients' websites so they appear near the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). But here's the kicker: they're not trying to get you just any old web traffic, but to truly satisfy the “search intent” of web users. For instance, if you're running a dry cleaners in OC, California, you want people typing in: “Orange Country shirt dry cleaning” to Google search to find your website near the top of the results page.

The benefit is more web users will see the websites, click through, and convert once they land on the page. It means more web traffic for the client, which increases the chance of email sign-ups, new bookings, product sales, and all kinds of business enquiries.

Woman wearing white hat SEO
White hat SEO professionals are the only type you should ever consider working with.

SEO is an essential strategy in modern digital marketing, and you'd be foolish to neglect it. Almost half (48%) of shoppers start their purchase journey on a search engine. So, there's clearly a massive opportunity in investing in this marketing stream.

Enter: white hat SEO. The best SEO agencies adhere strictly to industry best practices and search engine guidelines. This is the only way to set your business website up for long-term success. That means taking the time to improve back-end functions and ease-of-access for the user.

Here's a list of the main white hat SEO techniques:

  • Improving the structure of your website so it's easy to navigate
  • Creating a sitemap with a list of every web page
  • Ensuring each web page is divided nicely into headings, subheadings and lists
  • Check that URLs and page titles are descriptive and accurate
  • Including URL links across the site in clear and logical ways
  • Building URL links from authoritative external websites
  • Adding relevant, useful images with alt text descriptions
  • Suggesting valuable content ideas based on relevant keywords
  • Deleting broken pages and redirecting faulty URLs

In short: white hat SEO improves your website so it is more appealing to web users and search engine bots while adhering to best practices and ethical industry standards. There's always a dual purpose to white hat SEO work; it helps customers find out about your products and services while checking your website is technically sound.

How to Recognise a Black Hat SEO

Now, trouble can arise when it comes to billing for SEO services. Everybody wants great results in return for their money, yet it's notoriously hard to quantify the “work” an SEO has done. A black hat SEO expects to get paid for poor quality work. Sadly, this means you should expect unreasonable billing demands from such a shady character.

Black Hat SEO woman with diamond earrings
Black Hat SEO can seem appealing for its low prices and promise of great results. But it always negatively impacts your business.

A classic black hat SEO tactic would be to create URL links (known as “backlinks”) between your website and websites that they own in order to make it look like valuable connections have been made. Yet, in reality, the websites have low credibility and Google bots are easily able to recognise the backlinks are worthless. But the client won't know that, so feels obliged to pay $50, $100, or even $150 per link according to the invoice.

Not only have you wasted your money, but you could be funding a criminal operation. More on this in a moment.

Key Point

Remember, all black hat SEO techniques will harm the credibility of your website in the long-run. Services may be cheap or expensive and seem to deliver great results for your business at first. However, you may end up blacklisted from search engines.

Here are the warning signs you're dealing with a black hat SEO:

  • Cost of services is much lower than market rates
  • You're guaranteed to get #1 on Google
  • You're guaranteed a certain number of web visitors (these will be bots)
  • They're reluctant to explain exactly how they will achieve results
  • You're offered a short-term contract such as 30 days or two months
  • You get a price list of link-building services that guarantee URL links from specific websites

Does it Really Matter if You've Hired a Black Hat SEO?

Yes. It really, truly does. Black hat SEO scams are wide-ranging and complex these days. As we've touched on, building URL links with ill-reputed websites is bad for your website. The reason is twofold: not only will your website visitors navigate to a bad website (which may be running phishing scams, for instance) but search engine bots will “read” this connection and rank you lower on SERPs. That's right, you could actually be paying someone to damage your website search engine rankings.

At best, you're wasting your money. At worst, you're feeding a network of website scams that trick people out of their personal data, and sometimes their money. So make sure you're only engaging white hat SEO professionals.

Running or launching a small business? Take a look at our list of the best SEO companies for small businesses that are verified as high-quality, white-hat organisations.

White Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO: How to Tell the Difference

As important as it is to have a good SEO strategy for your business, it's crucial to know how to spot a scammer. The main way to protect yourself is to deepen your understanding of SEO, what it can and cannot do for your business, then develop realistic expectations of SEO professionals.

Remember: SEO is a long-term process. When hiring an SEO, you must prepare to work together for at least one year, and preferably two years or more. The main reason is search engines reward longevity of a website, and it takes time to build enough content to become a recognised authority on a particular subject. You may start to see more visitors to your website after six months of SEO work.

A major reason smart, intelligent business leaders fall prey to black hat SEO scams is expecting instant wins and a simple route to success. On the plus side, white hat SEO work delivers long-term benefits and can reward you with increased web traffic a year or more after a project is finished.

If you're ready to work with a white hat SEO, let us put you in touch

Here's a summary table of white hat SEO vs black hat SEO so you can avoid choosing a nefarious agency.

White hat SEOBlack hat SEO
Long-term commitment (one year plus)Quick results (within 30 days)
Builds URL links gradually over timeGuarantees loads of URL links quickly
Series of campaigns and projectsOne-and-done projects
Builds your website’s credibilityDamages your website’s credibility
Increases legitimate business enquiriesContributes to scams

White Hat SEO Techniques: Worth the Investment?

If you're committed to growing your business for the long-term, then white hat SEO techniques are an essential piece of the puzzle. While it's possible to learn some SEO tips and maybe even achieve some backlinks from prestigious websites, you're unlikely to get your business to reach its maximum SEO potential on your own.

White hat SEO professionals – working freelance or as part of an agency – have spent years gaining a thorough understanding of what it takes to get ahead of the SERP competition. Depending on the size of your business, and the number of websites you own, SEO work realistically needs at least 10 hours each week.

White hat techniques for your business website are:

  • Tracking your SERP rankings for various keywords
  • Researching keywords to identify commercial opportunities
  • Publishing original, high quality content (articles and videos)
  • Improving the relevance of your website to satisfy search intention
  • Ensuring your website is accessible for visually-impaired users
  • Improving user experience (UX) to create a seamless browsing experience

If you're ready to maximize your business websites' visibility on search engine, then let us match you with a trustworthy white hat SEO professional. We've helped thousands of businesses partner with reputable digital marketing agencies. Why not join them and let us know a few basic details about your business needs. We'll search our books for the best company for your needs and ask them to give you a call. Your data is safe with us, and we'll respect your privacy if you change your mind at any time.

Written by:
Sabrina Dougall
Sabrina Dougall Web Marketing Expert

Sabrina is a business journalist whose career began in news reporting. She has a master’s in Investigative Journalism from City University London, and her work has appeared in The Times, The Daily Express, Money Saving Expert, Camen New Journal, Global Trade Review, and Computer Business Review. She specializes in writing about SEO (search engine optimization). Having run her own small business, Sabrina knows first-hand how critical digital marketing is to building a client base and local reputation.