Black Hat vs. White Hat SEO in 2017

Most of the articles that I find that compare black hat and white hat SEO reference practices like cloaking, keyword stuffing, and all kinds of other practices that no one really uses any more.  Most also neglect to mention that many “white hat” practices are in reality against Google guidelines. Let’s set the record straight and update what is actually going on out there in 2017.

It’s Time for a Revisit of the Black Hat vs. White Hat SEO Topic

Since the early days of SEO, Google has made it pretty clear that they don’t want us doing anything to impact the results it delivers.  The company wants the search engine to be a judge of the quality of web content and it views any attempt to impact the results as manipulative.  Regardless of what Google wanted us to do, practices that emerged from people trying to improve search rank, which have been categorized into black hat and white hat SEO. 

Some of these practices are incredibly annoying to an internet user, while others can be quite helpful.  Many of the techniques that were ubiquitous 5 years ago have completely disappeared now.  Let’s get into what is actually going on in the world of SEO in 2017.

What Is White Hat SEO in 2017?

Today, white hat SEO is 99% content marketing and proper structuring of a website.

Some may make arguments that “on-page SEO” such as the changing of title and header tags and metadescriptions are key parts of white hat SEO, and that is true given certain circumstances, but one thing is certain: if you put up a website and just “pick the right title tags” you will not rank for even a mildly competitive keyword.  It will not happen.  Successful white hat SEO is in many ways “digital PR” in which a person creates an online presence that serves an online community which “earns” links.

Successful White Hat SEOs Engage in the Following Practices
Content Creation

They create valuable (or at least interesting) content on their blogs.  This content serves as references for content on other blogs. For example, I linked to an article from SEER Interactive earlier in this post; this article outlines how metadescriptions can affect SEO, which supports a point that I’m making.

Cultivation of an Online and Offline Audience

Successful white hat SEOs make themselves well-known in an online and offline community. They create an audience for their content, which generates awareness of blog content that could later be linked to.  To illustrate, I learned about the aforementioned SEER article through an email blast, and here I am linking to it on my blog.  They did not ask me to link to their website and I did not find the article on Google.  I am part of their audience and in turn, I have linked to their content because it is relevant to what I am writing about.

What is Technically Not White Hat SEO

Guest posting with the intention of getting backlinks is not white hat.  Guest posting on another website should have the intention of building a reputation and audience and not the intention of earning links.  This is a common “white hat” SEO practice that is technically not white hat.

Depending on how you do it, backlink outreach may not be white hat.  Sending hundreds of emails out to webmasters requesting that they link to your blog would certainly not be considered white hat.  Emailing the owner of a blog to let him know of content that could support a post that he wrote would be white hat.

What is Black Hat SEO in 2017?

Black hat SEO has changed more than white hat has.  Google has successfully cracked down on many of the practices of this community, but it still has a lot of work to do.  I have also noticed that the majority of the articles on the topic have no clue of what these guys are doing these days.

I work primarily with small businesses and know what websites are ranking highest in my clients’ industries.  I also know how they got there and can safely say that the majority are engaging in some degree of black hat SEO.  Whether it’s buying links, purchasing old domains and redirecting them to their websites, or engaging in link exchange schemes, a ton of them are doing it.

Practices that black hat SEOs are still using

A quick visit to a black hat SEO forum will show hundreds of service providers offering all kinds of black hat services.  By simply skimming them and taking note of what seems to be offered over and over, you can get a very good idea of what is in demand.


PBN stands for private blog network and is hands-down the most common—and arguably effective—black hat method.  A person buys a domain right before it expires and builds a blog on it.  The sole intention of this blog is to link to other sites in order to increase search rank.  Usually these sites are put up to boost the search rank of the owner’s “money” site, but they do sell links to outside buyers.

These networks do get deindexed by Google and the sites that they link to can be penalized, but according to John Mueller, only the most egregious violators are getting penalties for buying PBN links.  Google has adopted an “ignore, don’t penalize” policy in which the purchaser of PBN links is basically throwing away money, since the links do not help a website once they have been identified as purchased.

Comment Spam

The bane of any blog owner is this practice.  The owner of a website will spray the internet with hundreds of thousands, or even millions of blog comments with links to his web site.  Getting tons of “you’ve got great content on this site, but 98% percent of your visitors leave…” comments is INCREDIBLY annoying, but it seems to work.  One of my clients has a competitor that has been outranking him for two years through comment spam as seen below:

example of comment spam

It’s incredibly frustrating, since this is a nuisance for the owner of the blog and a terrible experience for someone that is genuinely interested in a topic and wants to see what others have to say.

Redirects from old domains

This is similar to the PBN method, only instead of putting up a new website and linking to a “money site,” the SEO puts up a redirect to the main site.  This is an example of a black hat method that even high-profile SEOs such as Neil Patel have discussed.

 What have I missed?  Are there any major white hat or black hat SEO practices that I have neglected to mention?  Please comment!