Since the beginning of Search Engine Optimization (SEO the industry has divided optimization tactics considered to be within the terms set by Google – white hat – from those of a darker shade.
The problem is that this idea of white hat vs. black hat is largely a false dichotomy. Tactics that some consider to be “white hat” would be termed “grey hat” by others.
The fact is that Google wants people to naturally link to your content, but not even that is completely true, read the article on linkbait. This is the only purely “white hat” strategy. But waiting for people to link to our website is hardly search engine optimization (SEO) as most would describe it. It is also a strategy that is unlikely to yield ANY returns, at least not in the short term.
Taking Google's “natural linkbuilding” approach is problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is the share amount of content that is produced. It's estimated that every day over two million blog posts are published.
That makes it very difficult to stand out, even if you are creating great content. Secondly even if you are not building links, your competition will be. By not using SEO your business may be at a disadvantage. Lastly, natural link building doesn't work that well in many industries. Some industries simply don't lend themselves to having their content widely shared naturally.
So SEO is here to stay, at least for now. But if “white hat” vs. “blackhat” doesn't really mean anything, how should we compare the different SEO tactics which are available. Here are a different set of measures.
Assessing The Level Of Risk
The first question you need is what level of risk you are willing to assume. Whenever you build links there will be some risk involved. Plenty of people thought of guest posting as a relatively low risk activity until they were penalized for doing so. What is considered completely white hat today maybe looked at much less favourably in the future. On the other hand risk and reward are linked. Pursuing a high risk SEO strategy can result in high rankings relatively fast.
SEO's and companies that use it have to look at their risk assessment more carefully. This is because where in the past websites would only receive a relatively minor penalty, these days the results are much more serious. With the Penguin update websites have lost their rankings and there are very few stories of websites that have managed to recover.
What Is The Value Of The Link?
Another factor to consider is the value of the link. In the past low quality, mass link building strategies have been popular. This includes tactics such as mass blog commenting or creating multiple social profiles. The value of these links is generally pretty low and fairly easy for Google to pick up. The attraction of these tactics is that they tend to be relatively inexpensive to purchase.
On the other hand those links can still create traffic to your website even if they are devalued by Google. Therefore they may still be worthwhile building depending on your goals. Higher value link building typically takes more time, money and effort.
These links usually provide longer term and more significant results in the search engines. The downside is that building those links can be expensive and so you need to be certain that the return will be justified.
Are You In This For The Long Term?
There is immediate assumption amongst so called white hat SEOs that long term is somehow superior to short term tactics.
But what if you only have a relatively small window of time to monetize a particular opportunity?
Many products and trends only last for a limited time and so you want to make the most of them while you can. In these cases it may make sense to pursue a more aggressive strategy with the understanding that the site will lose its rankings in the future. In contrast if you have a brick and mortar store and you are link building for the website then you are going to want to take a more long term approach.
Keep in mind that there are no “laws” or clear roads when it comes to search engine optimization. Even the more extreme black hat techniques are not illegal. Google is a company just like any other and can use its algorithm to assess the relative value of a website anyway that it wants.
Which road will you take?