Can White Hats Use Black Hat Tactics?

Jan 6, 2012 • 8:04 am | comments (18) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under SEO - Search Engine Optimization

SEO: White Hats Using Black HatA Cre8asite Forum thread has a nice deep discussion around the use of black hat SEO techniques while being a so called "white hat."

The question at hand is can a white hat SEO use some black hat tactics and still call themselves a white hat SEO?

As the conversation went on, the discussion went into definitions, as you can imagine.

What is black hat? Is it hacking? Is it stealing? Is it just using automated tools? Is it buying links? Writing a ton of content that isn't quality?

At the same time, some say that learning from black hats make you a better white hat SEO. Moderator, iamlost, said they are "pushing the envelope" and you can learn from that. But is it the black hat who is "pushing the envelope" or just the savvy marketers? Some black hats don't do anything smart, but rather use brute force. While others think up new techniques that can often not be classified as black hat at all and thus maybe they aren't black hat.

As you can see, the discussion gets into many areas, as do most of these type of threads.

Forum discussion at Cre8asite Forum.

Image credit via ShutterStock for white/black hat.

Previous story: Daily Search Forum Recap: January 5, 2012


David Iwanow

01/06/2012 01:40 pm

I'm in agreement that a vast number of people claiming to be blackhats are just using brute force and off the shelf software such as Xrumer.  I think true black hat is exploiting innocent web masters, stealing and hacking with a little automation thrown in for good measure. There are plenty of SEOs who are clueless and call themselves black hat more than black hat SEOs calling themselves white hat...

Nick Stamoulis

01/06/2012 03:18 pm

You are either black hat or white hat.   You either play by the rules and follow the webmaster guidelines, or you don't.  If something seems questionable, it probably is and could be categorized as black hat.  


01/06/2012 03:23 pm

The legitimate classification is "grey hat". You know, in the middle of the two.


01/06/2012 03:30 pm

The definition of blackhat has changed from being someone's that has the ability to reverse engineer and take advantage of flaws in the algos to someone that can be equated to a script kiddies, has little talent and just does what they read on blackhat forums. That said, you can wear a white hat but do blackhat things.


01/06/2012 03:52 pm

Greyhat is between white and black and follows the narrow line which can be considered whitehat but not blackhat, aka. grey area. It's not a combination of the two. If you're doing blackhat and whitehat, you will be classified as blackhat.

michael balistreri

01/06/2012 04:28 pm

It's all about the user experience :)

Aaron Bradley

01/06/2012 04:43 pm

The distinction between "white hat" and "black hat" tactics is, and always has been, an artificial dichotomy. This is clear if one actually tries to formulate a definition of the terms.  If being "white hat" means "playing by the rules" then it begs the question, who's rules?  Google's rules, as embodied in their Webmaster Guidelines (though "Guidelines" these are as close as we get to actual rules, as Google says these strictures "outline some of the illicit practices" that can get you penalized or banned by Google)?  Google's "rules" as defined by the stream of ad hoc pronouncements and answers from Matt Cutts and other Googlers? Or is being "white hat" generally conducting yourself in an "ethical" fashion, regardless of whether or not your tactics are in accord with Google's Webmaster Guidelines and public announcements?  For example, using CSS to replace image-rendered text for the spiders is formally frowned upon by Google, but if you're faithfully reproducing the text that appears in the image presented to humans you're not being deceptive.  But are you being a "black hat"?  A "grey hat"?

Michael Martinez

01/06/2012 06:04 pm

I am still waiting for the day when Google's guidelines and Bing's guidelines conflict on something in such a way that people who draw substantial traffic from both search engines will demand a compromise.  I think it will eventually happen.

Aaron Bradley

01/06/2012 06:20 pm

You remind me of the fact that - unless I'm recalling this incorrectly - that the penalties levied against JC Penny and Overstock by Google were not replicated by Bing. Does Bing even explicitly prohibit paying links?  My brief investigation has proved infuriating (amusingly, the query "paid links" in Google leads to the forum post "Where to get paid links for my targeted keywords?").  Their "Webmaster FAQs" PDF (yup) dated 15 Mar. 2010, say: "Paying for or participating in non-relevant link exchange schemes will not improve your page rank with Bing, and in fact, it could very well hurt it." That's the only occurrence of "paid" in the document.  And the section on use of nofollow says only to use it if "you are not certain you want to endorse" a particular target. All of this to say that the guideline conflict you suggest may already exist; only the "substantial traffic from both search engines" is missing. ;)


01/06/2012 09:04 pm

It's sad to me to see black-hat SEO techniques (such as keyword stuffing using color-hidden page fonts) work so effectively for many. But, with Google incorporating SMO into SEO increasingly, I believe a lot of these site owners will eventually fail.

Jonny Ross

01/08/2012 09:15 pm

im not sure, google doesnt have a fair playground so i do believe it's a game and if the rules can be bent then they have to be. how many sites do we all know that SHOULD be penalised but aren't... if they had a fair playground then maybe... they don't!

Dirty seagull

01/09/2012 06:35 am

I would have to say there are a few methods that can be used, most white hatters do use black hat, but will keep that secret with them 

Michael J. Kovis

01/09/2012 03:47 pm

Discussion, yes.  Anything with any sort of substance, no.  iamlost seems to make the only real quality post...


01/10/2012 01:54 pm

I never said it was a combination of the two, but rather "in the middle" - which is true to the definition. Also true to the definition is the fact that a grey hat may choose to use black hat techniques but without malicious intentions. So, back to my original comment - as long as the intent was not malicious, they would be considered grey hat. 

Rohini Sharma

02/29/2012 05:37 am

But, with Google incorporating SMO into SEO increasingly, 


03/09/2012 05:57 pm

blackhat users are dominating the whitehat users. Maybe thats the reason why they want to try blackhat.

Sick of Games

07/03/2012 02:08 am

Shouldn't the goal be to provide a visitor the best experience. Shouldn't that be the key? Shouldn't the links that come to your site be from people saying "check out this site - its really good" and not articles that you spun yourself just to game the search engines for a month or two or six until you get found out and busted to the sandbox? Seems to me that would be white hat. Not a focus on what some algorithm pays attention to so that you can fool some program into liking a spammy, crappy site that ultimately sucks along with the 4000 articles that point to the 300 articles that point to your site? Seems like that is the line that matters. Not the arbitrary 'those who do what google says is important and those who get around it'

Robert Benwell

11/25/2012 09:52 pm

I don't think so but if you the wonderful mind then it would be possible for you.

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