White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO – Telling the Difference

Every so often, I’m asked about white hat vs. black hat SEO and how to find the line between the spirit of Google’s rules vs. being more “aggressive” than the competition.  There are worthwhile conversations to be had about specific tactics, but I thought I’d take this time to express PM Digital’s overall view on white hat vs. black hat SEO.

The PM Digital team’s primary ethic is to “do no harm” – do not pursue tactics known to result in client site removal from search engine indices.  In short, this means we will not:

  • pursue tactics that break the law (e.g. hacking a server)
  • knowingly violate search engines’ specifically-published rules (e.g. Google Webmaster Tools’ prohibition of hidden text)
  • deceive our clients
  • violate client agreements (e.g. a request for confidentiality/anonymity)

This set of guidelines plays into a wider SEO Code of Ethics:

  • Always adhere to rules expressly outlined in search engine webmaster guidelines
  • Never knowingly violate state, federal and/or international law
  • Never knowingly plagiarize
  • Always extend best efforts to retain and/or increase organic ranking of client sites
  • When in doubt, never knowingly pursue activity that may harm client reputation or rankings
  • Always act in good faith giving direction to clients
  • Never knowingly deceive, harm or offend a client
  • Always accurately record and report labor, materials and results
  • Always treat clients with respect and professionalism – as we do our own team members
  • Always honor clients’ requests for confidentiality

If, and when, search engines’ rules change, PM Digital will act to comply with the rule change as quickly as possible, notify clients of potential exposure in light of those changes and take corrective action.

PM Digital’s tactics qualify as white hat in that they comply with this “do no harm” directive but, moreover, PM Digital focuses on the pursuit of tactics that deliver real value to our clients and their audiences.  The advantage of this approach is that it is not only immune from most algorithm changes but it also delivers long term value instead of temporary rankings. Typical white hat SEO tactics employed by PM Digital include:

  • Production of quality content based on keyword research
  • Accurate page-level TITLE and META tagging
  • Improvement of client website internal structures and linkages
  • Generation of incoming links via content distribution to sources common to high-ranking websites

If a client insists PM Digital pursue known black- or grey-hat tactics, PM Digital will inform the client of the risks and, if the client continues to insist, we will part ways with that client, as we have in the past.

In summary, white hat SEO means striving to help clients build useful, optimized websites that benefit human end users, all within search engines’ published guidelines.  Importantly, tactics following this simple rule will generally be “immune” to ranking updates like Google Penguin and Panda.  This overall perspective will result in successful indexation of site content by search engines and the award of organic search rankings for relevant keywords sought by our clients’ target audiences.


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