Any form of link building is considered black hat. Any time you ask for a link or purchase a link – that is considered black hat as it goes against Google guidelines. If your SEO agency is outreaching to legitimate businesses for backlinks, or buying citations for your website, that is already black hat.
One other thing to mention about black hat SEO and ethics is that there are some people who offer services based on outdated or spammy techniques.
Most often their knowledge is based on courses that were questionable to begin with and not up to date with Google’s algorithm changes. Such “SEO Courses” are generally designed to rank a website fast, with no regard to long term results or longevity. For a business or any legitimate enterprise, such tactics should never be applied unless you know exactly what you are doing and understand what is involved.
These novice SEO’s may have the best intentions to rank your website, but their lack of knowledge in all forms of SEO and understanding of Google may end up harming your site. This harm can be anywhere from getting your website ranking worse than it already was or face a manual penalty from Google. A manual penalty often includes de-indexing from Google entirely depending on the severity of what they have done.
We take a different approach and don’t call ourselves white hat or black hat. It is a sliding scale and we start (and try as best we can) to stick to the least risk possible.
Are we ethical? Yes! As much as possible. But how do you define ethics when you are trying to take over your competitor’s position in Google? – The prime real estate for relevant traffic and leads… and a good part of their income.
What about if your competitors are doing completely nasty or tricky things to achieve the results they have in Google? Is it ethical to report them and have them shut down – Potentially causing massive stress and financial harm to them? Do you reverse-engineer their strategy and replicate it for your website? Or do you stick with a “white hat” approach and generate content hoping that Google will one day rank your site. It could be in six months, it could be in six years.
Ultimately this is your decision, not ours. But just know that most “white hat” agencies don’t often think about these things.
Generally, we look at the data. We look at the competition and try to figure out what they are doing. Our strategy often starts with your brand and establishing authority in an industry. When it comes to optimising and out-ranking your competitors, we start with over 800 different data points that we track. We optimise your website to compete as best as possible with structure, content, keywords, code, layout and many more on-page factors. Most of the time this leads to great jumps in improvement. From there, it can get a little grey if necessary.
We stay up to date with the latest strategies that work, from the private black hat groups where we can’t discuss information publicly about what they are doing, through to the latest private SEO testing groups that are pushing boundaries with single variable testing on supposed ranking factors.
So to apply it back to you, it pays to hire an SEO agency that you can trust and one that can stand by their work. Trust can come from their website, where they have clear business addresses, photos of their people and clear information about their service, but it also comes from past reviews, being able to show evidence of them generating results and rankings, and being able to discuss with you what your goals are and why you want SEO in the first place.
Such factors can go a long way towards seeing whether a business is legitimate or not and if they can actually deliver quality and reliable Google rankings.
Hiring someone based off of their outreach email that offers an amazing deal is not a good road to take. Such emails are nearly 100% sent from an overseas company that you will never be able to find once they have damaged your site or simply done no work at all.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you are now completely confused about black hat or white hat SEO and whether SEO is worth it at all if all you’ll end up doing is disobeying Google. Just know that it is not all as bad as it sounds as long as the company doing the SEO for you has a solid history of results, and knows what they are doing.
If you want to stick to Google’s guidelines verbatim for whichever reasons you have, then any form of SEO is essentially black hat. Going in and making changes to your website content because you feel it will help you rank – that’s black hat. So essentially it doesn’t come down to which hat you wear but how far you are willing to slide that scale.
There are plenty of safe tactics that help rank sites without damaging them. After all, SEO is a booming industry and the world’s biggest brands spend millions on it every year. In one way or another, they won’t be obeying that rule book 100% either.