The 3 Different Hats of a Search Engine Optimizer

Optimizing your page for search engines is risky business – one wrong move, and all of a sudden your site is de-listed.  There are three lines you can walk while optimizing your site, each with an increasing level of risk – White Hat, Gray Hat, and Black Hat.

White Hat

SEO experts that follow the path of the White Hat are abiding by the recommendations laid out by the search engines, such as Google’s Webmaster Guidelines , Yahoo’s Directory Help, and MSN Live Search Site Owner Help.  By following these guidelines, your site will slowly climb through the ranks , and there will be no risk of being de-listed.  Most techniques for optimizing content, keywords, and meta tags fall into this category.  Typically White Hat optimizers focus on content and customer first, then optimization second. 

Black Hat

Black Hat SEO is on the other end of the spectrum.  These techniques, if discovered by search engines, will have your site removed from their index.  You will need to make changes to your site to bring you into compliance with their guidelines before they will accept your submissions again.  Black Hat Techniques may move you through the search engine indexes much quicker, but at a higher level of risk.  Techniques for Black Hat optimizers typically leverage techniques such as Google bombing, cloaking, and redirecting. 

Gray Hat

This is not quite what one would expect, i.e. the hat in between.  Gray Hat optimizers are a lighter shade of black more than a darker shade of white.  They are taking advantage of techniques that are not as well defined as Black Hat, or are too new to be well defined as Black Hat.  These SEOs are accepting more risk and using questionable or discouraged techniques, but are not banned by the search engines.  Techniques such as link farms, automated blogging, and gaming social media and web 2.0 sites. 

Your Hat

So the real difference between the different SEO hats is the amount of risk.  If you think about it, the hats are better explained as more of a continuum, with many Shades of SEO.  What are your thoughts about the risk vs. reward of SEO Hats?

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