You may have heard of black hats and white hats to describe SEO and affiliate marketing techniques. I hope you’re not imagining wizards and witches with pointy, colored hats. Black and white “hats” are different strategic and ethical approaches to making money online. Let’s look at the definitions, differences, and advantages of the two. If you want to “cheat” just a little, but mostly follow the rules, gray hat may be the best option. In fact, I think most people’s ethics in the real world have a gray hat flavor.
White hat SEO in affiliate marketing
You might say that white hat SEO is the good side of internet marketing. White hat means following the rules. What rules are we supposed to follow? Most of the rules we are supposed to follow are obvious from common sense. Don’t plagiarize or steal content from another website. Don’t lie or try to deceive customers with false advertising. Don’t send out spam emails. Likewise, don’t clutter the internet with spam blogs. In general, don’t cheat!
To be a successful white hat marketer, you might design a website with high-quality, unique content. You could optimize your headings and html tags, and make sure titles had appropriate keywords for search engines. You could provide a sitemap, alt text for images, and other search-engine friendly feature. You could contact other webmasters with related content and ask for links. By creating quality content and building links, you attract a large amount of traffic. Your website offers something that people want, and people buy it. These are all the normal things you would expect any good marketer to do.
Black hat SEO for affiliate marketers
What rules, then, do Black hat marketers break? Black hat techniques can be simply rude or annoying to downright illegal, depending on the inclinations of the marketer. Black hat SEO might involve stealing other people’s content, posting to spam blogs, spamming email lists, and other methods designed to drive traffic to affiliate offers. Just because black hat techniques violate a web services terms of service doesn’t mean that it is illegal.
For example, a black hat marketer might create an automated network of gibberish spam blogs with links to affiliate offers. That is technically not illegal. However, if the blog was created on the Blogger platform, it would violate Google and Blogger’s terms of service. Even some techniques such as webrings, link exchanges, or paid links can be considered mildly black hat. Google frowns upon these tricks, even though they are not violating any laws. Posting spammy comments in blogs is another black hat method.
Black hat marketers face the risk of being banned from web services or affiliate programs. Although many cite this risk as a reason to avoid black hat methods, I don’t think the answer is that simple. Successful black hat marketers have the potential to make large amounts of money in a short time. It is basically cheating - you stand to gain a lot from your cheating efforts. If you are smart enough not to get caught, it might be worthwhile
Should you choose white hat or black hat methods?
No matter what, you should try to incorporate some white hat methods into your online money making efforts. White hat is the foundation of basic SEO and affiliate marketing. Master these basics first. Although the profit of black hat sounds lucrative, I would actually suggest you stay away from those methods, not because you risk being caught, but because in the long run, they may actually be less profitable. Furthermore, being a successful black hat marketer probably requires a LOT more skill and expertise.
Think about it like this. if you are a white hat marketer, you are only fighting with your competitors. If you are a black hat marketer, you are fighting with your competitors plus Google, Clickbank, and whatever other companies you are cheating. These are huge corporations with many resources and smart people out to catch you cheating. You had better be very good to beat them. Some people are that good. You probably aren’t, realistically.
Furthermore, even if you find a black hat exploit, it will probably not last for long, as other people may start to use the exploit. You will have to continually find new exploits, which can sound exciting, but is a lot of work. It also goes without saying that black hat techniques usually require solid programming skills (for automating spam-like actions) and good understanding of how networks operate. If you can’t program, don’t bother with black hat methods.
Your best chance to make money is to find a boring method that works, and keep doing it. Read that last sentence again. Regardless of what specific method you use, if you can reduce your success to a boring formula, rinse and repeat to get rich. That is it. Black hat can sound exciting, but what you want is boring money. White hat may be slow and boring, but in the long run, all your efforts will build together to make you the most money.
Black hat SEO examples
To give you an idea of how black hat marketers think, as well as how quickly methods grow obsolete, I will give you two examples.
Getting a high Pagerank website can be a slow, arduous task. Recently, a group of black hatters devised a simple way to obtain high Pagerank websites immediately. They would use Google to search for Wordpress installations that were no longer active. Some of these old Wordpress accounts still had many backlinks and high Pagerank. Then, the users were able to claim and activate the abandoned Wordpress accounts to obtain immediate sites with high Pageranks. This method no longer works because Wordpress eliminated the reclaiming, and furthermore, a few motivate black hatters acquired all of the free ones.
Another black hat method was the use of doorway pages. To obtain optimized search engine results, some black hatters would create a “doorway” page for their website that was loaded with keywords. This doorway page is not useable for ordinary people, so they would incorporate a fast redirect to the real homepage. However, search engines would see the unnaturally keyword-rich doorway page and provide good search engine results. As a result, search engines changed their algorithms to penalize spammy keyword-filled doorway pages.
In a related technique, now black hatters engage in “cloaking”, where they detect the IP and user-agent of search engine spiders, showing the search engines very nice keyword-optimized, friendly-looking homepages with quality content, but showing real people only spammy affiliate offers. As you can see, the evolution between search engines and black hat methods continues.
Grayhat SEO and marketing: a balance between white and black
Grayhat techniques fall somewhere between white and black hat methods. They might be considered somewhat unethical, but no in clear violation of any rules. For example, instead of creating a thousand spam blogs to promote your website, creating five low quality blogs, which sole purpose is to promote your main website, might be considered gray-hat. You aren’t really spamming the blog server, but you are putting up a bit of spam-like material at a smaller level. Then again, having a blog related to your site IS legitimate. Thus, the method is a bit grayish on the ethics scale.
If you are interested in bending some of the rules, but want to stay legitimate, you might consider a gray hat approach. In fact, I think most people in the real world have a gray hat view of ethics.