In the SEO world, we often hear terms such as white hat, black hat, and sometimes other colors of hat like gray (or grey, in some parts of the world). They refer to different levels of doing search engine optimization for a site. But, what constitute white-hat practices, and what constitutes black-hat practices? Chris Beasley of Websitepublisher.net has written a good article on exactly this topic. There are some other articles that divides SEO into more shades, but I like this one because I thought 3 is a good number (do you really wan to read through the 9 different shades of SEO?)
In the article, Chris recommends applying only white-hat techniques (i.e., good content, on-page optimization, link building) if you are in it for the long run. I wholeheartedly agree with this approach. I have seen personally how some webmasters who employ gray-hat techniques would cringe at the thought of a Google algorithm update, because that likely means their rankings would drop. In fact, I know of a relatively large website that employs some fairly aggressive SEO techniques. Every time Google updates its algorithm means a drop in their traffic from Google, hence lower revenue. When this happens the first time, they could explain to the Finance department that it’s an issue with Google, that traffic can return to previous levels after the ranking issue is fixed. And indeed traffic did return. But when it happens for the second, third, fourth, … nth time, the explanations get old, and one has to think that it must be the SEO techniques that the site is employing. Mind you, this is a reputable site that does not use any black-hat techniques (at least that I am aware of), but from what’s happening, it is apparent that its gray-hat techniques are only working for the short term.
The takeaway lesson from this is that it’s best to stay with white-hat practices. These techniques are not sexy (for example, link building is sometimes referred to link begging), and in general they do not yield results quickly. Having said that, white-hat techniques are still the best way to approach SEO for long-term viability.