The white hat vs black hat debate has been rumbling along for a long time, and will likely do so for the foreseeable future. Many a respected SEO has weighed in on the debate, most recently Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz and many present conflicting views. Most well-known SEO professionals position themselves as ‘white hat’, primarily because they have to. The negative press around black hat (or grey hat if there is such a thing) means that those positioning themselves on the black side of the fence run the risk of damaging their own, and their companies reputations and unless, as the legendary fantomaster, you want to go all the way to ‘the dark side’ it is not something that would be recommended.
But do the colour of your hat, and the methods you undertake really matter? Surely what is more important are the results you achieve. Obviously both sides of the fence have their advantages and disadvantages but so long as you understand these and accept them in the methods you undertake, surely it then becomes irrelevant?
Yes, true white hat SEO techniques are the less risky (notice I didn’t say risk free) option, and more likely to produce the longer term, more sustainable results. But they are also more difficult, more labour intensive and potentially more costly from a man hour perspective. For large brands with reputations to protect, and businesses potentially reliant on the search engines, this is the best path forward. There is not point risking it all for a few quick wins and, as frustrating as it may be, patience and persistence are key.
But what if you are working with a site which needs quick results or which has a finite window of opportunity for a particular product or service. Surely in this situation taking the white hat moral high ground is counterproductive and not in the best interest of the achieving your objectives? And lets not forget, you can still end up on the wrong side of a penalty or algorithm change even if you didn’t consider your methods black hat. And, as a fellow ranter Paul Madden points out , what’s more ethical? A transparent programme where everyone is aware of the risks, or a completely white hat programme where the client pays large fees for little reward?
The tactics employed on an SEO programme should, in my opinion, be based on the individual circumstances and the agreed success criteria. It is pointless stubbornly sitting in either camp if that isn’t in the best interest of the business looking for results. If you are working with large businesses you are more often than not going to have to consider the long term impact of tactics employed on behalf of their clients and so are going to end up promoting white hat tactics. But that does not mean you should be completely dismissive of the other tactics available that we may need to call upon when the time arrives.