Four Main Types
There are four main types of SEO or search engine optimization, all aimed at helping you earn greater visibility in search results:
- White Hat;
- Black Hat;
- Grey Hat; and
- Negative SEO.
The main differences have to do with how closely SEO tactics align with Google guidelines and then long it takes before you begin to see results (time), how much it costs, how risky it is, and ultimately, the value the tactics deliver to the client.
Google guidelines (Google Webmaster Guidelines) spell out what Google considers good (white hat) and bad (black hat) SEO. They are meant to help you understand what can help and hurt your rankings. While they are not laws with legal consequences, they should be taken seriously and SEOs should let clients know if they plan to violate Google Guidelines.
Black hat SEO will get you where you want to go faster. It is usually less costly because you are taking shortcuts to the top by going against published Google Webmaster Guidelines. In fact, many black hat SEO tactics are specifically spelled out in the guidelines as things you should NOT do. As such, they carry the risk that your website and/or content will rank lower, be banned from search results, or demoted the next time Google updates its ranking algorithm. That is no small concern. Google updates its ranking algorithm roughly 500-600 times a year.
Black hat SEO returns value quickly, but there is a risk the value cannot and will not be sustained.
White hat SEO techniques, on the other hand, adhere to Google Webmaster Guidelines but usually take longer and cost more to carry out. White hat SEO carries far less risk and tends to deliver lasting and compounding value over time. You’ll find most of the respected SEO and content marketing companies like Moz, Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Roundtable, the SEM Post, Stone Temple, GSQI, and Philadelphia-area Seer Interactive and SEMRush all use and recommend white hat SEO tools and techniques.
Grey hat SEO falls somewhere in the middle as these tactics are not specifically called out in Google’s Guidelines. You should be cautious about taking this path as it is not safe to assume that just because a specific technique isn’t labeled or mentioned as being deceptive and one that will get you into trouble, that it will not interfere negatively with your rankings.
On-Page and Off-Page SEO
You might also hear the terms “on-page SEO” and “off-page SEO” in your travels. These refer to the subject of your optimization efforts and can employ any of the above white, grey and/or black hat SEO techniques.
On-page SEO focuses on your website and content. Its aim is to ensure search engines and searchers can easily find, use, and understand your content. On-page SEO primarily helps Google and visitors decide whether your content is relevant and potentially helpful. Examples include title tags, meta tags, meta descriptions, headings, paragraphs, images, URLs, and internal as well as outgoing links.
Off-page SEO centers on external ranking signals like backlinks and online (unlinked) mentions of your business and/or website. Assuming your content is relevant to a search query, off-page SEO mostly helps Google decide where to position it in search results. Examples include an incoming hyperlink from an external website or an unlinked mention of your company or website on social media, a website forum, a question and answer site, an online directory, or any other external website