Link Building

White hat and black hat link acquisition – What is the difference?

White hat and black hat link acquisition – What is the difference?

In order to plan and execute SEO campaigns that are not only effective, but ethical and sustainable, one of the most important things you need to be aware of is the distinction between white hat and black hat link building.

The unique traits that exist between these two types of SEO can make or break the organic profile of any promising online business.

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at answering the following questions:

  • What’s the difference between white hat and black hat link building?
  • How to distinguish white and black hat link building techniques?
  • How to ensure your campaigns are on the right track?

White hat vs black hat link building: what’s the difference?

In SEO, white hat and black hat are used to distinguish sets of organic marketing techniques which either align with Google’s policies and guidelines, or knowingly go against them as a way to gain an unfair advantage over the more ethically grown websites.

What is white hat link building?

White hat link building methods follow Google’s policies to the letter and are generally aimed at creating a positive and useful experience for web users.

Whereas black hat link building tactics seek to gain ranking increases quickly, cheaply, and easily, regardless of how much value this offers to an audience or how it might ultimately affect the experience of using a website.

What is black hat link building?

Black hat link building tactics might seem like the most efficient and effective way to hit your SEO targets, but it’s exceptionally rare that they pay off in the long-run.

Black hat SEO link building explicitly goes against Google’s spam policies for webmasters.

As an SEO if you’re looking to engage in black hat link building techniques, you’re far more likely to:

  • Create poor user experiences for those using search
  • Incur manual penalties for your client’s websites
  • Generally undermines a website’s ability to rank

For the best chance of success, you should adhere strictly to white hat link building methods, and ensure that every decision you make as part of your link building strategy ultimately leads to a more positive experience for the end user and target audience.

The case for white hat link building

As we touched on earlier, white hat link building is a link acquisition tactic that adheres strictly to Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Therefore this technique focuses on earning backlinks from trustworthy and authoritative websites which themselves adhere to Google’s guidelines.

Ideating, creating, and publishing content that’s high quality and authoritative requires more effort than the underhanded techniques that constitute black hat link building.

White hat carries a major advantage in that it cuts out the risk of your site being penalised and suddenly losing its rankings.

Google has always invested a lot of resources into making sure they provide the best possible results to their users. To this end, the company is always updating its algorithm to reward content that serves the user’s needs, and hide content that seeks to game the algorithm and gain higher visibility through manipulation.

In previous years, Google rolled out its SpamBrain update, which leverages Google’s own AI system to not only detect spammy, low-quality content.

SpamBrain can also detect sites that are set up specifically for creating artificial links that aren’t earned through the quality of their content, resources available, or their experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T).

Some black hat SEOs have employed convoluted tactics to try and stay a step ahead of Google’s policies and algorithms. However, with Google’s historic commitment to providing the highest-quality results to any given search, and the constant rolling out of new algorithms designed to remove spam and unethical pages, it’s clear that black hat link building is a dying trade that will have less and less efficacy with time.

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3 white hat link building techniques

In Aira’s State of Link Building Report which shares insights from 270 SEOs in the industry.

They survey showed that when it comes to building links:

  • 68% of respondents said that content marketing was by far the most popular technique for building links
  • Competitor analysis (54%) and guest posting (47%) were the next most popular techniques for acquiring links

Below we’ve broken down 3 white hat link building strategies that are worth exploring for your own campaigns; guest blogging, resource link building and link reclamation.

1. Guest blogging

Guest blogging (or guest posting) is one of the most widely-used white hat link building techniques in the industry. It’s a slow process that requires a high degree of effort, research, relationship building and expertly written content – but don’t let that scare you off.

The links gained through guest posting are an effective long-term SEO investment.

Aside from paying specialist writers who can provide you with strong levels of E-E-A-T in their work, the investment for this type of white hat link building is time and resources. If you don’t have both of these in abundance, then it might be worth outsourcing to a specialist.

A typical white hat link building service will involve creating quality content designed around a specified audience, then reaching out to relevant content outlets such as blogs and industry journals, and publishing the content with a link back to the target site.

At Hive19, we specialise in providing keyword-led research campaigns to help us identify only the most valuable and topically relevant opportunities for guest blogging.

Using our HiveRank® system, we can assess the topical relevance, authority and long-term benefit of each target publication. The websites that offer the potential to grow our client’s domain in organic search will be targeted.

our custom website assessment software

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2. Resource link building

While guest posting focuses on providing value in the form of a unique blog post, and in return, extracting value, or link equity, from the publishing website’s existing authority, resource link building works the other way around.

With resource link building, either you or a partnering agency will create an asset that will exist on your domain.

This asset could take the form of many different types of content but usually comes in the form of:

  • An interactive tool (such as a calculator)
  • An ultimate guide or informational resource

Once the resource is live on your website, you’ll be able to contact and leverage a network of thought leaders, media outlets, and niche business websites in order to acquire backlinks to this page on your domain.

Though it can be difficult to know where to start when creating a linkable asset or resource of this kind, if you’re able to build a truly exceptional resource, it’s likely to garner a high volume of links to your domain and in return, it will help supercharge your domain’s authority.

3. Link reclamation

Link reclamation is often an underutilised white hat link building tactic. One which can still give you a considerable edge over the competition.

This white hat link building strategy involves finding unlinked mentions of your brand online using an SEO tool or a manual search, reaching out to the webmaster and asking them to link to your website using your brand name.

You can also identify broken links that had previously linked to a specific piece of content, and suggest to the relevant webmaster that they should link to your content instead to avoid visitors clicking through to a broken page that no longer exists.

We always recommend being transparent with website owners when requesting links. Explain clearly what the benefits of linking to your page would have for their website and audience. If you can’t think of a good enough reason, then your page will likely need more work, insights and value added to it.

Though link reclamation can garner a lot of value for the right backlink profile, most white hat link building companies will typically use it as a relatively small part of their overall strategy.

There are usually a finite number of opportunities to go after compared to other white hat link building techniques such as guest blogging and resource link building.

Black hat link building and why you should avoid it

Black hat link building is any kind of link acquisition that goes against Google’s policies. Trying to game the system with little or no regard for the end user’s experience, black hat SEOs will build links through a variety of spammy and unethical practices, such as:

  • Cloaking – where a website shows one version of a webpage to Google and a completely different one to its actual users
  • Paying for links – Google doesn’t support the buying and selling of links between websites. If you have paid for coverage it should be tagged appropriately using the rel=“sponsored” tag
  • Using stolen or scraped content – there could be a risk of copyright infringement. From Google’s perspective, websites that scrape content aren’t providing any new value or insight for users

Getting black hat backlinks doesn’t require nearly the same investment of time, research and creativity as white hat links, which can make black hat SEO an attractive prospect in terms of the short timeframes it takes to build links.

In the long run however, these tactics will prove to be ineffective, and will only lead to wasted time and resources for anyone SEO that uses them.

If you aren’t experienced in SEO or link building, identifying black hat links and the services that use them can be difficult.

Read on for some of the most common red flags to be aware of when assessing a link building service for legitimacy.

Red flags that could be a sign of black hat link building

Suspiciously high volumes of link acquisition

If you’re talking to an SEO professional who’s promising or reporting huge volumes of new links each month, this is certainly something that should be taken as a red flag.

Often, this is a sign that the SEO is submitting a target site to a network of link farms (spammy, low-quality websites) and leaning on the sheer number of new links to increase rankings.

Remember that white hat link building takes time and effort, and gives more credence to topical relevance than black hat link building for better long-term results.

Though guest posting is an integral part of acquiring white hat SEO backlinks, it can take on an evil twin form within black hat link building, centred around posting poor-quality content on poor-quality sites in order to build links.

Some of the red flags to be aware of under this umbrella include:

  • Content spinning – where slight variations on the same content are used on multiple referring domains
  • Thin content – where short and simplistic articles with no real value are used to host links
  • Duplicate content – where the same content is used over and over on different domains.

Paid links

Paid links are one of the most explicitly forbidden forms of black hat link building, and should be avoided when you’re vetting SEO agencies or potential link building specialists.

While it’s true that paid links can be hard to distinguish from organic links at a glance, Google maintains very strict criteria when determining whether a link is legitimate or not, and any referring domain that knowingly hosts paid links (without clearly marking them as ‘Sponsored’) is unlikely to maintain the high standards of quality which your link building strategies deserve.

We’ve created an extensive eBook with all of the important questions worth asking a potential link building partner.

This eBook will help provide insight into the industry, some practical benchmarks that will help filter out low quality work – and hopefully help you to choose the right company to entrust with your link building strategy.

Download 👉 ‘Questions to Ask Your Link Builder‘.

Final thoughts

Understanding the difference between white hat and black hat link acquisition is an essential first step towards managing your own SEO campaigns, or finding an agency that will provide a service you can trust.

Whether you’re interested in learning more about how ethical link building can improve your brand’s visibility in organic search, or have a set of publishers your considering for guest blogging, feel free to drop the team a message and we’d be happy to take a look at them for you!



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Aaron Thomas

Managing Director

Aaron is the founder of Hive19, specialising in content marketing and the complexities of website authority

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Aaron is Managing Director

and is the founder of Hive19, specialising in content marketing and the complexities of website authority