Steve Gerencser: White hat follows the Google Guidelines and Black Hat is only concerned with what works regardless of ho Google feels about it.
Becky Westmoreland: White hat are typically less risky areas of SEO and black hat are high risk/higher return areas in the gray areas of Google`s guidelines (sometimes even outside of their guidelines).
Black hat SEO is not illegal. Some black hat could be perceived as unethical. That`s a longer philosophical discussion, however.
Manage risk appropriately and realize that white hat can bleed into gray and black hat can bleed into gray as well.
Ryan Jones: I feel like the core of WH/BH isn`t the google guidelines alone, but intent. Let`s relate it all back to the user. Are you doing things that provide a benefit to the user, or are you doing things to try to game the search engines?
At one point guest blogs weren`t black hat because people wrote useful content for other similar places and did it not just for the link. The link was the extra bonus. they did it for exposure and would have happily done it with a nofollow link because of traffic - but then we created millions of "blogs" no users ever read for the sole purpose of submitting crap content with links to as a "guest blog" and that`s when Google stepped in. They`re both "guest blogs" but one is helpful to users and the other is just spam to manipulate search engines. That`s the key. Intent.
Paul Thompson: always hated the artificial black hat/white binary approach. I always explain to clients it`s a matter of a scale of risk, from high risk to very low risk.
Ammon Johns: I first wrote about the nonsense of the hats stuff only days after it really exploded from the actions of a small group of self-proclaimed white-hat folks.
The "white hat" label has *nothing* to do with ethics, and *nothing* to do with morality, and everything to do with some people needing to make up excuses to clients about why they can`t get results. "Oh it`s not that we aren`t skilled, or that we are taking your money with no hope of getting results, Mr. Client, it`s simply that we are good guys and all those others are cheating!"
White hat was never needed as a term when something either was black hat, or it wasn`t. White hat is one of those self-appointed labels that is all about telling the client you`re the good guys. Well, newsflash: If you have to TELL the client you`re the good guys, you must be pretty fucking shit at showing it. :D
Black hat is slightly different. It`s a far older term, although to be entirely honest, the first time I heard the term used in SEO it was applied to the search engine quality reviewers, in particular, the one`s AltaVista used on the domain MIBH.NET - which is either Men In Black Helicopters, or Men In Black Hats, depending on your preferred genre of reference.
The term Black Hat for those going against search engine guidelines, especially with things like cloaking, redirects, and auto-generated spam, was a good fit, and stuck. But that was years before the term "White Hat" came along for no useful reason to anyone but the user`s own ego and vanity.
The fact is that there are simply degrees of risk. Even the purest tactic of today has some risk that it can be adversely affected by some future shift or change. And the risk that someone less risk averse might simply keep beating you in the SERPs. SEO is about optimisation, and you attempt to find the optimal point of many conflicting needs.
You want to avoid wasting time on things you`ll have to redo or undo later. But there`s not much point doing something that is safe but completely ineffectual. Some industries get dominated by black hat practices where taking them on in a white hat way would be a very, very, very long game, and so you either work away for a couple of years and spend a ton on branding hoping it will all pay off eventually, or you play the same black hat game of churn and burn to get short term results.
It would be, in my view, incredibly highly unethical to take a client`s money in such a market without warning them that you only play by "white hat" rules, and should not expect to get any meaningful results in less than about 18 months to 3 years. (Because every time one spammer above your site is gone, 3 more take its place, endless churn and burn). Conversely, it is just as unethical to take risks with a client`s brand and site without fully understanding those risks, and mitigating them, and letting the client fully understand the risks and risk management involved.
Most of the time, black hat tactics are completely unnecessary, and highly inefficient. But just because you decide to play by the rules as it is both easier and safer, doesn`t mean you are not still needing to carefully evaluate risks and have plans in place for how to manage and mitigate those risks.
I see far too many self-proclaimed "white hat" agencies that simply aren`t effective in some of their markets, aren`t informing clients of options, and have no clue how to even work out just how `safe` their practices really are from being edged out by future updates and changes. Guest blogging and link exchanges were both firmly in the white hat practices in the past. Many of the white hats using them had no clue how to manage and mitigate risks, and so had no backup strategy in place when those things suddenly got penalised or merely discounted.
Roger Montti: Ammon nailed it. It`s just a marketing strategy. The reality is that the white hats are the biggest fiends for shortcuts and are masters of self-deception.
Look up PageRank Sculpting. That`s a white hat strategy. White hats created that. Mass guest posting for links? That`s a white hat strategy, too.
The capacity for white hats to drink their own kool aid is unbounded. Only a white hat would send out thousands of automated reciprocal link emails per week and claim it`s white hat because they "only do it with relevant sites."
I don`t have anything against being ethical. I encourage ethical behavior. That`s why white hats annoy me. They talk about ethics but engage in spammy tactics anyway.
James Emetu: what google think is good vs evil for seo...yet google use both methods anyway